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Real Issues: leaky houses - prostitutes and more..

Maxim Institute: Real Issues. This week Leaky houses - can we fix it? Leaky houses are a big problem, but it isn't the government's fault. The problem isn't one of legislation, but the erosion of responsible behaviour and trust in the building industry.

Drinking age - impact of lowering the age Serious problems with a lower age were predictable, now data is starting to emerge. An estimate says 16 young people aged 18 and 19 may have died due to the lower age.

New Judge - parents matter Children are entitled to have a solid, meaningful relationship with both parents, not just one-hour supervised access once a month at McDonalds.

Knowledge and education - the essence of progress? 'More-education' won't necessarily deliver prosperity. In Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe there is economic misery, but 85% literacy.

Shrinking numbers of volunteers Volunteers are an important component of Civil Society. They actively build community through relational responsibility and commitment, but numbers are declining.

Prostitution Reform back on the agenda Maxim presented its submission before the new Select Committee on the Prostitution Reform Bill this week. Research shows the bill will not achieve its aims and instead make the situation worse.

LEAKY HOUSES - can we fix it? --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Leaky houses with rotting timber and unsafe balconies are a real problem. How did this come about? There are four main reasons: unproven new techniques, poor professional judgement, shoddy workmanship and/or dishonesty. When it comes to professional judgement, suppliers and builders are without excuse. New materials and techniques must be used with caution, particularly in New Zealand's variable climate. Our climate is a test for any building, but professional incompetence is another matter altogether.

Trust is at the heart of professional competency and good relationships. Without it, very little can take place to anyone's satisfaction. When trust is absent lots of things go awry. We either have a culture of trust or one of suspicion. The latter always leads to more regulation. And there is a sub-text: we quickly start to blame the Government. It is not George Hawkins' fault as Minister of Internal Affairs. The Government can't legislate trust. If it was a matter of legislation alone, we wouldn't have a problem; in recent years we have been swamped with new laws, codes of practice and groups like OSH (Occupational Safety and Health). In a Civil Society we have to be able to trust others. The problem is not one of legislation, but the erosion of responsible behaviour, including adequate testing and workmanship.

THE DRINKING AGE - cabinet committee to investigate --------------------------------------------------------------------------- It was predictable when the law was changed in 1999: we face increasingly serious problems with teenagers and alcohol. A cabinet committee is to investigate, and according to one member, Jim Anderton, raising the drinking age is an option. NZ First MP, Ron Mark took initiative this week lodging a private members bill to raise the age limit.

Meanwhile, data on the effects of the lowered drinking age is starting to emerge. An ALAC (Alcoholic Liquor Advisory Council) report Assessment of the Health Impacts of Lowering the Minimum Legal Age for Purchasing Alcohol in New Zealand (April 2002) is a comprehensive account of new trends. It concludes: 'The application of overseas empirical evidence of causal links between the drinking age and outcomes to New Zealand benchmarking data yields an estimate that 16 young people aged 18 and 19 years may have died per annum due to the lowered alcohol purchase age in New Zealand' (p.51.). In data just released to the Maxim Institute, Colmar Brunton surveyed 500 New Zealanders over the age of 15 about issues concerning youth. In response to the statement 'Youth problems are becoming worse because of the lower drinking age'; 69 percent of respondents 'agreed', with 46 percent agreeing 'strongly'.

Jenny Shipley's belief in a sophisticated café culture has not changed the attitude and behaviour of many young people. As with many issues, the law itself can't make teenagers more responsible. Reinstating the age at 20 may act as a restraint and limit the access minors have to alcohol, but this is only one factor. Dysfunctional and fractured families are part of the wider problem. They are both a consequence and a cause of increasing alcohol and drug use.

The full report can be viewed at: http://www.alcohol.org.nz/resources/publications/Comprehensive_HIA_report.pdf

To view PDF you need the free Acrobat Reader software. If you don't already have it, you can download it from http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html

NEW JUDGE - parents matter --------------------------------------------------------------------------- The country's first woman Pacific Island judge, Ida Malosi, believes children are entitled to have a relationship with both parents. She says; "I have seen and represented so many children without their fathers in the equation and it is a huge gap in their lives. They are entitled to have a solid, meaningful relationship from both parents, not just one-hour supervised access once a month at McDonalds."

