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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 79

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 79

real issues. this week: No. Seventy-Nine 4 SEPTEMBER 2003


* Human Rights There's two sides to the official coin wanting 'more human rights'.

* Accountability The Prime Minister's reluctance to front on the GE issue undermines trust and flies in the face of her own demands for accountable government.

* A confused risk management culture Kids used to build trolleys with no brakes, ride flying foxes and so on. But no more. 'Harm minimisation' mollycoddles today's children - except when it comes to sex education.

Human Rights

Human rights have become a big deal. In the last week alone, the Angel Taxi Company, staffed exclusively by female drivers, has come to the attention of the media and the Human Rights Commission. A sum ($3,000) has also been paid to a woman with a moko who was refused service in a Gisborne bar.

The Human Rights Act of 1993 set the stage, but is it solving problems or merely creating new ones? An all-woman taxi service makes sense, and by the sound of it will meet with customer approval from a number of quarters, including girls' schools. The law is a blunt instrument to shape people's behaviour. We need to remember that behaviour is best influenced by commitment to a shared ethic. One of the problems with the current interpretation of human rights, as evident in the Angel taxi case, is that it blurs and effectively denies many of the differences between men and women, and can also, in the process, overwhelm individual responsibility and common respect.

If personal discrimination is weakened by human rights law, right and wrong will simply become a matter of what's legal. Unlawful discrimination payouts are a consequence of a society increasingly looking to law to solve its problems.


In response to opposition calls to answer questions on the 'Corngate' issue, Helen Clark said on Tuesday, "I sometimes wonder if I am a victim of my own success as a popular and competent Prime Minister".

As a self-styled presidential leader, it would appear Ms Clark believes her own rhetoric. But leadership is not a function of spin-doctoring nor of poll-driven popularity. The British PM, Tony Blair, has had to front on the Kelly affair, and if all Ms Clark's talk about open and accountable government is to mean anything, the electorate can expect her to do the same.

The GE issue is a serious one, as is a leader's integrity. When a leader chooses not to answer questions, confidence and trust in politicians and the political process are undermined.

A confused risk management culture

In every area except sex education, our young people are mollycoddled by a risk management culture. According to educational psychologist, mother and former teacher, Maria Schmetzer, when it comes to sex, "Young people are left in the position of making dreadful choices as there's no rules." Speaking at a public seminar in the South Island last weekend, Mrs Schmetzer added that "Children were making decisions they were not equipped to make at their age and parents had been made to feel incapable of guiding them."

Increasingly, childhood is being politicised through demands for more child rights, advocacy and safety. Risk-taking is no longer allowed as part of childhood - except when it comes to sexual expression and experimentation.

Today's children are growing up in a sterile and politically correct ('harm minimisation') culture largely bereft of risk, and managed by more and more state regulation and rights. Empowerment and participation rights have replaced former notions of protection, the role of parents is diminished, and the difference between 'child' and 'adult' continues to shrink.

Care of Children Bill

We encourage readers to get informed and make submissions on the Care of Children Bill currently before the Justice and Electoral Select Committee. Submissions must be in by 25 September. To view a short summary of the bill and the address for submissions, click on: www.maxim.org.nz/ri/careofchildren.html

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Ellen Key (1849-1926)

At every step the child should be allowed to meet the real experiences of life; the thorns should never be plucked from his roses.

(The Century of the Child, 1909)

To subscribe send a blank email to: realissues@maxim.org.nz

Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from the Maxim Institute. The focus is current New Zealand events with an attempt to provide insight into critical issues beyond what is usually presented in the media. This service is provided free of charge, although a donation to Maxim is appreciated. Items may be used for other purposes, such as teaching, research or civic action. If items are published elsewhere, Maxim should be acknowledged.

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Email: maxim@maxim.org.nz

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