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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 66


Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 66

Contents: Gravy train undermines confidence Public sector appointments have been in the news lately, and there's more at stake than just big payouts. Supreme Court interference Dumping tradition is something many people could accept, but the implications for common law are more serious. Population does not = Populution A billboard message reveals assumptions about the value of being human.

Gravy train undermines confidence

New Zealand consistently rates as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. It is surprising then, to discover the extent of so-called 'snouts in the trough' - largely unpublicised political appointments to public boards, directorships and committees. In a series of articles this week, political journalist Colin Espiner has revealed some important findings.

The list for 2002 is comprised of mostly ex-MPs and even unsuccessful parliamentary candidates. Ex-cabinet minister David Caygill, for example, received $106,500 for heading an electricity inquiry, and an extra $50,000 as chairman of the ACC; while former Council of Trade Union boss Ken Douglas received $57,346 for three directorships. Labour list candidate Warren Limburg received $45,000 for sitting on the Human Rights Commission. The list goes on - up to 900 such appointments are made each year.

Labour promised to scale-down runaway public sector (quango*) appointments after taking office in 1999, but without much will or effort. None of the beneficiaries of this political patronage are appointed by any open process. Moreover, what we are witnessing is an expansion of bureaucracy, which left unchecked, threatens the effectiveness of, and public confidence in government.

In 1979, constitutional lawyer and MP Geoffrey Palmer said it was time to halt the growth of quangos. 'The aim should be [he said] to eliminate as many as possible and ensure that those which remain are properly accountable to the public through Parliament and work in a way which serves the public interest. The following questions should be kept in mind in any such review:

* why can an ordinary department not do the job? * in the case of tribunals, why can't the adjudication be carried out in the ordinary courts? * in what ways is the quango accountable to parliament and the public? * in the case of each advisory body, does the record show that it has actually contributed anything of value?

'If these questions are rigorously pursued by a parliamentary committee, many quangos could be killed off, others reorganised and limits placed upon the creation of new ones.' (Unbridled Power, pp. 38-39).

Well said. What then, can be done? We must be informed and indignant about what's going on and demand that procedures are opened-up to public scrutiny without patronage. We also do well to remember that ordinary citizens, not politicians, are the gatekeepers of democracy - we have a right to demand answers to the hard questions.

(*quasi-autonomous national governmental organisations)

Supreme Court interference

Much of the debate over a New Zealand Supreme Court and abolishing the right of appeal to the Privy Council has been on what each represents symbolically. But this focus neglects the important foundations of our legal system. Dumping the right of appeal to the Privy Council will weaken the foundations of common law. Common law has a strong historical base and has been carefully refined over centuries. Most importantly, it prevents the law from being 'captured' by fashions, fads or patronage. Removing association with the Privy Council will further isolate New Zealand from the roots of common law.

Attorney-General Margaret Wilson argues that retaining links with the Privy Council will inhibit the independent development of law in Commonwealth countries and can be viewed as interference with a country's power to regulate it own jurisdiction. Increasingly however, New Zealand permits what can be termed 'interference' with a power to regulate its own jurisdiction from the United Nations. Moreover, we are now party to approximately 1,450 bilateral treaties with other countries and 1,080 multilateral treaties. Each treaty has not only rights but binding obligations, and nearly 200 Acts of Parliament - more than a quarter of the total number - are required to implement these obligations. Rt. Hon. Justice Kenneth Keith has observed that this figure shows the 'pervasive effect of international law on our national law'. If the influence of the Privy Council is removed, judges and Parliament will continue to look to the United Nations and international treaties will have even greater impact on our national law and ability to be independent.

Population or populution?

The following text appears on an advertising billboard at a major intersection in Christchurch: 'POPULATION = POPULUTION. The BIGGEST PROBLEM facing our earth is the overpopulating virus called 'mankind'. Be responsible. Have 2 children or less. Pass the message worldwide'.

Aside from the emotive language ('the overpopulating virus'), this is simply untrue. New Zealand's fertility rate has been below replacement level for 20 of the last 23 years due to a variety of factors and trends: the advancing age of first-time mothers, smaller family sizes, the liberalisation of abortion services, and so on. Our population has just reached 4 million - but only because numbers are propped-up by immigration

The billboard suggests that human existence is impure and has no real validity; it's somehow 'unnatural' and irresponsible - just like pollution. It illustrates a general trend which devalues human life and reduces it to an economic unit. Abortion and euthanasia are other examples which tell us that human beings have worth only as long as they are 'useful', or don't interfere with our own plans. Those who oppose this are labelled the enemies of progress. This is a huge paradox in a society which makes the affirmation and protection of human rights its primary boast.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Norman Douglas

You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements.

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