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Maxim Institute - real issues

Maxim Institute - real issues

This week: No. Forty-One 7 NOVEMBER 2002

Contents: * Faulty Towers A major corporation is in trouble, but recent events illustrate the importance of a common ethic and its need to pervade business.

* Safety This used to be about wearing hard hats and steel cap boots, but now it's got many more meanings, which weave their way into state agencies and law.

* Prostitution MP calls for parliament to follow the Swedish model in reform.

* NCEA The report card for 2002 is not good and the prospects for next year are bleak.

* Non violence Is a concept with enormous popular and political appeal. If only international imperatives could make it happen.

Faulty Towers - the connection between business and ethics The huge slide in Tower shares after an up-beat report only one month ago looks like irresponsibility. Management appears to be cleaning out its balance sheet before the appointment of a new chief executive (CE). The former managing director, James Boonzaier, was given a $2 million handout. A question arises: should a CE be rewarded or punished for failure? And another question: where is the tipping point between right and wrong? Yet another: What is the connection between business behaviour and ethics? The payout was part of a $9 million restructuring programme at Tower in which 80 staff lost their jobs and share prices lost about $300 million, a drop of 44 percent.

Business, like every other activity, finds itself in the middle of postmodern relativism, which leads to uncertainty and an inability to discern between right and wrong. That makes successful business difficult, because business judgments at their heart are frequently moral judgments. An ethic of responsibility needs to operate consistently and across culture, incorporating private, public and commercial activities. We cry out for accountability in the public sector, but the private is not exempt - it does not exist in an ethical vacuum - and only when we really accept the need for clear accountability, will confidence return to the market. Without this, economic confidence collapses. A $2 million dollar payout in the midst of failure hardly looks like an exercise in accountability.

Safety - managed by care and relationship by legislation No-one can reasonably claim 'safety' isn't important. But it does not mean what it once did. Child Youth and Family (CYF), for example, claims it is committed to the safety of children and families, but on occasions it divides families by up-rooting children and placing them in foster care, against the wishes of parents and children. CYF is, in such instances, positing itself as more authoritative than parents when it comes to child-rearing. It can be a tough call for staff having to make difficult judgments, however the assumption is now that the state rather than families is more able to make such decisions.

Organisations that use volunteers are under threat from Margaret Wilson's attempts to give volunteers greater safety. Her Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill will make employers liable for fines up to $250,000 if a volunteer is injured. People naturally help others and the charitable sector operates on goodwill and the humanitarian impulse - fundraising and leisure activities would be almost impossible without volunteers. Under the guise of 'safety' this new law will undercut this vital aspect of Civil Society. The consequence could be a climate of fear and paralysis created by excessive regulation.

These examples demonstrate how a dependency culture develops through legislation. The idea is that life must be risk free - and the best way to facilitate this is through state agencies and/or new legislation. The irony is that all progress involves risk - we benefit from mistakes, avoid the folly, become wise (hopefully), and move ahead. That's the real world.

Prostitution - Swedish law reform model advocated United Future MP Larry Baldock has returned from a fact-finding trip to Scandinavia to see how new measures against prostitution are working there. The leading country in reform, Sweden, passed a law in 1999 which made it an offence to purchase sex. Similar laws are being considered by France, Finland, Norway and to some extent Denmark.

Trafficking in women for prostitution has become a huge worldwide problem, and Mr Baldock says law reform is necessary to reduce the trade. He is a member of the Select Committee considering a Bill which would repeal legal restraints on the prostitution industry in New Zealand. He is also calling on fellow members to consider the wider picture rather than pass the Bill as it is.

To receive regular updates on the Prostitution Reform Bill email: mailto:scott@maxim.org.nz

NCEA - 'implementation close to a disaster' Education Minister Trevor Mallard is blaming teachers for the problems associated with the National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA). Latest reports from teachers suggest some students - those already with the required number of credits - have been failing to attend classes or attempt further assessment work during Term 4. Unlike the former days of full exams, there is no longer the incentive to work right through the year. Motivation and application fall away creating discipline and management problems for teachers. Mr Mallard has been on the offensive; "Teachers are often slightly older people who are slightly conservative and take a while to accept change." It may just be, however, they are also less likely to be taken in by incoherent educational change.

There's a lot more going on with the NCEA. PPTA President Jen McCutcheon candidly says implementation at Level 1 has been close to a disaster this year. Not only will the practical problems continue, but there are deeper concerns. NCEA is the logical consequence of an inclusive ethos ('all must have prizes'). It tries to appeal to those demanding academic standards as well as practical skills; it tries to meet the demands of universities and polytechnics, of a broad range of employers, parents and of course, individual student needs. It is psychology, business, sociology, and therapy all wrapped up in one. As the events of this year have proved, NCEA is not about excellence in education but whose ideology (ie, whose sectional interests) has the most clout. And what's a better way? How about an understanding of education real enough to understand schools can't do everything? How about an exam in each subject? Unfortunately, in a politically correct environment, 'exam' is a nasty four letter word.

Non-Violence - a new creed The idea of humanity living in harmony has always captured the imagination. It's what most human beings long for, but as frail and self-centred creatures, it seldom lasts. Calls for peace and non violence permeate the United Nations, but the more they are enshrined in treaties and conventions, the more it seems, the civilised world is afflicted with sustained and sporadic cruelty and terrorism.

The most obvious causes of conflict are serious issues of bad governance and injustice. These cannot be addressed through romantic and sentimentalised ideas which are almost invariably advocated by those who view politics as discovering final and complete solutions to all human problems and seek big ideas and big structures to deliver them. Impatient with the imperfections of being human, they are seduced by the idea of issuing international imperatives and the UN is the perfect vehicle.

UN initiatives for peace chastise the generally lawful nations, but fail to deal with aggressors, as we have recently seen in the example of Zimbabwe. A further irony is that although they exist in a postmodern, relativised context, initiatives for peace have a religious feel and language of expression.

Evidence - spring edition out now The third issue of Maxim's quarterly Evidence journal is now available. Articles explore the connection between groups in the struggle for power and progress, conservatism's connection between past and present, along with investigations into the family, volunteering and progressivism in education. Annual subscription is a suggested $30 donation. Copies are available at bookstores around the country, by e-mailing mailto:mail@maxim.org.nz or by calling Maxim's Auckland office (09) 627 3261.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Margaret Thatcher Being democratic is not enough, for a majority cannot turn what is wrong into right. In order to be considered truly free, countries must also have a deep love of liberty and an abiding respect for the rule of law.

To subscribe send a blank email to: mailto:realissues@maxim.org.nz


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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