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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 72


Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 72

Contents: - Civil Union Bill stalks marriage The Government is moving to extend the legal status and rights of same-sex and de facto couples but what is meant by 'marriage' remains the key issue. - Battle for the beaches Ownership of the foreshore and seabed has become a major political issue. Is there a way ahead? - People helping people A great-grandmother is helping families out of debt. The story of her voluntary work is civil society in action.

Civil Union Bill stalks marriage

The Government will introduce legislation to give homosexual and de facto couples the same legal rights and entitlements as those who are married. The Civil Union Bill was initiated by the Prime Minister when she asked Christchurch Central MP Tim Barnett to set-up a task force to investigate the idea in 2001. Fellow Labour MP Russell Fairbrother subsequently sponsored a Private Member's Bill in December last year, meaning it would have had to been drawn out of the ballot. The move to make it a Government Bill however, was always the intention and it could now be on the agenda as early as September. Promoters claim it will eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and Mr Barnett believes what's proposed is politically achievable because the current government is "queer friendly".

The bill will register civil unions and effectively amend more than 100 pieces of legislation to give equal status and benefits to all couples - it will, for example, include provision for a widow's benefit when a partner dies, and for the legal guardianship of children. But proponents appear to be backing away from allowing adoption by same-sex couples. Interestingly, in the Netherlands, formal registration of same-sex unions was followed by same-sex 'marriage', and effectively, this is what the New Zealand legislation is providing for too.

While the Civil Union Bill is being presented as benefiting all non-marriage unions, the real impetus is coming from the homosexual community; and because of this, it's not so much about equal rights, but special rights for an identified minority. This small group seeks major legal change in its wider quest to normalise particular lifestyles. Marriage has always been based on the complementary nature of men and women and to insist we retain this understanding is a simple acknowledgement of reality reinforced by law.

Battle for the beaches Seabed and foreshore ownership is shaping-up to be the biggest domestic political issue this year. Most people would think that since 1840 the Crown has owned the foreshore and seabed, except where title was specifically granted to others (eg. port authorities), but this has been challenged by the Court of Appeal and can no longer be assumed.

In response, the Government's initial reaction (backed by opinion polls), was to legislate for Crown ownership, but that only inflamed Maori. Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen's letter to claimants said the Government did not intend to extinguish 'customary rights' but that, too, poured fuel on the fire. It is ironic that a Government so committed to Maori causes has experienced such a flare-up.

It is a complex issue and the claims are bigger than the scope of the Treaty of Waitangi. The deeper issue is that indigenous rights are not dependent on an Act of Parliament; they pre-date the arrival of the British and the signing of the Treaty.

Previous governments have not had to think beyond common usage issues and traditional rights for Maori under the Waitangi Tribunal process. The focus has been the settlement of historic and resource claims. But the idea that the foreshore and seabed could become commercial property for Maori goes beyond the ambit of the Treaty and Tribunal and provokes fears of 'special treatment'. The Government is faced with a Hobson's choice: if it legislates to assert Crown ownership it will incur the wrath of Maori leaders; and if it concedes to the demands of the 'Hauraki Declaration' (the hui last weekend), it faces a backlash from non-Maori.

We are at this point because of a particular interpretation of Maori claims. Until now, tensions between redressing historical grievances within a common law framework have generally been held in balance. But on this issue, there's no clear way ahead; either a particular legal interpretation of 'indigenous rights' will prevail, or a common law one.

People helping people

Christchurch great grandmother and volunteer Yoka Bakker has helped more than 20 people from the strain of debt and poverty. The latest, a family of six, never seemed to have enough money for food and bills. However, with some good practical advice, Yoka, a volunteer budget advisor, gave them the tools to manage their debt-debts which had crippled the whole family. Today, their finances are under control and they have set up a savings account for the children's education-something they never thought possible. Like many of those Yoka has helped, the family lacked basic budgeting skills. Left alone, their future was grim.

Yoka's voluntary work for Kingdom Resources is an example of Civil Society in action and features in the latest issue of Evidence. This is a good news story; hundreds of families are being helped out of debt and unlike many voluntary organisations, Kingdom Resources is growing. The heart of its success lies in the relationships formed with the people being helped. "Work and Income can only go so far; Government departments can't take the same interest in people," says Yoka.

The full story of Yoka and Kingdom Resources, along with other in-depth articles on New Zealand culture and policy, are in the winter edition of Evidence, out now. Evidence is published quarterly by Maxim Institute and posted to all Maxim Partners. It is also available in bookshops around the country. For more details visit: http://www.maxim.org.nz

Maxim Institute Essay Competition - "No Man Is an Island”

We are delighted to launch our 2003 essay competition for tertiary students. Prize money totals $3,500 along with paid summer internships with the Maxim Institute for up to four finalists. For details click on http://www.maxim.org.nz/essay/2003.html

Towards a better New Zealand - roadshow reminder

Maxim is taking its vision for a better New Zealand around the country. For the finalised venue details please visit our website and RSVP today: http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/whatson.html

Questions and answers on Government, Education and Nationhood

Thanks to those readers who responded to the questions posed in Real Issues No. 70. A selection of these can be seen at http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/responses.html

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - The Second Earl of Pembroke (c. 1534-1601)

A parliament can do any thing but make a man a woman, and a woman a man.

(Quoted in a speech made by his son, the 4th Earl in 1648)

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