Arresting times

NEIL REID
Last updated 05:00 27/03/2011
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Photo: Fairfax

Kevin Hague, second from left at the 1981 Hamilton protest.

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Photo: Kevin Stent
Kevin Hague today.

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In 1981 Kevin Hague protested against the Springboks rugby tour – and now, as Green Party spokesman for the Rugby World Cup, he will welcome them back to New Zealand in September. He talks to Neil Reid about a lifetime of campaigning. 

THIRTY YEARS has not dulled the horror and violence Kevin Hague witnessed and had inflicted upon him during the 1981 Springbok rugby tour.

For eight weeks the strong anti-tour faction – of which the future Green Party MP was proudly a member – did its utmost to disrupt the infamous sporting tour which divided the country.

Hague was arrested five times, including after the pitch invasion which saw the cancellation of an early-tour match against Waikato at Hamilton's Rugby Park. And as the action on the rugby field heated up during the three-test series – which the All Blacks eventually won 2-1 – so, too, did the violence off the field.

The tensions finally boiled over into a theatre of wanton violence as police – frustrated at earlier security breaches – and protesters waged war in the streets and backyards of houses around Auckland's Eden Park. Skulls were fractured, blood spilt on the pavement and serious injuries suffered by both police and protesters while the match was being played inside a heavily fortified Eden Park.

Hague – now one of a handful of openly gay MPs in parliament – did not escape the violence. He was concussed after being struck on the head by a police riot baton.

When he recalls the horror of September 12, 1981, Hague's upbeat mood noticeably changes.

He looks into the distance, clutches his coffee, then pauses for several moments: "It makes me shiver still just thinking about it. A lot of people got very badly hurt that day... it was out of control."

After being clubbed to the ground, Hague was helped to a "safe-house" near Eden Park as violent mayhem ensued around the sports ground.

Thirty years on and Hague will welcome the Springboks back to New Zealand in his role as the Green Party's spokesman for Rugby World Cup issues.

Despite the violence he witnessed back then, he still loves rugby. Although, he notes, "I did lose respect for some of the [All Black] players and people involved in the game that participated... Andy Haden is a classic one."

And the welcome he offers the Springboks in September will be very different to the one he offered them in 1981, when, within days of their arrival in New Zealand, he was arrested.

Hague was charged with rioting after being among a group of protesters who stormed through the Gisborne Park Golf Club in a dramatic attempt to find a weakness in security measures around the neighbouring Rugby Park.

The protesters were kept at bay by scores of police, pro-tour supporters and even a group of burly freezing works staffers reportedly paid by local rugby figures to ensure no one illegally entered the ground.

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A second arrest followed just three days later when Hague was among 350 protesters who stormed through a boundary fence surrounding Hamilton's Rugby Park. The match was cancelled after the protesters dropped an assortment of nails, tacks and broken glass on the playing arena, plus after police had been told a pilot had stolen a light plane and was flying towards Hamilton intent on doing anything in his powers to have the clash stopped. "We just went up to the fence and pulled it down. And then we were on the field," Hague said.

"I was a lucky one there as I actually got arrested on the field. But for those that didn't, once the game got cancelled, it was a pretty torrid time in getting away from the ground. Again, a lot of people were quite badly hurt."

More arrests followed during the 1981 tour, and then three years later as Hague took an increasingly prominent role in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the months leading up to the All Blacks' planned 1985 tour of South Africa.

Philip Recordon and Patrick Finnigan eventually secured a court injunction to stop the tour, but not before Hague was arrested in the New Zealand head office of Aerolineas Argentinas – the airline which was to fly the All Blacks to Africa.

Hague had a criminal record before his anti-apartheid stance brought him before the courts. During his student days he was convicted of being drunk in a public place after being found in the Dunedin Hospital's kitchen.

Then in 1980 he was arrested during an anti-sexism protest at a Miss New Zealand beauty pageant; a moment he states is his "most embarrassing political moment".

"I ended up in a police paddy wagon with a group of women who wouldn't speak to me," he laughs. "They were all lesbian separatists."

HAGUE WAS born in Aldershot, England, in 1960, and says his parents instilled in him from an early age to "follow what you were passionate about".

That mantra saw him start a school anti-pollution club at the age of 12, a year before his family emigrated to New Zealand.

While studying at Auckland University in the 1970s, Hague became heavily involved in student politics, eventually being elected president of the Auckland University Students Association in 1980.

But despite being a prominent figure in fighting for student rights, Hague still didn't see a future in national politics. In the late 1980s he headed the Aids Foundation, before moving to Greymouth with his partner, Ian, and his son, Thomas, to take on a role as the general manager of planning and funding for the West Coast District Health board, before becoming the board's chief executive.

"I have never actually had a career plan, a life plan. I really just moved from one thing to another," Hague said. "I hadn't thought about myself being possibly an MP until the Green Party came along."

That approach came as the party started planning for the 2008 election. After polling third in the West Coast-Tasman electorate, Hague earned his spot in parliament after being placed seventh on the Green Party's list for the 2008 election.

