Defending Banksie

Guy McCallum blogs:

There are politicians in this world who clearly just don’t get it. It is not always because they are incompetent or corrupt, though we can pronounce these two conditions as leading causes. No, I think it is chiefly because they are scared witless by the fact that they know they have lost touch. And so much do they value their own hides that they won’t admit it, and sadly, won’t admit to the change of heart they know is necessary.

This week, and in particular, we have learned that this is not . He changed his mind on marriage equality (and by all accounts, over time), and while he might have been seen to be uncomfortable about it in front of the camera, he was most certainly undaunted by the prospect of others seeing his change of heart.

Along comes Duncan Garner of 3 News to ruin what was for a lot of people, a moment in history. He, in my view, unfairly criticised Banks for his position on marriage equality, which seemed to surprise people. Then Garner, holding onto the past with a death grip, wouldn’t let us forget the unfortunate comments that Banks had made a substantial amount of time ago, without a much deserved context.

Garner then questioned whether Banks was a joke, for doing something as heroic as changing one’s mind, in extending legal rights to a section of society that has long deserved them.

One must wonder why gutless politicians won’t ever admit they’ve changed their minds for the good. They do so, apparently, at their own peril.

Instead, they prefer the slow death of seeming evermore out of touch and on the way out to the hard questions they might get if they were just honest. Just look at the People’s Phil Goff who could not steel himself to admit that he was once a neo-liberal, while he crusaded about as Labour’s social democrat. If he had the courage to say he’d changed his mind, maybe he’d still be in the front row of the opposition benches.

My mission in writing this is point out why Garner got it wrong. I think the emotive inclinations that so many in his profession give into, led him astray. For changing his mind, Garner seemed unwilling to forgive whatever it was that Banks must have done to him. In doing so, Garner teaches us a rather valid lesson here – that a grudge can work its mischief upon its master if should they overlook the rational thinking processes that almost everybody has.

John voted for marriage equality because it was the right thing to do. He has very little to explain in this regard. Though, as I write this, there are politicians who voted against marriage equality, now frantic about what they should do next to avoid being lumped in with crazy Colin Craig. Wondering, that is, how to explain their failure to act with courage to those who expected more of them.

Doing something because it is right requires tremendous strength of mind (endurance I would say) which is not easy to find. Its the high road and the narrow path. On the other hand, being negative about someone’s change of heart under these conditions is too easy, and something easy as such is cheap as well.

I wish that every member of Parliament would have the same courage that John Banks and those others put on display, for whom voting in favour of marriage equality was an intrepid but rewarding journey.

I was thrilled when I heard that John was voting for marriage equality, which was a few days before the decision was made public. I know he thought long and hard about his vote, and talked the issues through with a lot of his friends – as Paul Hutchison did also.

The comments John Banks made in 1986 will always remain on the record. But his views have changed over time – this is not a sudden about-face, but a journey.

When John was an MP in the 1990s, one of the researchers who was a reasonably good mate of his was Paul Sherriff. Paul happened to also win Mr Gay Wellington. Now I’m not arguing the “he has black friends so is not racist” card, but am pointing out that even in the 1990s his views were not the same as in 1986. Also he could seperate out his views on the issue, from how he treats individuals.

When he was Mayor of Auckland, his Chief of Staff was Stephen Rainbow. This is a job appointed by the Mayor himself. Stephen is gay, and John and Stephen had an excellent friendship and working relationship. Through Stephen, he saw a couple in a loving stable and happy same sex relationship.

Without that exposure to a loving stable same sex relationship, it is possible John may have never voted for the first reading of Louisa Wall’s bill. Our experiences help shape us.

As I said in the Listener profile, I was anti homosexual law reform when I was a 17 year old at school. It was the experiences and friendships that I developed at university that caused my views to shift quite radically on that issue. I believe it is a good thing when views genuinely change over time – something to be celebrated not ridiculed.

Now I am not suggesting today that John’s views are in any way the same as mine on social and moral issues. What I am saying is that I do believe he accepted the case that allowing a loving same sex couple to marry, is actually good for the institution of marriage.

I salute him for his vote (though I do wish he had articulated his reasons publicly) on both bills this week.

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