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Maxim Institute: real issues

Maxim Institute: real issues.

this week: No. Forty-Eight 30 JANUARY 2003

* The Supreme Court - a fresh start or ideology in action? Next to the prospect of war against Iraq, this looks set to be the biggest issue of the year.

* War in Iraq - not if, but when Nobody wants it but a US-led war against Iraq looks probable. A related question is this: Does the UN Security Council have any moral authority to allow or challenge George Bush's determination?

* Girls can do anything - on their own All human beings are made for relationship, but a new Government initiative for women seems ignorant of this most basic fact.

* Greater health risk for one parent children - major new study A study in Sweden finds children with sole parents twice as likely to have a mental illness or addiction.

* Maxim Forum 2003 Our first one-day forum will challenge thinking and offer ideas for action.

Welcome to 2003

Greetings for 2003 and a special welcome to all our new readers who subscribed over summer. Using the news of the week we probe important issues of governance, democracy, rights and responsibilities. Always we ask ourselves "What might be a better way?" It's a challenge to get beyond whinging and consider how as a society we can move ahead. We can be change agents-a dynamic democracy is not about just turning up to vote every three years.

Last year we had lots of feedback which helped shape Real Issues and our own thinking and we trust that will continue in 2003. The issues facing our society need to be debated and Real Issues is a forum to facilitate that. We talk a lot about 'Civil Society' which provides a framework for understanding what goes on in a culture. At its heart, Civil Society balances individual freedom with responsibility, is made up of relational connections such as the family and provides a natural check on state power. As we go on, we will explain this key concept.

The Supreme Court - fresh start or ideology in action?
Attorney-General Margaret Wilson is pushing towards abolishing the Privy Council and establishing a new Supreme Court. She wants to reflect what she sees as the balances in society. "People want", she says, "a new entity if you like, a sort of fresh start". Two questions immediately raise their head: Where can the balances be struck, and who decides where? Even more, what is this fresh start that people apparently want? There's certainly no public groundswell crying out for this major change - it's the result of a particular ideology being promoted.

Justice is traditionally associated with balance. The familiar image is powerful - justice (a virtuous woman) is blind-folded as she holds the scales. She represents a standard that is objective and higher than the state, a role which the Privy Council helps to fulfill. This standard will be eroded when the Supreme Court is set up, firstly because the entire panel of judges will be appointed by the Attorney-General. The 'fresh start' also begins to look like a further political disconnection from the self-evident or objective truths contained in such significant documents as the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights (1688) and the American Constitution.

When we become disconnected from such truth, law becomes an exercise in balancing one set of state-determined rights against another. Not only Parliament gets caught up in this, judges do as well. An Australian High Court Judge, Justice Heydon, comments: "Many modern judges think they cannot only right every social wrong, but achieve some form of immortality in doing so. The common law is freely questioned and changed. Legislation is not uncommonly rewritten to confirm to the judicial worldview." The English Bill of Rights was concerned with limiting the power of the sovereign. Now the issue is limiting the power of the judges.

(A brief guide to the Magna Carta and Bill of Rights can be found at http://www.adls.org.nz/lawnz/lawnz5/lawnz21/ )

War in Iraq - not if, but when
A US-led war against Iraq now looks probable, with or without UN Security Council approval. The exact threat to the West posed by Iraq is a moot point - many say this is about oil and control of the Middle East, rather than Saddam Hussein, potential terrorist threats and Iraq's purported cache of weapons of mass destruction. Putting those points aside for a moment, there are issues about the Security Council's moral authority.

Assuming, for example, as Helen Clark does, that the Council has a moral authority, we can ask, on what grounds? Where does that authority come from? The idea of a supra moral authority - where sovereign states cede responsibility to the UN for the greater good of the international community - presupposes that there exists some objective moral law. For persons such as the Prime Minister, who are moral relativists, this creates philosophical problems. There is no authority outside the rule of law. And in the case of the Security Council, it is rather sobering to remember that it contains delegates from Russia and China - countries where not even basic rights and the freedoms of citizens are respected.

US leaders see moral authority quite differently from those in New Zealand. Ms Clark rests her moral authority in the multi-lateral position of the UN. To the US, multi-lateral authority remains unconvincing. After all, it spends more on the military than the next twenty countries combined - perhaps we should wonder at its restraint. It remains a matter of reasonable observation that the UN's authority rests only in its power to impose its will. When it comes down to it, who has more power and authority - the UN or the US? All countries act in their own best interests. Several countries acting in their own best interests hardly have more authority than one doing the same.

Girls can do anything - on their own
The Ministry of Women's Affairs has released a discussion document, Towards An Action Plan for New Zealand Women. It identifies priority areas and discussion points and presumes to outline some of the main issues affecting women and girls. Submissions are due in March.

This document clearly illustrates the feminist preoccupations of the Ministry of Women's Affairs. Presumption is the backbone of the document. Firstly, it is stated that economic autonomy is required for women if they are to have a better 'quality of life' - as defined by the state. The presumptive principle is that women contribute to society best when they are in the paid work force; the agenda is to put them there. 'Women', it is said in the report, 'must be equipped with adequate resources so that they are not linked to their dependency on another person'. That is feminist-speak that they should rely on the state instead of husbands.

Men are not even mentioned except pejoratively. Nowhere is it suggested that positive and fulfilling relationships with men and children are linked to a better quality of life. Children are clearly a hassle - they 'impact a women's participation in paid employment and consequently on their economic autonomy.' It is no surprise, then, that there is an emphasis on childcare and continuing the low fertility rate. This document is feminist politicking at its worst but also at its most successful. Ambiguous language obscures the intention of reaping in the female tax dollar and marginalising the role which men must play in the lives of women and children.

Greater health risks for one parent children - major new study
A study published in the British medical journal the Lancet this week has found that children raised in sole parent homes are twice as likely to develop serious mental illness or addictions. The research tracked the health of almost one million children in Sweden over eight years between 1991 and 1998 and is unprecedented in scale. Girls with one parent were twice as likely to commit suicide and more than three times as likely to die from an addiction to drugs or alcohol than girls with two parents. Boys from one parent homes were five times more likely to die from an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Researchers are divided on the causes of the higher health risks to children in single parent households; some conclude that financial hardship made a big difference, others, suggesting the quality of parenting was an important factor.

When the study began in 1985, Sweden had 6.6 percent of all children living in single parent homes compared to 14.3 percent in New Zealand. Today Sweden has 20 percent and we have 29 percent. As the number of single parent households increases, so do the risk factors to children's health. While debate continues on the causes, the facts show that children growing up in two parent families have greater health advantages than those with just one parent.

Maxim Forum 2003
Register now for your place at Maxim's inaugural one-day forum on 22 March. The venue is Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre in Auckland and the theme is 'In Search of Civil Society'. We have lined up some of the best minds and experience to stimulate thought and action focused on education and family issues. To register and for more information visit: www.maxim.org.nz/forum2003/forum1.html

Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

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