He was later handed the role as Green Party spokesman for rainbow issues, conservation, health and wellbeing, ACC, community economic development, rural affairs, cycling and active transport issues.

Being a Green Party MP on the West Coast has led to some "robust discussions" with local constituents, especially around mining. "But I have not encountered particular abuse or prejudice for being a Green. But what I have encountered is a lot of misapprehension about what greenies are... the dope-smoking, hippie kind of thing," Hague said.

"You may note that I do not have dreads and I have never folk danced in my life. Dispelling some of those misapprehensions has been quite important."

That includes comments from Hague that he does support mining to an extent – but not when it is proposed for areas such as the Paparoa National Park.

"Products that we need to mine stuff for, we do need to be putting a whole lot of effort into finding alternative ways for meeting the needs for those products," Hague explained. "But where we do need to mine, we need to minimise the amount we mine and mine in places and ways that minimise the impact on the environment. That is a pretty basic approach."

He has a close affinity to all his portfolios, none more so than the rainbow issues after campaigning for gay and lesbian rights for more than 20 years. His work includes pushing for civil unions and a raft of homosexual law reform legislation, including making it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Hague says some of that legislation has "made my life as an adult gay man pretty damned good". But he says the same can't be said for many teenagers in New Zealand who realise they are "different" from their heterosexual peers and battle stigmas in the community.

"It is still very likely that for most people they would have been raised in a family that kind of assumes they will be heterosexual," he said. "The schooling they have will again, in thousands of probably unconscious ways, assume universal heterosexuality."

Hague said a dearth of positive homosexual role models plus the need to "fit in with norms" too often created an environment where teenaged gays and lesbians "felt alone and bad about themselves", often with tragic consequences.

"The youth suicide rate is much, much higher among gay and lesbian students, particularly young gay men, than their straight peers," he said.

Hague knows first-hand how tough it can be for a young man to realise he is "different" from his peers.

His coming-out phase lasted an "extended period of time" during his 20s. The last people he told were his parents.

"They were the hardest people to tell because I was scared they would be disappointed, shocked ... what they felt about it mattered hugely to me," he said.

"There is also a process of coming out to yourself. For me, the assumption of heterosexuality was so strong that my feelings of attraction to other guys actually made me think, `Oh, this must mean I am bisexual,"' he said.

"My first sexual relationship was with another guy. But then it was with some relief that I had a relationship with a woman for a while, for a year or so.

"I don't want to analyse that too much, but I think ultimately I was dishonest with myself. But it was a relief to be bisexual at least. But then after that I realised that [being bisexual] wasn't me."

Hague said he had never been the target of taunting over his sexual orientation since entering the halls of parliament in 2008.

The same, he said, couldn't be said for other gay MPs, citing "prejudice" directed at Attorney-General and Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Chris Finlayson.

"Trevor Mallard, and also Clayton Cosgrove, refer to Chris Finlayson as `tinkerbell'. And I f---ing hate it," Hague said. "That sort of overt taunting as a `fairy', it is nothing other than prejudice. I don't like that culture of abuse."

That abuse was a world away from how he and his partner, Ian, have been received since moving to the West Coast in 2003. Just as more people on the coast are welcoming some of the Green Party's politics, Hague said being gay in the town of Greymouth had been a pleasant eye-opener.

"People do say, `What is it like being gay on the West Coast?' Well, actually it is the same as being gay anywhere else but we don't have the same nightclubs," Hague said.

"My partner and I have been on the coast for eight-and-a-half years now and have not had one incidence of prejudice or discrimination. People accept that people are different, we are all in this community together and we have to get on and get over difference."

HAGUE SPEAKS

On his "hero" Captain Planet: "It is a bit tongue and cheek, but true. Remember it was all `our powers combined'... ordinary people working together actually can save the planet. I like the fact it was directed at kids. Kids are passionate about the natural world. What we typically tend to do is train that out of them."

On John Key's '81 Bok tour neutrality: "You really couldn't be neutral. When John Key said he couldn't really remember whether he was for the tour or against it, no one who was around at the time believed that could possibly be true. It was such a polarising issue you couldn't really be neutral."

On gay role models: "Who in public life do youths actually see that is visible as a gay or lesbian role model? The England wicketkeeper [Steven Davies] has just come out and there is [Welsh rugby icon] Gareth Thomas. In music, maybe Lady Gaga? But I am not sure I want Lady Gaga as my role model... I am not sure what she is a role model of."

On the Green Party's mantra: "We do our best to create an internal environment where everyone feels welcome and part of it. Everyone who joins the Green Party signs up to a charter which is based on some principles around protecting the environment, social responsibility to create a fair society, non-violence and appropriate decision-making that we try and translate into parliament as honest and healthy politics."

On his political legacy: "I do work very hard to try and maintain good relationships across the House. So I want people to think of me as someone who always plays the ball, not the man, and doesn't get into the personal stuff."

- Sunday Star Times

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