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real issues this week: No. Sixty-Seven

real issues this week: No. Sixty-Seven 12 JUNE 2003


* Care of Children Bill New legislation goes well beyond reforming the Family Court to redefining family and affirming 'diversity'.

* Asian immigration and domestic population trends New Zealand's Asian population will double by 2021, but questions about domestic population trends and what is meant by 'an integrated society' are also important.

* New Zealand children - 'urgent action needed' Can the Government always be blamed for our children's welfare woes?

* Amendments legalise prostitution bill Amendments passed on Wednesday fail to deal with the key issues in this legislation.

Care of Children Bill

This legislation is well-intentioned confusion. Wading through its 125 pages is, in itself, a reminder of the incredible mess and cost to everyone when families fracture. Yet there's no hint that intact, married families are preferable or even desirable in terms of the child's 'best interests'.

The present bill, introduced this week by the Associate Minister of Justice Lianne Dalziel, tries to make the Family Court more open by ensuring children are not pawns in bitter custody disputes between estranged parents - a laudable aim. But it goes a lot further. It aims to redefine what is meant by 'family' to include same-sex and de facto couples, and to declare that, in law, those arrangements are functionally equivalent to married and intact two-parent families. This is quite extraordinary. At the same time New Zealanders show wide concern over the tampering of the DNA in our food, we appear quite happy to reconstruct the very DNA of social order.

The bill begins: 'The 1968 [Guardianship] Act is premised on the traditional nuclear family model that does not reflect the diversity of family arrangements that now exist in New Zealand. More modern legislation must provide a framework that recognises and supports all types of family units that care for children, for example, single-parent households, extended families, reconstituted families, and de facto relationships (including those of the same sex)'.

However, it is simply untrue that 'the traditional nuclear family model' is being swamped by other arrangements. Whilst there has been a trend towards the acceptance of other types, and some actual growth in their number, 70 percent of New Zealand children in 2001 were still raised in other than sole-parent (mostly two-parent) homes. The married man and woman - 'traditional' - family type still predominates. Accepting diversity, though, soon becomes advocacy for it.

'Diversity' is an ideological platform unconcerned with statistical reality (eg. Ms Dalziel's comment in Parliament that "a child doesn't care what sex their parents are".) On this platform new law is passed and then said to reflect a situation which does not in reality exist. What does exist is a specious ideology dressed-up as both 'necessary' and 'modern', which is the hallmark of the present Government's social policy thinking. We saw the same rationale with the 'Families Commission'. In effect, this creates a circular, perceived reality which makes other and continued 'reform' easier.

Asian immigration and domestic population trends

Statistics New Zealand has waved another red rag at Winston Peters with its projection that the country's Asian population will more than double by 2021 to 604,000. Mr Peters accuses the Government of 'turning New Zealand into the last Asian colony'.

Will it? We have to be careful what the figures actually say. First, the quoted 604,000 is the mid range of eleven different projections - by 2021 the actual number could be significantly lower or higher than that. Second, the total includes all people who identify themselves ethnically as Asian, and Statistics New Zealand warns it is important to note that these ethnic populations are not mutually exclusive because people can and do identify with more than one ethnicity.

Neither are we faced with a coming Asian immigration 'swarm'. Last year we had a net migration gain of 32,000 Asian people, and it will be much the same this year, dropping to 23,000 in 2004 and 14,000 in 2006. Net migration is then expected to decline steadily to 5,000 in 2021.

Nonetheless, because our fertility rate has been below replacement level for 20 of the last 23 years, we need substantial immigration to maintain population growth. Yet, the Government has so far refused to debate what kind of immigrant it wishes to encourage long-term, and how its desire for 'diversity' and multiculturalism meshes with the need to maintain an integrated society. In the absence of such debate, Mr Peters will continue to get attention for the issues he raises. It would be preferable to have that debate and to see MPs showing leadership in this area.

New Zealand children - 'urgent action needed'

A UN committee in Geneva will this week consider an ACYA (Action for Children & Youth Aotearoa) report which states that in violence, poverty and discrimination, New Zealand children fare poorly compared with those in other countries. The Chair of this report has said, "the less fortunate [New Zealand children] live in poverty and face violence and discrimination, issues the Government needs to urgently address".

The idea that 'the Government has to act' is a familiar line from child advocacy groups. Perhaps it does need to act, but we have to also acknowledge that a great many problems occur at the inter-personal and relational level as well. Not everything is the Government's fault.

People are quick to blame the economic reforms of the 1980s and early 1990s as primary causes of 'child poverty'. That period was, indeed, one of sweeping economic change, and hardship for some, and of course, children were affected. But the ACYA analysis and that of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) fail to look beyond political causes, and consequently, the Government is always to blame.

Children are not independent beings; they exist first and foremost in families. They are most often kept out of poverty when their parents are married, stay married and when one of the parents has a job. Some are caught up in the misery of parents' unwise lifestyle choices and wrecked relationships. The issues are complex and we can't reduce them to a case of 'either/or'; political, personal and relational realities have to all be considered. As a concept, 'child poverty' is a loaded term; children are poor economically because they are non-earners; 'poor families' might be closer to the reality.

Urgent action is indeed needed for our children. But beyond the politics of government funding and rights advocacy we should give serious consideration to the wider issue of relational and family forms.

To view an Maxim article on this topic published in last week's New Zealand Herald click on www.maxim.org.nz/ri/budget.html

Amendments legalise prostitution bill

MPs voted 62 to 56 last night to progress the Prostitution Bill to a final vote, which is expected on Wednesday 25 June. Amendments to the bill legalise aspects of the prostitution industry, requiring brothel owners to get certificates from district court registrars and prohibiting those who have convictions for serious offences like murder or sexual crimes. The changes move the bill to a similar situation as in Victoria, Australia, which introduced the Prostitution Control Act in 1994. Following the Victorian law there has been an alarming increase in legal and illegal brothels.

Bill sponsor Tim Barnett states in his material promoting decriminalisation that the worldwide experience of legalisation inevitably results in an illegal unlicensed sector. "It supports [he says] big businesses at the expense of workers in the industry" and often discriminates against individual sex workers. Mr Barnett also cites a report that estimates nearly 70 percent of brothels in Victoria are illegal. The New Zealand amendments passed last night will result in an increase in the number of women in prostitution and the creation of legal and illegal brothels. In reality, the bill will not protect women; rather, it will protect pimps and those profiting from exploiting women.

If you would like to receive e-mail updates on what you can do to help prevent this bill becoming law, send an email to scott@maxim.org.nz with PRB alert in the subject line.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nothing astonishes men so much as common-sense and plain dealing.

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