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Maxim Institute: Real Issues

Maxim Institute: real issues - this week: No. Forty

Contents: * Immigration It's never far from the news, but there's more to consider than who's coming to New Zealand in what numbers and from where. Important questions need to be asked.

* Child crime statistics New figures reveal a serious problem. But calls for 'whole child' approaches have to look beyond rights to the context of parents and family.

* Bill of Rights How can the Climate Change Responses Bill possibly be connected to the 1990 Bill of Rights Act? This issue raises important questions about where authority lies.

* State spending There are reports this week that spending on Treaty settlements and Ministry of Social Development initiatives are costing the taxpayer many millions of dollars. What's going on in our society to justify such large sums?

Immigration - what kind of New Zealand do we want?

We welcomed more than 37,000 permanent immigrants last year. We are rapidly becoming a multicultural (certainly multi-ethnic) nation, but there is an important question not being raised: what kind of New Zealand do we want as a consequence? The issue is clouded by political calls to be 'tolerant' and 'inclusive'. This means effectively it is wrong to claim any particular culture, ideology or religion is superior to another. Culture is not about colourful clothes worn on special holidays. It is the deep things shaping belief, which govern the way we act. So someone from a different culture by definition thinks and acts differently. It is not whether the All Blacks are superior to the Wallabies; it's more whether we genuinely believe someone who commits adultery should be stoned to death.

To what degree can we expect immigrants to put aside their culture and conform to the New Zealand way of doing things? Are we a Western culture, a Polynesian culture, a blend of the two, or something wider again? Who is making the decision, and how will it shape our laws? In contemporary New Zealand society human rights tend to be the framework adopted for answering these questions. But as they expand in the name of tolerance and inclusion they also challenge our culture in many ways. Perhaps it will not be long before every culture except New Zealand culture is permitted to express itself. But by then, will we have the right to object?

To view a published article on this topic by Maxim writer John McNeil, click on: http://www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/news_page/immigration.html

Child crime statistics - the 'whole child' includes parents

Police caught more than 12,000 young criminals last year - 10 percent were under the age of nine. Figures for the year to 30 June show that 12,541 children aged 13 and under were apprehended by police; 1522 were nine or under. Nearly half of those caught - 6543 - were Maori, compared to 5090 European, 765 Pacific Islanders and 240 children from other ethnic groups. Young boys were three times more likely to be caught than young girls. The number of young criminals increases dramatically by their mid-teens.

Earlier this year the Government announced plans for a youth offending strategy to target high-risk young offenders and offer early-intervention programmes. Senior advocate for the Commissioner for Children, Trish Grant, said it was too soon to see results from the strategy. "Police, Government departments and community agencies needed to adopt a collaborative approach to tackle youth offending...policies needed to focus on the whole child and be culturally sensitive if they were to make a difference", she said. But what does "focus on the whole child" actually mean?

Surely it must include the context of family. Parenthood is a complex activity. Fatherhood is different from motherhood, and the dynamic between them is different again. But if we are talking about the whole child we need to consider all three. Mothers and fathers parent differently. Mothers cuddle children, fathers bounce them. Fathers are louder, mothers quieter. Fathers encourage children to take chances, mothers protect and are more cautious. Mothers talk simply and encouragingly. Fathers tend to challenge and are more directive. Youth crime is a Civil Society concern, not just about kids who get into trouble with the law. It's also a parenting issue, and until we confront this basic truth progress will not be evident.

Bill of Rights - is this law its own authority?

In the Bill of Rights Act (1990) it is said that rights and freedoms declared therein may be subject only to 'such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.' In the same context, the Government has indicated its intention 'to create and sustain a world-leading human rights environment', in which human rights considerations are at 'the heart of public and international policy development and implementation.' Attorney General Margaret Wilson's latest exercise in this context is her attempt in the Climate Change Responses Bill to set up processes that gather information for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. But Federated Farmers say the Bill breaches the Bill of Rights because it would permit unreasonable search of their properties. However, Margaret Wilson believes such searches would be justified notwithstanding the Bill of Rights. But on what grounds?

We are confronted by at least two problems that go far beyond climate change. The first is this: what is defining what? Does the Bill of Rights define our human rights and fundamental freedoms, or does that society define what might be found in a 'world-leading human rights environment'? Some people will respond saying the law is what we make it. But no law floats entirely free. It needs authority beyond itself because if it is merely a mutable human instrument, it can too easily be used to intimidate by those in power. This is what we're seeing behind the Climate Change Responses Bill.

Closely connected is the philosophy through which definition occurs by our society. Do Ms Wilson and other ministers decide for themselves whether particular restrictions on our freedoms are demonstratively justified in a free and democratic society? Farmers remain suspicious. They are unable to get information on the process surrounding the Climate Change Responses Bill. There are important and related issues here, not least of which concerns the nature of the authority on which the Bill of Rights rests. Surely in a 'free and democratic society' a decision as to whether or not a particular limitation on our rights and freedoms is 'demonstratively justified' should be made democratically ie. by Parliament after public consultation.

State spending - responsible government or unsustainable burden?

Ideas are costly. The Government has spent $10.7 million on lawyers processing Treaty of Waitangi claims last year alone, and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is to spend $178 million on a computer up-grade. Courtroom battles over Treaty settlements since 1992 have cost at least $43 million in addition to the landmark Ngai Tahu and Tainui settlements of $170 million, while MSD officials admit new computers will offer little in terms of efficiency gains.

Since the 1980s, commercial and business principles have been blurred with service responsibilities and we've ended-up with the worst of both worlds. Everyone's either a manager or a consultant and the line of accountability becomes an impenetrable maze of more consultants and managers. In the process more money is spent on consultation and committees - while things get worse. And it just rolls on: the MSD has a new research arm employing 100 analysts, but is still looking for more 'managers' and 'team managers'.

If ministries were genuine businesses many would fall flat overnight. But they receive on-going taxpayer funding from a philosophy which embraces big government with a veneer of business rhetoric. Here is what's really going on: our society has lost a clear sense of authority and where it lies, and consequently there is a pervasive loss of confidence. Increasingly we look to new law and government intervention to solve problems, while leadership becomes democratised; ie. decision by consultation. A better way is a functioning Civil Society which restraints government while promoting citizen responsibility based on a consistent sense of right and wrong. Individuals are connected to the relational (mediating) institutions of civil order and the state's power is held in check because it is not authoritative in every instance for controlling our lives.

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THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Ludwig von Mises

The essential characteristic of Western Civilisation...was and is its concern for freedom from the state.

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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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