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real issues. this week: No. Fifty-Eight

Maxim Institute

real issues. this week: No. Fifty-Eight


* Supreme Court Bill - This is the most significant proposed constitutional change in recent times. What's at stake?

* Teaching the young - Numbers of men in early childhood education and primary teaching continue to fall. What's going on?

* Civil Society - a few basics - We outline a framework for democratic and social order.

Supreme Court Bill

One of New Zealand's biggest constitutional changes for many years is about to be considered by Parliament's Justice and Electoral Select Committee. Attorney-General Margaret Wilson's Supreme Court Bill will remove our right of appeal to the Privy Council, which is our highest court of appeal. In its place, she wants a Supreme Court consisting of five judges. This is possibly the most significant constitutional move since the passing of the NZ Bill of Rights Act (1990) and the Human Rights Act (1993).

Overall, the legal fraternity in New Zealand has strongly opposed dropping access to the Privy Council - an opinion which the Attorney-General has dismissed as "unrepresentative". However, to date little has been done to answer the substantive concerns that have been raised. Among them:

* All other Commonwealth countries which have done away with the right of appeal have other checks and balances, such as a written constitution and a second chamber of parliament

* It will remove our access to some of the best legal minds in the Commonwealth

* The move will further distance New Zealand from its common law foundations

* It is another step in the Government's creeping republicanism

* There is concern that if the Attorney-General appoints all the judges, it will be stacked with people who match the Government's own ideological position

Maxim is also concerned that there has been little debate outside legal circles, and little attempt to inform the public about the implications. We believe a referendum is an essential part of this process. Maxim has made a submission to the Select Committee on the Supreme Court Bill which can be read at http://www.maxim.org.nz/submissions/supremecourt.html

Teaching the young

It's no surprise that a decade after the conviction of Peter Ellis in the Christchurch Civic Creche case the proportion of men in early childhood education (ECE) has fallen from 2 percent to 1 percent. Men have never figured in large numbers in ECE teaching, but their presence is considered important by some educationalists given that 40 percent of children now come from sole parent homes, and many of these will have no men closely involved in their lives.

Of the nearly 3000 people training in ECE in 2001, only 31 were men; of the nearly 1700 kindergarten teachers in New Zealand, a mere 21 were men; in the primary service, the proportion of male teachers is around 20 percent (compared with 40 percent in 1970). As in other western countries, the number of men in New Zealand teaching children under age 12 is falling. But no-one seems too bothered by the statistics, but should we be concerned?

As always, there's a lot going on behind the statistics, which are really only symptomatic of wider social trends. The growth of a feminised society has had a down side. For example, men have been encouraged to become more in touch with their emotions and more 'sensitive', but at the same time, this message has sat in tension with increasing anxiety and accusations of male physical and sexual abuse. They've been told to be more in touch but less touchy. Then there's political correctness and the fact that many men are simply too afraid to be involved in a profession where any form of touch is construed as abuse or suggestive of sexual predation. Researchers however such as US psychologist Warren Farrell points out that men are vital to the emotional and social maturation of children. Kids need both men and women - we know that - but a feminised culture obscures and confuses this message.

The statistics for men involved in early and primary education reflect many decades of cultural change. One way to see more male role models is to challenge the inadequacies of feminist thought and expose the consequences it is having on the development of our children.

Civil Society - a few basics

Civil Society (CS) is a framework for understanding social structure and the interactions that promote the well-being of all citizens. The elements composing CS are: individuals, the state, or government (including local government), and the relational institutions that mediate between individuals and the state.

The mediating institutions consist of the intergenerational family, marriage between a man and a woman (the primary context of commitment), voluntary groups and organisations, churches and the market. These spheres of activity collectively facilitate what we understand by community. Within this framework the state is neither self-serving nor all powerful - it exists only in relationship to the other elements.

When the mediating institutions are operating and valued in law, policy and responsible citizenship, a society is cohesive and there are natural checks and balances on state power and influence.

Most Government policy assumes the state is authoritative, and indeed, more prominent than the other elements. Present policy appears to be focused on empowering groups (through policy) and individuals (through human rights advocacy), but the authority must then lie with the state - and in fact, empower the state because more and more law has to be enforced and only the state possesses the mechanisms and structures to enable this to occur. In the process, however, the opposite of what appears to be going on occurs- neither individuals nor CS institutions are empowered. The dynamics invariably mean the state is increasing its own bureaucracy. More law, specifically human rights law, is according special legal status to identified groups.

But there are consequences. Civil Society not only erodes, but will eventually be displaced by the authority and control of the state. We are left with an elevated (hedonistic) self, a strong and self-serving state, and no sensible construct of what is meant by community. The practical consequences of this shift are all around us: relational instability, the devaluing of marriage as the primary context of committed relationship, schools turned into therapy centres expected to ameliorate all society's ills, drug and alcohol abuse, and so forth. In simple terms, the dynamics of real community are lost. Law becomes our salvation, and by necessity, we get more 'big' government.

For a detailed article on these points by Bruce Logan just published in Maxim's Evidence journal click on: http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/civilsoc2.html

Evidence - it will make you think

The Autumn edition of Maxim's quarterly Evidence journal has just been published. Evidence explores critical current issues facing New Zealand society providing the latest quality thinking and research from New Zealand and overseas in more depth than what Real Issues allows. If you want to be more informed on what is happening in our society and culture and how it affects you individually, your family and community, then Evidence is a must read. Evidence is complimentary to Maxim partners - alternatively it can be purchased at book stores. For information on supporting Maxim as a partner call Leizl 09-627 3261 or email mailto:leizel@maxim.org.nz


History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

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