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Maxim Institute: real issues


Maxim Institute

real issues. this week: No. Forty-Seven 19 DECEMBER 2002

Contents:

* Families Commission takes shape - Inclusion not structure the emphasis.

* Cutting the Yellow Ribbon - A successful suicide prevention programme has hit a snag.

* Censorship Bill - New Bill which raises old but still important issues.

* English double standard - What do we expect of migrants' English skills?

* Privy Council vs Supreme Court - A major issue which continues to capture the headlines.

* Maxim Conference: 22 March 2003 - Make a note in your diary now!

Families Commission formation - inclusive approach shapes new agency

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Social Services Minister Steve Maharey has released details on the shape of the Families Commission which will be established by July 2004. The Commission will be an autonomous Crown Entity have up to seven Commissioners with responsibility for advocacy and promoting a better understanding of family-issues; research; and contributing to policy development on family related issues. In a statement on Tuesday Mr Maharey said the Commission recognises the vital role of parenting to the future of New Zealand and he welcomed the inclusive approach of the Commission. "The Family Commission will concern itself with the issues faced by all New Zealand families, and by specific types of families". He went on to also say that successful parenting is crucial to the overall strategy of creating a knowledge society.

Some worthy objectives are motivating the Families Commission establishment, but the raising of children is not primarily to create a knowledge society. Given the emphasis and importance placed on parenting a clear understanding of the nurturing relationships within the natural family is essential. For government policy to be successful in supporting this it needs to recognise that all structures do not deliver the same outcomes. Based on a politically correct ethos of inclusiveness all social arrangements are deemed as functionally equivalent and quality as family. In a Christmas letter by Steve Maharey he makes a remarkable statement - "The government's decision to focus on families and parenting is not driven by a concern in the decline in families with two married parents and children." This neglects to acknowledge the contribution to raising children and the social and economic fabric generally of the married two parent family. Evidence suggests this is precisely where emphasis needs to be placed to ensure the best and most cost effective outcomes for children.

Mr Maharey's Christmas letter was titled 'the politics of the family' - we can only hope that the Commission does not result in families being politicised and reduced to the promotion of particular ideological agendas. The Commission could make a real difference by doing qualitative research on the outcomes that different family structures deliver.

Cutting the Yellow Ribbon - references said to increase suicide

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The suicide prevention organisation Yellow Ribbon has hit a snag. Its efforts amongst teenagers, while widely applauded and credited with much good work has been questioned by officials from three Government ministries (Health, Education and Youth Affairs) in letters to schools warning that references to suicide could be linked anecdotally with an increase in the behaviour. Yellow Ribbon programme development manager Ruth Buckingham said after the meeting with the ministries last Friday it had agreed to edit sections referring to suicide from a video it screened in schools.

Does talking about suicide increase the risk? That is difficult to prove or disprove, but it's certainly not the logic the same ministries apply to programmes aimed at teenagers when it comes to sex, alcohol or drugs. These promote talk and openness to an extent that would surprise and shock many. The logic is that a high degree of knowledge will result in 'informed choices' and responsible behaviour, even though the opposite is likely to occur. When it comes to suicide, the ministries fear that awareness will lead to awakening, which, in turn, will lead to experimentation. Perhaps they have a point - but those same ministries are not consistent when it comes to other serious moral issues. This highlights the deep confusion that lies at the heart of much of our public policy thinking on children, rights, education and what is meant by 'being responsible'.

Censorship Bill - important issues up for debate

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One of Parliament's 30 new MPs, Marc Alexander, has scored a rare coup by having his private member's Bill drawn from the ballot so early in his Parliamentary career. Mr Alexander's Bill aims to strengthen the law concerning classification of films, videos and publications by restoring what he believes was Parliament's original intention regarding the word 'objectionable'. He says much material intended to be blocked has been getting through.

Censorship has been an issue this year with films such as Baise-Moi and Q approved even though they depict paedophilia, rape, sexual violence, necrophilia and other obscene material. Censorship staff have reportedly sometimes vomited at what they have seen and has counseling on hand from a psychologist. Yet the Censor's office banned outright only one film this year - a far cry from 1957, when the line "You small, disgusting old man" was considered offensive enough to be cut. The classic Western Gunfight at the OK Corral had several scenes, including the sound of a spring knife opening, deleted before it was screened.