This is a poignant comment. Ms Malosi realises that relationship failure, not the failure of state agencies, lies at the core of most criminal offending. The natural family - which includes the kinship ties of the wider or extended family as well as the nuclear family - is the context in which all children and young persons will learn their identity and what it means to be included. The Government's desire to set up a Family Commission needs to appreciate the value of kinship in a working definition of 'family' if it is to make real headway. The prevailing credo of tolerance will make it difficult to adopt a definition that appreciates the importance of the married, two-parent (male and female), intergenerational natural family.

For an article by Maxim researcher Michael Reid on the importance of defining what is meant by family click on: www.maxim.org.nz/ri/family1.html

KNOWLEDGE AND EDUCATION - the essence of progress? --------------------------------------------------------------------------- We are accustomed to hearing that the answer to escalating rates of teenage pregnancy, lowering drink-driving fatalities, and reducing numbers of people smoking and using drugs, is more education. It is so ingrained it's hard to cite other factors as having any impact at all. We've also heard the Knowledge Economy mantra and a belief that education is the key to economic growth, a higher standing in the pecking order of the OECD nations and prosperity for all. But a new book by Alison Wolf, Does education Matter? Myths about Education and Economic Growth, challenges this thinking. When the couplet of Education and Economy is forged it becomes hard to see education as anything but skills for jobs. This is a reductionist notion. The link with the economy is important of course, but in all the Knowledge Economy rhetoric there's no broader understanding of education which connects it to culture, scholarship or citizen virtue.

'More education' won't necessarily deliver prosperity. In March this year, for example, when Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe descended into economic misery, no one registered that its 85 percent literacy rate was the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. On the other hand, Hong Kong's meteoric growth occurred without clear education policies (secondary and tertiary expansion came later), while the richest OECD nation, Switzerland, has the lowest university graduation rate of all the member nations.

Education-for-growth is only part of its function. And when this is further pared down to vocational training, we end up with an impoverished view of what education is and how it can contribute to the wider goals of scholarship, learning for its own sake, promoting freedom, and maintaining social order.

SHRINKING NUMBERS OF VOLUNTEERS - St. John's situation part of a wider problem --------------------------------------------------------------------------- In 2001 there were 6,456 volunteers staffing the St John Ambulance service in New Zealand. That number has dropped to just over 6,000. This decline is evident in other voluntary and service organisations, too. There are many reasons for this: a declining population (in rural areas), a trend towards more variable working hours (affecting on-call availability), and a general erosion of an ethic that understands the role of charity in communities are only some of them. The growing assumptions that for something to be valued one has to be paid, and that the state will provide, add to the other factors.

Volunteers are an important component of a Civil Society. They actively build community through relational responsibility and commitment. When people act out of a desire to help others it is more personal and meaningful than the government having to provide the service. This is not always possible, of course, but it is vastly preferable to the proliferation of state-funded services in which charity is replaced by an employment obligation.

To view an article published in the Otago Daily Times this week on the importance of charities and volunteers by Maxim writer John McNeil click on: http://www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/news_page/volunteer.html

PROSTITUTION REFORM BACK ON THE AGENDA --------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Prostitution Reform Bill was back before the new Justice and Electoral Select Committee this week. Maxim Institute was one of only four organisations invited to appear this time before the Select Committee to re-present submissions. Since our original submission in February 2001, a huge amount of research has come to light showing that decriminalisation will not achieve the aims of the Bill - in fact, experience in other countries shows that the situation will worsen for everyone.

To read a summary of Maxim's submission, click on: www.maxim.org.nz/ri/prbsummary.html

MAXIM INSTITUTE SOUTH ISLAND PRESENTATIONS --------------------------------------------------------------------------- A series of Maxim presentations in Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill will be held next month. These are a great opportunity for mainlanders to hear Maxim's vision and goals towards building Civil Society. For more information and registration details please click on: www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/whatson_page/whatson.html

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Catherine Healy, Prostitutes Collective Coordinator ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Most people do not grow up in this country thinking I am going to be a sex worker.


Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from the Maxim Institute. The focus is current New Zealand events with an attempt to provide insight into critical issues beyond what is usually presented in the media. This service is provided free of charge, although a donation to Maxim is appreciated. You are encouraged to forward the newsletter to others who might be interested. Items may be used for other purposes, such as teaching, research or civic action. If items are published elsewhere, Maxim should be acknowledged.

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