As the excited crowd left the public gallery of Parliament on Wednesday evening, the Speaker had to pause the business of the House. There was a buzz in the air following the vote on Louisa Wall’s marriage equality bill. It was a great night for fairness, equality and courage. The journey New Zealand has been on since the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in the 80s, through Civil Unions in 00s took another important step in giving all New Zealanders a fair go. We saw some courageous testimonies in the days leading up to the vote and some courageous speeches and voting on the night.
When the crowd had dispersed, and the gallery was deserted, my friend and colleague David Clark got up to introduce his private members bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in line with Labour’s 2011 manifesto commitment. The crowd should have stayed. He gave a great speech. So did Darien Fenton who followed on from him focusing on the plight of the cleaners in Parliament. Have a look at the speeches, they are thoughtful and heartfelt pleas for a fair wage for all workers. The response from the government speakers was as predictable as it was out of touch.
Those National MPs should all have listened to the courage of Sosefina Masoe a cleaner who spoke the next day at the Wellington launch of the Living Wage campaign. She has spoken publicly before of her story of working for just on the minimum wage while trying to support her children and wider family. Talking to her afterwards it was hard not be moved by her hopes for a better life for her children. It is what all New Zealanders would want. She deserves far better than a $13.50 minimum wage, she deserves a living wage. Our Bill is a first step.
I would have loved the crowd who so enthusiastically supported marriage equality to have stayed and cheered on a fair go for our lowest paid workers. The issues come from the same well-spring. Its all part of the agenda of a fair go for all New Zealanders and a society where we reject exclusion and unfairness and embrace and value the contribution that all Kiwis can make to our society.
I am proud that Labour had two Bills in a row on the order paper on Wednesday that pursued the core progressive values of fairness and equality. We must, and will, continue to show the courage to propose the measures to build the better and fairer society, in all its many forms.