The Australian take on NZ's marriage equality law

by Toby Manhire / 22 April, 2013
A mixture of admiration and frustration - but Australia is still more progressive than its neighbour, insists one writer.
The Australian Marriage Equality Campaign respond to NZ change.

Australian supporters of same-sex marriage have been responding to recent events in New Zealand’s parliament with a mixture of admiration and frustration – and sometimes just weirdness.

“How obvious is it that this is the right thing to do?” asks former Wallaby and Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons.

How obvious that those who continue to oppose it - and I cite particularly our Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader - are on the wrong side of history, and 20 years from now their stance will be viewed as ludicrous and as embarrassing as those who opposed giving the franchise to Aborigines in the 1960s.

FitzSimons invokes the famous Muldoon quip about New Zealand migration to Australia, which, he reckons he heard first hand.

In the late 1980s, I was invited to speak at a debate in Whangarei, New Zealand, against the notion ''Kiwis are smarter than Aussies.''

I thought I did rather well, until their once-was-prime-minister Sir Robert Muldoon blew me out of the water, saying, ''FitzSimons, don't you understand that it is a recognised fact that every time a New Zealander emigrates to Australia, it lifts the average IQ of both countries?''

New Zealanders were clearly “on the right side of history”, says FitzSimons. “The Kiwis can sort themselves on this; why can't we?”


ABC Radio called NZ Herald cartoonist Rod Emerson to ask why “this small island nation just across the ditch from Australia [is] so progressive when it comes to human rights issues”.

He tells them, in part: “By and large, New Zealanders are far more accepting and far more tolerant I would think than [is] the average Aussie.”


New Zealand had done the right thing, chips in Claire Harvey of the Sydney Sunday Telegraph. And both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott should follow our politicians’ example.

Gillard “knits booties for the babies of her gay friends, for goodness' sake. And as a true pragmatist, she must see gay marriage is a natural vote winner.”

As for Abbott (who has, according to SBS, been “making wriggle room on gay marriage” to allow a conscience vote, even if he remains opposed to the orthodoxy), Harvey exhorts him to take a leaf out of Maurice Williamson’s book: “He's a true liberal with a strong social conscience. Why not confound his critics on the left, re-energise the modern Liberal Party, endear himself to everyone under 35 - and get a gig on Ellen?”

But don’t get the wrong idea, cautions Harvey. “New Zealand is not more "progressive" than Australia, despite the common myth.”

She explains:

I lived in New Zealand for five years, working as a journalist, and I found it in most ways far more conservative than Australia - particularly in relation to gay rights. My gay Kiwi friends were among the few New Zealanders who were actually willing to admit Australia was more liberal and more open to change than New Zealand (even though all Kiwis secretly know it).

It's unusual in New Zealand to see a gay couple comfortably strolling the streets hand-in-hand. Especially for young gay Kiwis, "Oxford St" is a byword for safety and acceptance. That's why Sydney's Mardi Gras is a much bigger deal for many gay Kiwis than Auckland's Pride Festival - which went broke in 2001 and spent a decade on hold before busting out the feather boas again this year.

New Zealand might be able to boast “vastly more mature approach to indigenous relations”, but remember, says Harvey, “NZ was settled decades after Australia - by which time the post-Enlightenment ideas of man's innately dignified nature had dawned in Europe and brought with them the radical notion of negotiating with a new land's native people, rather than waiting for them to die”.

And her summary of what happened next: “That led to NZ's Treaty of Waitangi, boldly empowering warlike tribes that still reign.”

Otherwise, Australia could claim to be more progressive. “We take more refugees per capita than they do - and their collective warm smugness is never pricked by deaths at sea or boat arrivals.”

And on the environment, “New Zealand uses more ... renewable energy than we do - because nobody can get a permit to open a mine. They don't like uranium, but their cancer doctors are happy to accept the radioactive medical isotopes we create.”

But surely the most compelling evidence of all is this:

New Zealand is a not particularly wealthy country where agricultural communities hold sway ... It's cold. Nobody gets spray-tans. People wear a lot of dark, angular clothing.


In a blog for the Australian, Peter Brent points out that attitudes often have a regional difference.

Of course, it depends on your definition of “conservative” and “progressive”, but look at it like this: Australia contains six states, a couple of which, Queensland and Western Australia, could be described as pretty “conservative” and others like Victoria and South Australia, more “liberal”.

If we accept that New Zealand would be closer to the second category, it is reasonable to describe Australians in total, or on average, as more “conservative” than Kiwis.


Meanwhile the impact of the World’s Leading Voice for Gay Rights, Mr Maurice Williamson, aka the Pakuranga Highway Gangster of Love has been lavished with attention. But one leading Australian site, News Limited’s, possibly overstated things a little with their headline above a story about his contribution to the debate:

The speech that legalised same-sex marriage in NZ.

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