CLARIFICATION: POLITIK accepts that former National Leader Judith Collins did not make a “captain’s call” to cast a party vote against the Gay Conversion Therapy Bill but implemented the will of the caucus in declaring that the Caucus would vote against the Bill.
What amounts to little more than the political cynicism of Judith Collins was dramatically on display in Parliament on Tuesday night.
Only six of the party’s 33 MPs finally voted against the Cobervsion Practices Legislation Bill.
This was because the party’s new leader, Christopher Luxon, had agreed the vote could be a conscience one.
Labour still insists that its MPs vote along party lines even though POLITIK understands some MPs are opposed to the legislation.
But last August, Judith Collins declared that National would vote on party lines against the Bill.
At the time, National MPs assured POLITIK there had been no caucus vote on the matter.
That, of course, is impossible to confirm or deny since all parties guard the secrets of their caucus votes jealously.
But what was known was that the former leader, Simon Bridges, an evangelical Christian, was opposed to the Bill and support for him from within the Caucus to topple Collins was growing.
It would now seem that Collins’ “captain’s call” to have the Caucus oppose the Bill was an attempt to spike Bridges’ guns and to keep the party’s social conservatives on side.
Now she has lost the leadership and no longer needs to keep the Christian conservatives on side she has become free to change sides and vote for the legislation.
But last August she went further than just opposing the legislation.
IN what must have been a humiliating episode, she stripped Chris Bishop of his role as Shadow Leader of the House while he was midway through negotiations with the Speaker over whether the House could be run virtually during a lockdown.
This was apparently because of a Facebook post in which he had expressed opposition to those opposed to the Bill.
Yet, incredibly, Collins voted in favour of the legislation on Tuesday night, as did Bishop.
But Bridges stuck to his guns and opposed it.
The issue also surfaced at the party’s annual conference in August when Young Nationals President Stephanie-Anne Ross spoke to party members, MPs, the board, and leader Judith and highlighted the youth wing’s disappointment at the decision to vote against the Bill.
The speech was closed to the media, but people who saw it say it was given a standing ovation.
Ahead of the speech, Young Nat members distributed rainbow ribbons among National’s MPs and the party rank and file, encouraging people to show their support.
MPs including Chris Bishop, Nicola Willis, Erica Stanford, Nicola Grigg, Matt Doocey, Joseph Mooney, and Mark Mitchell donned the ribbons, as did a large number of members.
Mitchell spoke in the debate on the Bill on Tuesday night.
“When this bill was first brought to our caucus, my initial gut reaction was absolute abhorrence at the thought of conversion therapy, and I couldn’t believe—I was actually stunned—that in a modern New Zealand, a practice like that could actually be undertaken, and I still feel like that,” he said.
Mitchell said that at the Select Committee, he heard a lot of submissions from people who had been subject to conversion therapy.
“The one thing that was consistent in that it had a deeply negative impact on them,” he said.
“I think, as lawmakers when we come to this House, one of the things that we all hold fast to is the fact that we should pass legislation and do all that we can to protect vulnerable people in our country and in our communities.
“That’s what this bill is trying to do, that is the spirit and intent of this bill, and therefore I do support the bill.”
However, Mitchell, along with his colleague, Pual Goldsmith and ACT MP Nicole McKee, want some tightening up of the Bill when it comes to the rights of parents, counsellors and doctors to give free and frank advice.
National MP Chris Bishop did not speak in the debate, but he may have been entitled to some wry feelings of vindication after he was “outed” over a leaked tweet in which he expressed his opposition to Collins’ call for a Caucus vote to oppose the Bill.
She then stripped him of his role as Shadow Leader of the House and replaced him with Michael Woodhouse.
Woodhouse was one of the seven National MPs who voted against the Bill on Tuesday.
Christopher Luxon has subsequently reinstated Bishop as Shadow Leader.
Michael Woodhouse maintained his opposition to the Bill as it went into its committee stages yesterday, particularly objecting to a Select Committee additional which enlarged the definition of a “conversion practice” top include “carrying out a prayer-based practice, a deliverance practice, or an exorcism intending to change or suppress an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”
Woodhouse opposed the inclusion of “prayer” in this clause.
“Prayer is a channel between an individual and their deity. However, loudly, however, individually or collectively, it is done, and I simply can’t support a piece of legislation that cuts across an individual’s right to pray,” he said.
However, an amendment he moved attempting to remove “prayer” failed. 16 National MPs voted in favour, but two, Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis, opposed him.
This whole debate has offered a revealing insight into the divisions within the National Caucus but what may surprise many is that though there is some sympathy for social conservatism among about half the Caucus, the actual numbers prepared to adopt a hardline position as evidenced in the vote for the Bill on Tuesday night is so small with only seven out of 33 MPs prepared to oppose it totally.
Judith Collins’ gamble that a pitch to the social conservatives could save her leadership was thus always doomed to failure.