Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A rarity: a decent man and a politician with sense.

I am the first to say that politicians are not an endangered species, unfortunately, but a dangerous species. There are, now and then, some brilliant exceptions. Here is one such exception.

First, some context. This is from debate held in the New Zealand Parliament. The left-wing Labour government has introduced legislation to ban “party pills” and Hide has risen to speak against the bill. He is interrupted constantly by Labour ministers and MPs. But he handles himself well. I like the exchange and the arguments. As far as this commentator sees things Hide is the best of the lot in New Zealand and leader of the only political party worthy of support. On top of all that he’s just a decent human being.

First Reading

RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT): It is very interesting to follow first of all Nandor Tanczos from the Green Party and then Judy Turner from the United Future party. It is interesting to compare the approaches, because within the two approaches I think we see the two extremes on this bill. I have to say that the *ACT party stands firmly beside the Green Party’s position. Let me just explain what Judy Turner’s position is. She and her party declared themselves here today to be prohibitionists, because she said that if we knew then what we know now, we would have banned alcohol and tobacco. What I like about Judy Turner and United Future’s position is that they are at least consistent. She says we should do is ban all new things that could hurt us, and once it is assumed by the *State that they are OK and Judy Turner says that they are OK, then people would be allowed to use them. So in Judy Turner’s conception, there would be no alcohol, there would be no tobacco, there would probably be no sugar, there would probably be no ice cream—

Hone Harawira: No rugby.

RODNEY HIDE: —certainly no rugby, and probably not a lot of fun, because we would have the “fun police” banning anything that might have some element of risk.

R Doug Woolerton: What a load of rubbish this is!

RODNEY HIDE: I could not agree with Doug Woolerton more that this bill is a load of rubbish.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Tell that to the mums and dads.

RODNEY HIDE: Well, Mr Clayton Cosgrove says I should tell that to the mums and dads. It is a very instructive thing that Mr Cosgrove came down to this House, as he was going to solve the problem of boy racers with legislation. So we got ourselves all into a fury, and I think it was the ACT party and the Green Party that voted against that, too.

We warned the Minister then that passing…
We warned the Minister then that passing legislation would not deal with the problem. Let me tell Mr Cosgrove, Mr Woolerton, and the mums and dads who are listening that we will not solve the drug problem in this Parliament. We will not solve the problem through prohibition. We will not solve the problem by passing laws. Mr Woolerton well knows, I think, that more harm is done by alcohol and tobacco than by party pills. More harm is done, and they are sitting there, banning something because of a perceived problem and because Judy Turner says that the horse has already bolted on alcohol and tobacco. But here is the real problem. Judy Turner went on to say that the Green Party goes on about people getting arrested and she asked whether that was the reason we should not have laws against violence. Actually, we have laws against violence because that is an infringement of other people’s rights. But for people who are taking benzylpiperazine or who are having a cigarette or drinking some alcohol, the damage they are doing is, in the main, to themselves and not to another human being, and there is a fundamental difference between the two.

Hon Member: Have a look at road deaths.

RODNEY HIDE: Well, road deaths are the same. That is why we have road rules, and that is why the ACT party supports road rules. Here is the next point. This Government—and, indeed, the previous National Government was worse—could not keep drugs out of our jails. We have people locked up, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, under heavy surveillance, and we cannot keep the drugs out. Yet we are sitting here in Parliament passing a law as though we can somehow keep drugs out of our streets, out of our pubs, and out of our communal places.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Live and let live.

RODNEY HIDE: I think that to live and let live is not a bad place to start, I say to Mr Cosgrove. It is better than having a policy of saying that we do not like it, so let us ban it and lock up anyone who disagrees with us. In fact, let us go further, I say to Mr Cosgrove, and say that if anyone even has a political disagreement with us, we should ban that person as well. We could say we will ban the party pills and we will ban political debate because they do not suit us. We could say that any people who disagree, who say that people might have some rights and responsibilities, and who say that they would rather live in a society where people had some choices apart from what the Government chooses, including the choice to make mistakes, should be banned. I am looking at Mr Woolerton. He has made a few.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why have laws, then—why have any laws?

RODNEY HIDE: Is it not a surprising thing that I hear a Minister of the Crown calling across the House: “Why have rules?”.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Because many rules don’t stop people doing wrong, do they?

RODNEY HIDE: Let me explain to Mr Cosgrove why we have rules and why we do not legislate for everything. We have rules in order to protect people’s rights and to uphold the rights of citizens in a free State. That is why we have rules, that is why we have a State, that is why we have a court system, and that is why we have police. We do not have rules to stop people in expressing their political views, to stop people taking risks, or to stop people making terribly stupid mistakes, because that is part of being an adult and a responsible human being. We cannot sit here in this House and legislate away all harm, as this Government thinks it can. We cannot actually legislate for good behaviour, but we can legislate in a way that protects people’s basic rights. I have to say that when we go beyond that, then I think that this Parliament overreaches itself. It suggests, somehow, that the Government and this Parliament are the solution to problems that we cannot solve.

Are we to live in a society that says that this Parliament will decide all the risk.
Are we going to live in a society that says that this Parliament will decide all risk, that this Parliament will decide what is right and wrong, and that if Parliament has not banned it, it is OK to use—which is exactly what Judy Turner’s position was. I abhor drugs, actually. I do not understand why anyone would want to take any, as I think that the most wonderful thing in the universe is the human mind because of what it can grasp, comprehend, and conceive. I do not know why anyone would want to be taking drugs and playing with it. But my mind also says to me that we are barking up the wrong tree in thinking somehow that we can pass a law and ban party pills, and that prohibition will somehow work. I find it astonishing that in the year 2007 we have, with Judy Turner, a serious political party that is saying: “Oh well, you know, if we had our time again we would ban alcohol and cigarettes, and we would ban a whole number of things; it is just that at the time we didn’t think of it.” I have to say that that is not the sort of society I think that New Zealanders want to live in. I think that New Zealanders want to live in a society where they do have some freedom, that coming along with that freedom is some responsibility, and that it is not Parliament or Government that decides how they should live, what they should take, and what risks are acceptable to them. I look around this House and, from what I know of members, I know that we all went through a stage of being young once, of experimenting with things, and of taking risks. It is actually called growing up. But do we in this House somehow think that we can pass a law that will stop young people from experimenting and trying different things? What I truly despise about this law is that it wraps up all drugs as being the same, and I think that that is the terrible message this law is sending our young people. But the message I have for the mums and dads of New Zealand, I tell Mr Cosgrove, is that all drugs are not the same, and I fear for young people. I am afraid that I know people who have had the experience where they have tried drugs this Parliament has banned, and have said: “Well, that wasn’t so bad. That didn’t kill me. What Parliament and the Government said about that drug isn’t true.”, and they have gone on to try other drugs. So I believe that we are doing a harm with this legislation—we are not doing good.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Doctors disagree with you.

RODNEY HIDE: Well, it is all right, I tell Mr Cosgrove. This is Parliament and he is allowed to disagree. It is also the case that we are also allowed to explain our view—to explain why the ACT party is opposing this bill and voting against it. Thank you.

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