Hard News by Russell Brown

Twinked in

The speeches on the first reading of the Civil Union Bill were as interesting as they always are on a conscience vote. Our elected members are obliged at these times to depart from the script and speak their minds.

The bill passed by 16 votes which may or may not be there at the business end of the legislative process. Listening to the speeches, I actually found myself more sympathetic with the hysterically homophobic Bill Gudgeon ("this bill is an abomination to mankind!") and the quaint and unreconstructed Dail Jones (who declared that "as an old-fashioned chap", gay for him meant happy), and even Peter Dunne, who said that he and some other United Future MPs would vote in support of the omnibus bill but not for civil unions, than I was with the opposing speakers who sought to play semantics.

At least the former sounded like they believed what they said. On the other hand, Stephen Franks' speech was obtuse and disappointing - not much more than legal grandstanding in the end. I think Franks is an asset to the Parliament - as he said himself, somebody has to actually read the bills. But his only real points were (a) that marriage itself has been able to manifest as a civil ceremony for decades, and that (b) the Civil Union bill was "just the Marriage Act with the word 'marriage' twinked out".

Well, duh. How else would you - accepting that a significant sector of society believes marriage is and can only be between a man and a woman - go about creating a broadly equal alternative than by drawing on the institutional knowledge about how such laws ought to look?

Franks held out the promise that he and his Act colleagues might vote for the final reading of the bill if profound - but curiously unspecified - changes were wrought on it at select committee stage. The implication was that Franks himself might support gay marriage, but he unfortunately seemed to run out of time to confirm for the House either way. If you're going to take a stand, it helps to actually say what stand you're taking, doesn't it?

National MP Judith Collins' speech was probably the worst in this regard: she opposed the CUB because it was marriage by stealth, implied that it ought to be gay marriage or nothing, and then twice informed the House that she had no view for or against gay marriage itself.

The speakers in support made more lyrical, but effectively simpler, cases. I thought the most confident and relaxed of them was NZ First's Brian Donnelly ("You don't make your own candle glow brighter by blowing out someone else's"). Moana Mackey quoted from Public Address and paraphrased me, which was fine - happy to help.

If some of the other backers sounded a bit tense, that was understandable. Over the past week, many MPs have received hundreds of anti-CUB emails, some of them (particularly those to the gay MPs) vicious and abusive.

In such circumstances it would have been spectacularly easy for National's leader, Don Brash, to have played politics, but he voted with his conscience. The same certainly cannot be said for some of his caucus.

Anyway, the fundamentalist churches behind the anti-CUB campaign have certainly demonstrated their ability to mobilise. It's just a shame that the love of God appears to have gone missing for them. The select committee stage will be interesting, especially as regards the omnibus bill, which is as complex as the CUB is simple. I haven't read it in full, and it may well be that elements of it will be found to need changing. I just hope that what transpires is human and sensible.

Meanwhile in Auckland, Mayor John Banks is back to claiming credit for things he didn't do - in the case, State Highway 20, the extension to the southwestern motorway via Mt Roskill. This road hardly bears comparison with Banks' pet Eastern Corridor project. Its route has been earmarked for 30 years, it displaces only 80 dwellings, it is (with some exceptions) support by locals, it offers substantial benefits to Auckland City ratepayers (it will vastly speed up many journeys to Auckland Airport) and it will cost a fraction of the grandiose Eastern Corridor proposal. Most significantly, it is actually clear how it will be paid for and by whom. This cannot at all be said for the Eastern Corridor.

It's debatable whether Christine Fletcher is being fair in accusing Banks of having "stalled" the State Highway 20, but it's simply not Banks' gig. Like the work on Auckland's inner-city motorway junctions, it has been planned and delivered by Transit New Zealand with funding announced by central government two years ago.

There was more bad news for Banks this week with the TNS Global poll which found that two out of three Aucklanders want upgraded rail services ahead of an Eastern motorway between Panmure and the central city. Support for the motorway fell to 14 per cent when supporters were asked whether they would change their minds if the environment was shown to be adversely affected by the construction of a road. Brian Rudman wondered whether the result would "bring local body politicians to their senses". This assumes, of course, that they currently have any.

I know too many people who work in the music industry to believe, as some do, that it is home to unfettered evil - it's not unreasonable in principle to defend your copyrights - but EMI's latest stunt is simply despicable. The latest Beastie Boys CD secretly installs an application when it is inserted in either a PC or a Mac. The secret driver prevents any tracks from being copied to the hard drive. EMI is effectively installing a virus. If EMI really wants legislators to go ahead and forcibly remove its copyrights, it's going precisely the right way about it. Don't you dare, ever install anything on my computer without telling me, okay? Bastards.

And, to conclude, the best of wishes to Hugh Sundae, who hosted his last 95bFM Breakfast show this morning. I like Hugh a lot - as one of the listeners who called in this morning said, "thanks for always being good-humoured and personable". I'm sure he'll go on to greater things - indeed, it seems that you can expect to see him on the television sooner rather than later. Best wishes also to his replacement, Camilla Martin, who will be breaking new ground in a number of ways. And I'm really looking forward to the party tonight …

PS: I've interviewed David Slack for Mediawatch this Sunday. Not my idea as it happens - I'd never have dared suggest it - but it's nice to get to talk about weblogs, the media and applied writing.