This shows how rapidly we are being desensitised about sex and violence. We have thrown out most of the taboos that were maintained until very recently. Modern New Zealand is increasingly unsuccessful at combining law and social mores harmoniously and productively. In a nation that is no longer clear on the virtues that sustain Civil Society, on what basis do we derive standards for evaluating films? Given our propensity for tolerance we are almost in a position of where there is nothing that we cannot tolerate. We are forced back on "current society values" - and we can see how little that has left us with. Hopefully some clarification of what is objectionable will give the film censors guidelines to stem the tide.

Double standard - how much English is enough for migrants?

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A possible contradiction in government policy on English requirements for immigrants became apparent yesterday. In a speech by the Minister for Ethnic Affairs, Chris Carter, to an Auckland Moslem forum he said the Government were making excellent progress on a telephone interpreting service. This is part of a strategy to ensure departments are aware of the needs of their 'ethnic clients' and provide a translation service for almost thirty languages. Mr Carter says it will be available to agencies such as WINZ, Immigration, Housing, Inland Revenue and Police. "Imagine being able to get all the information about a benefit or your tax file in your own language", he said.

But just last month the Minister of Immigration, Lianne Dalziel, announced tougher standards for English, requiring tertiary level skills for migrants arriving under General Skills and Business categories. Mrs Dalziel said, "All the evidence shows that migrants are able to settle far more successfully in New Zealand if they can communicate well in English." Communication is essential to participation in society and English is still the official national language. Questions emerge as to the policy being applied by the Government: what do we expect of migrants as far as assimilation or integration into NZ society? And how far will the Government go in providing translation and services in a multitude of languages rather than improving competency levels in English?

More on the Privy Council

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Our piece on this topic last week generated a considerable number of responses. The implications are profound for not just the courts and their structure, but for the nature of justice and even democracy itself. Otago law professor James Allen has published an excellent article which explores some of the ramifications. To view this click on: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/storydisplay.cfm?storyid=3047220

New Evidence available

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The summer edition of Maxim's research journal Evidence is now available. For reader not familiar with Evidence it is a closer look at New Zealand culture and policy, and allows more room for analysis and explanation than is possible with this email. The lead article looks at the end of civilisation and how culture has replaced what it means to be civilised, this theme of transformation runs through this issue. To subscribe visit our website www.maxim.org.nz or call 09 627 3261.

Inaugural Maxim Conference 22 March 2003 - plan to come

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The inaugural Maxim Conference is in Auckland on 22 March next year. It is an opportunity to hear a range of outstanding overseas speakers. 'In Search of Civil Society' is the theme and confirmed speakers include: Sociology Professor David Popenoe; Larry Reed, Director of a US think tank; Australian Cabinet Minister, Kevin Andrews; and Centre for Independent Studies Education Director, Jennifer Buckingham. The conference venue is Waipuna Lodge in Auckland. To book accommodation, call 0800 WAIPUNA. More details and registration forms will be available early in 2003. For further information call 09 627 3261.

And finally...have a great Christmas

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As this is the last email for 2002, the Maxim staff wish all readers a wonderful Christmas and a safe and relaxing holiday. We hope you have enjoyed reading Real Issues as much as we have preparing it each week. Over the course of the year we have received a growing volume of feedback which has helped shape our thinking and improve the email. We don't pretend to have all the answers to the complex issues facing our nation, but we do believe Civil Society is a helpful framework to both understand and consider where we might start to look for answers. Although the political process is a significant focus, the greater Civil Society concern extends well beyond that to relational connectedness, security, significance and self-worth, which are common to everyone.

It's easy to criticise what's going on but that's not enough. We aim to be constructive and ask: "What might be a better way?" Whatever our points of difference, everyone seeks a way ahead, and the starting point for that is presenting an idea (or ideas) in the public square and seeing them debated. That process and the freedom underpinning it is healthy in itself. Real Issues will resume in late January so keep an eye on your inbox.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Gandalf the Grey (Fellowship of the Rings)

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Even the smallest person can change the course of history.

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