Support from some Green and Labour MPs for conservative Manukau prostitution legislation is a real shocker
This week I was shocked to see the earthquake recovery legislation rushed through the House with support from all political parties
Even the Greens were willing to vote for a bill which gives Government powers nothing short of totalitarian – with appreciation to Andrew Geddis for his excellent comment on the matter here on Pundit yesterday.
However, last week, and in a different way, I was equally horrified to see the Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill pass its first reading by a large majority, including with the support or abstention of three Green Party MPs.
I am beginning to wonder what is going through the minds of some of my former colleagues, and of Parliament itself, in its acceptance of totalitarian rights for the state and - apparently - of the right of a local council to formulate its own criminal law overriding national legislation.
I fronted for the Green Party during the long, difficult process of shepherding Tim Barnett’s Prostitution Reform Bill through the House in 2002 – 2003.
I also sat through the Select Committee process and again spoke for the Greens on a very similar Manukau City Council bill in 2006.
The Green Party has traditionally prided itself on standing up for those who are vulnerable and dispossessed. Our position on decriminalisation was firmly based in the party’s values around compassion and empowerment.
It is hard to think of a more vulnerable group of people than the street sex workers, female, male and transgender, who work at Hunters Corner, and I respect the hard hitting critique in last week’s Hand Mirror blog.
At the same time, I do understand the desire of Manukau businesspeople and councilors to ‘clean up’ their neighbourhood. However, many of their complaints in fact revolve around things like people relieving themselves in dark corners, littering, and alcohol abuse.
The remedies to these problems lie elsewhere than in criminalising prostitutes. Has the Council installed safe, clean public toilets open 24 hours? What work is done on litter control? Are all concerned pushing the Government to strengthen the content of its proposed alcohol law reforms? Will the council repeal the bylaw which prohibits brothels in large parts of the city? What extra financial resources are they giving to community and church groups who work to help street prostitutes who want to improve their lives?
Now, as last time around, it feels to me that the street health and safety problems, while real enough, are very much a smokescreen for a group of people who are morally opposed to the decriminalisation of prostitution, and who wish to overturn the law locally even if they are unable to do so at the national level.
I do not understand why some Labour and Green MPs - who all profess to come from a kaupapa of social justice - think the solution to the Hunters Corner situation is to allow a local council to recriminalise prostitutes with fines of up to $2000.
Talk about penalising the victim rather than looking for constructive solutions.
I congratulate the Maori Party MPs for taking a principled stand on this matter – perhaps they are simply the only party who collectively have a firm understanding of the realities of life for young, disproportionately Maori street prostitutes in Manukau.
I am really disappointed that the two leading candidates for the Auckland mayoralty both appear to support this latest bill – Len Brown, if anyone, should certainly know better.
It does not bode well for the future of our city that whoever becomes mayor takes such a conservative and patriarchal position, rather than looking at a constructive and developmental approach.
It does not bode well for the future of our country that so many MPs, including some from parties who avowedly support values of social justice and compassion, are so quick to support such illiberal and backward-looking legislation.
The whole situation is made even more ridiculous by the fact that the Manukau Council goes out of existence very shortly.
As I said last time around, I hope this unfortunate bill will be consigned very shortly to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.