Real issues. this week: No. Sixty-Three
real issues. this week: No. Sixty-Three 15 MAY 2003
The best interests of the child
It was Robert Browning who said, "Men weave clouds of fuzz where matters end." Law relating to children born using assisted human reproduction technology is beginning to echo Browning's claim. Under the proposals, cloning, commercial surrogacy, placing human embryos in animals and vice versa and the creation of hybrid embryos will all be banned by Parliament. Other areas such as embryo donation, selection, storage and splitting will be dealt with case by case by an ethics committee.
The case-by-case basis goes back at least to the Law Commission paper, "Adoption and its Alternatives (2000)". That paper categorically and without any explanation stated that the status of a person should no longer be of importance in adoption. "The suitability of a specific person or couple to adopt a particular child is a factual question to be determined on a case-by-case basis."
That represented a huge shift in traditional thought which understood marriage to be important in the protection of children. Certainly the concept of the best interests of the child is regarded as paramount but "best interests" are to be decided by an ethics committee which no longer has to consider the role that marriage plays not only in the best interests of the child but in culture generally.
Such an approach is in danger of reinforcing notions of procreative rights which involve an adult agenda which is independent of claims about the welfare and needs of children. The process is likely to become about individuals in certain groups having the right to a child. Instead of finding the most appropriate family for the child, the ethics committee will have to ensure that individuals are not discriminated against.
Ironically one general rule - that parents should be married in order to have children - is rejected because it is individually discriminatory, and is replaced by another general rule that tends to see all relationships potentially and functionally equal.
Budget Day - the money goes round and round ...
Finance Minister Michael Cullen has announced a $4 billion surplus in today's Budget, and a more or less steady-as-you-go plan for the coming year. (If the surplus is still there in 12 months time, next year will be the Big Bang Budget, by all predictions.) There are some underlying aspects of the economy, though, which are not being talked about greatly, but which will have a big influence on what happens during the next year.
New Zealand's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - the value of goods and services produced in the country - grew by 4.4% last year, to $109 billion. That was good growth by international standards, but it came on the back of a boom in commodity prices and growth in service sectors such as software, and the commodity price boom is now over. Unfortunately, while our income grew, our spending grew at twice the rate. In fact, our spending has exceeded our income almost every quarter except one in the last 10 years! We have only staved off the creditors because overseas investment has more than made up the balance. New Zealand has to stay attractive to these investors to survive.
Investment is a very fickle animal, as followers of the stock market know. It all rests on one thing: confidence. If confidence drops, even if absolutely nothing else changes, the market nose-dives. In this regard, NZ is at the mercy of international movements.
We are a nation that prefers to spend rather than save. Both individually and corporately we have had a low level of savings since the 1980s. Credit card debt continues to escalate, and currently stands at more than $3.5 billion. The government has encouraged this, for instance by removing tax credits for life insurance policies, and removing the risks associated with getting sick and aging, for which people once saved.
GDP growth over the next year is expected to fall to 2.5%. We also remain way behind other developed countries in GDP per capita. For instance, in 2001, New Zealand's GDP per capita was $US19,500, compared with the UK at $US25,000, and Australia $US27,000. And, of course, our $109 billion economy is tiny by international standards. All of which suggests that the state of the economy could be quite different in 12 months time.
Supreme Court costs escalate
A small item tucked away in the depths of the Budget shows that Attorney-General Margaret Wilson has seriously underplayed the cost of her proposed new Supreme Court. Ms Wilson said at the end of last year that the court (to replace the right of appeal to the Privy Council) would cost $10 million to set up and $5.2 million in running costs each year. However, the Budget has allocated $22 million for capital costs, and $17 million for operating expenses - a 256 percent increase!
Marriage stats - up and down
There was a slight increase in the number of marriages in New Zealand last year: 20,700, up 4 percent on the number in 2001. Is this the start of a turnaround, or just a blip on the graph?
While in fact, the number of marriages has hovered around this mark for the last 10 years, unfortunately the marriage rate has shown a steady decline, and last year was no exception. The current rate is less than a third of the peak of 45.5 per 1,000 recorded in 1971. The trend toward later marriage is continuing. The median age of men who married for the first time in 2002 was 29.4 years and for women 27.6 years.
Divorce shows little sign of slowing. In 2002, a total of 10,300 marriage dissolution orders were granted by family courts - up 600 on the previous year. The divorce rate was also higher. A Statistics NZ commentary on the figures is available at:
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Edmund Burke
All men have equal
rights but not the right to equal things.