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Maxim Real Issues: No. 121

Maxim: No. 121, 29 JULY 2004

The New Zealand Institute - a new generation of thinking

Call me loyal...

NZQA - achieving a not-achieved

Are benefits making us a sicker and sadder society?

Final week for Civil Union Bills submissions

The New Zealand Institute - a new generation of thinking

A new think tank "The New Zealand Institute" was launched last week with the call for a new generation of thinking. The start-up signals both a need and acceptance of think tanks as contributors of ideas to research and public policy. Similar organisations exist in Australia, the UK and US, where they have a well-established role in stimulating debate and offering solutions to social and economic issues.

The Institute's first paper in a series on "Creating an Ownership Society" showed that 10 percent of Kiwis hold more than half the total wealth, while the bottom half of the population has less than 3 percent. A serious issue identified is the high proportion of the population who owe more than they own. The report notes that 16 percent of New Zealand's adult population have what is termed "negative wealth", compared to 4 percent in Australia and 8 percent in the US.

Institute CEO Dr David Skilling says there is evidence that asset ownership is vital to the welfare of individuals, communities and the nation's overall well-being: "The report shows that many New Zealanders do not own significant assets, and notes that New Zealand has the least asset-friendly policies of the Anglo countries." It concludes that an accumulation of assets creates social cohesion and indicates that further research will aim to find out how people can be helped to make that happen.

The launch of the Institute suggests we are moving past an era where the government and universities are the primary source of ideas for the future. The challenge for any think tank is to convert their ideas and research into new ways of thinking which inform effective policy change.

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Call me loyal...

A recent decision of the High Court regarding a flag burning outside Parliament raises important questions for all New Zealanders. How loyal are we to the New Zealand flag? Are there limits to our freedom of expression?

Paul Hopkinson helped organise a meeting in March 2003 to protest at Australian Prime Minister John Howard's visit to Wellington. As part of the protest, he attached a New Zealand flag to a pole, doused it in kerosene and set it alight outside Parliament. Hopkinson was convicted in the District Court of destroying the flag with the intention of dishonouring it (an offence under the Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981).

He later appealed to the High Court, and the Judge ruled that the law against dishonouring the flag interfered with Hopkinson's freedom of expression guaranteed under the Bill of Rights Act. Accordingly, the conviction was quashed. As a necessary part of reaching this decision, the High Court Judge ruled that Hopkinson's actions did not 'dishonour' the flag in the normal meaning of the word.

The case raises questions that are worthy of debate. What is the status of the New Zealand flag? What does it mean to dishonour? And should we care about loyalty to the flag?

The full decision can be read at: www.courts.govt.nz/judgments/decisions/CRI200448523.pdf You will need the free Acrobat reader programme to view this decision: you can download it from http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html

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The NZQA - achieving a not-achieved

The decision of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority that schools need not record failed internal assessment results is another example of political correctness in our education system. Schools are no longer required to report failures (called a "not-achieved" rather than a "fail") on result slips sent home to parents at the start of each year. Spokesperson Kate Colbert said that establishing a record of what students could do was more important than listing skills they had failed to master.

But no student will learn if we are not honest about failure as well as success. Parents will also be confused about how their child is achieving and employers will need to work hard to understand what results actually mean. The decision stems from the idea that all students can and should achieve "equitable outcomes" and that all children should succeed. However, equitable outcomes are unrealistic as each student is different and the truth is that some do in fact fail. To pretend that all are equal and that no child fails is both artificial and dishonest.

Sooner or later this reasoning will prove erroneous. Either at tertiary level or in the world of employment, students will be separated on their abilities and achievement. Valid assessment must provide a realistic and accurate analysis of a student's strengths and weaknesses.

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Are benefits making us a sicker and sadder society?

While unemployment is falling we have a long-term trend towards increasing numbers of sickness and invalid beneficiaries. There are now more than 116,000 people receiving these benefits. An ageing population is the official reason given for the rise, but another suggestion is that Work and Income New Zealand policy requiring work testing for the unemployment benefit is driving some people to claim sickness and invalid benefits. In addition, people claiming psychological conditions, including stress and depression, has increased to 34.8 percent of all sickness beneficiaries.

Answers to Parliamentary Questions from the Minister of Social Development have revealed a 34 percent increase in sickness beneficiaries and 41 percent increase in invalids between June 1999 and June 2004. There are now 44,128 and 72,342 people receiving the respective benefits. The Minister, Steve Maharey, has pointed out the long-term nature of the problem with sickness beneficiaries increasing by 69 percent and invalids by 84 percent between 1990 and 1999.

A one-day symposium has been organised to look at the effects of our welfare system and how it could be reformed to better assist individuals, families and society. Sponsored by Dr Muriel Newman, the symposium will feature author Alan Duff on how welfare is destroying Maori; a political party panel; perspectives from the UK, Australia and the US; along with personal stories. Registration forms can be accessed at: www.act.org.nz/symposium

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Final week for Civil Union Bills submissions

Submissions to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee on the Civil Union and Relationships Bill close next Friday 6 August.

The intent of the two Bills is to treat civil union, de facto, (both heterosexual and homosexual couples) and married couples, exactly the same in law. However this completely ignores the difference in the nature and outcomes of these various relationships and imposes the same rights and responsibilities on all couples.

The biggest impact will be on children. This law says there are no differences between a married couple and a homosexual couple that intentionally create a motherless or fatherless family. The public commitment and complementary dynamic between men and women provide the best environment in which to raise children. Disregarding this fact denies the importance of marriage to both children and society.

More information and some simple tips on making a submission are at: http://www.maxim.org.nz/cu/cu_active.html

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Change Agent Workshop - Nelson 4 August

Nelson is the next location to host a Change Agent Workshop next Wednesday, 4 August. The two-hour evening will help you understand and respond to the Civil Union Bills, Education, Prostitution Law Reform and Political Correctness. Be equipped to engage in the legislative process and public debate. For venue details and RSVP visit http://www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/whatson_page/whatson.html

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)

To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.

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