NZ Election 2020: New Conservatives won't repeal same-sex marriage law

Same-sex marriage looks like it's here to stay, with the only party within reach of Parliament that's openly against it saying they won't move to repeal it. 

New Conservatives leader Leighton Baker told The AM Show on Thursday it's a misconception the party wants to overturn the 2013 law which legalised marriage between two people of the same sex.

"We're not saying we're going to ban it or take it off people - we haven't said that."

While the party believes "in the traditional definition of marriage as between one biological man and one biological woman" and everything else should be a civil union, Baker said if two men or two women wanted to marry under the present law, "that's their choice".

"We're just putting a line in the sand and saying we believe this is the best thing for children. It's not a policy - it's what we say we believe, but we're not going to force it on people." 

The New Conservatives are polling at about 2 percent, well below the 5 percent threshold, but Baker says giving them the tick won't be a wasted vote.

"There's 14 percent of people still looking for someone to vote for. If they give it to us, we can strengthen up the centre right. We're already at 2, 2.5 percent - another 2.5 percent and there's six more MPs. The smart deal is actually vote for us and boost the numbers."

The party's original incarnation, led by Colin Craig, nearly made it into Parliament with 4 percent of the vote. Baker said it won't be easy, and it's too late to team up with other like-minded parties on the right.

"That may happen in the future - we've got to have that conversation after this election." 

Asked what the first thing he'd do in Parliament if elected, Baker said it would be to make referenda binding.

"No Government has ever honoured citizens-initiated referenda. For me personally, democracy is really, really important."

There have been five citizens-initiated referenda in New Zealand history. 

"We had 90 percent say 'don't sell state assets' - they still did it," said Baker (the number opposed was actually 67 percent). "Nearly 90 percent said 'we're not sure [about] this anti-smacking Bill', they still did it. I'm not actually sure they do listen to the people."

The smacking referendum was widely criticised, including by then-Prime Minister Sir John Key, as containing a loaded question. Other citizens-initiated referenda have been ignored by Governments for being confusingly worded (justice reform, 1999) or showing a misunderstanding of the political process (number of MPs, also 1999). 

Baker also appears to be a bit confused about the two referenda we're having this month, on recreational cannabis and assisted dying

"You're not actually voting 'do you want cannabis', you're voting for that legislation," he claimed. 

This isn't quite true. While there is proposed framework for how a legal cannabis market would work in New Zealand which is namechecked in the referendum question, it's yet to go through select committee and may change. The referendum is non-binding too. 

As for the assisted dying referendum, Baker said the proposed law was rushed and "should have gone to the people". It is in fact going to the people - if the referendum passes, it becomes law; if it doesn't, it doesn't - this referendum, unlike the cannabis one, is binding. Tens of thousands of people made submissions during the select committee phase.

Elsewhere in the interview, Baker said he would fund the St John Ambulance service by cutting spending on education "bureaucracy", and wouldn't give workers any new public holidays, claiming they - and the additional sick leave proposed by Labour and the Greens - would cost employers "thousands of dollars".