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Maxim Real Issues No. 146, 3 MARCH 2005

Maxim Real Issues No. 146, 3 MARCH 2005

Civil unions to be equivalent with marriage

Child poverty a family problem

Apprenticeships as valuable as tertiary training

Hate speech not censored yet?

Civil unions to be equivalent with marriage

Proposed changes by the Justice and Electoral select committee to the Relationships Bill highlight the primary goal of making civil unions legally equivalent to marriage. 180 laws will be changed so that 'civil union' and 'civil union partner' will be inserted after every reference to marriage or married couples, with only one exception.

The Bill struck a lot more problems with regard to de facto relationships. Many of the references to de facto partners have been removed, as the committee has recognised the serious flaw in the idea that all relationships are equal and must be treated equally. The committee deleted references to de facto couples from many sections, facing the fact that different relationships should be treated differently.

In an attempt to preserve the status of marriage and its distinction from civil unions and de facto relationships in law, the committee recommends protecting language associated with marriage. It recommends that the words 'spouse', 'husband', 'wife', 'widow', and 'widower' are only used in the context of marriage. While this is a positive recommendation, it is ironic that such a change aims to protect the uniqueness of marriage when the overall intention of the Bill is relationship neutrality.

An important new provision in the Bill is an inclusion in the Interpretation Act 1999 to apply the term 'step-parent' to civil union and de facto couples. An additional requirement will be added that step-parents share responsibility for the day-to-day care of the child with the parent of a child.

The Relationships Bill is expected to be passed into law later this month, prior to the Civil Union Act coming into force on 26 April. On its introduction it was passed by 77 votes to 41.

To read the select committee report visit: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/Content/SelectCommitteeReports/151bar2.pdf

Child poverty a family problem

UNICEF said this week that one sixth of New Zealand's children are being raised in poverty. Out of 26 developed nations, New Zealand is ranked 23. The N.Z. Child Poverty Action Group says, however, that one third of our children live in poverty.

Focusing solely on "child poverty" is unlikely to improve the situation. It engenders much pity but little understanding. Too often the point is missed that children who live in poverty do so because their parents are poor. Child poverty won't improve until we address the importance of marriage to family wealth.

The US is going to start spending $300 million per year on a pilot programme to:

  • Collect accurate information on the value of marriage in the lives of men, women and children.
  • Develop marriage skills education that will enable couples to reduce conflict and increase the happiness and longevity of the relationship.
  • Reduce the current financial penalties against marriage and attempt to raise its status.
  • Unfortunately, in New Zealand recent legislation is taking us further away from understanding the importance of marriage. A recent Heritage Foundation analysis of data from the US Fragile Families and Child Well Being Study carried out jointly by Princeton and Columbia Universities, found that an increase in marriage rates would reduce child poverty.

    To read more on this study please follow this link: http://www.heritage.org/Research/Family/cda0306.cfm

    Apprenticeships as valuable as tertiary training

    Bill English's condemnation this week of government Trade Training strategies was spot on. He has pointed out that: 'Since [Labour] came into office, funding for tertiary education has grown at three times the rate of funding for primary and secondary education, and funding for trade training is so tight that apprentices are being laid off.'

    Funding for tertiary institutions has increased considerably under this government. It has become apparent in the last year that many of the courses this funding increase was targeted at, were not designed to meet the skills shortage.

    In a November 2004 announcement on Modern Apprenticeships, the Hon. Paul Swain said, "the government has responded by increasing investment in this programme each year, enabling increasing numbers of young New Zealanders to participate. By the end of March 2004, there were 6,784 Modern Apprenticeships throughout New Zealand, in 30 industry areas. The target is 8,000 by 2006."

    These attempts to increase apprenticeships and on-the-job training however have not been backed up with enough funding. Trade training has not been a priority compared with tertiary education.

    Priorities need to be re-examined. 8,000 apprenticeship places are not enough. Work-based training does have clear advantages for many, and is a viable alternative to much institution-based training.

    Hate speech not censored yet?

    The Films, Videos and Publications Classifications Act 1993 - which sets out how we censor books, videos and other publications in New Zealand - has recently been amended. The changes primarily provide for harsher penalties, in particular introducing a five year prison sentence for possession of child pornography.

    It has been suggested that one of the amendments has raised the possibility that the Act introduces prohibitions against 'hate speech'. The amendment in question provides that some publications may be rated R16 or R18 (not banned altogether) if the material is likely to be 'injurious to the public good'.

    What does this mean and is this the start of 'hate speech' law in New Zealand? It is important to look closely at the language to see just what material will be restricted.

    Material can only be rated R18 or R16 if it 'describes, depicts, expresses or otherwise deals with…physical conduct of a degrading or dehumanising or demeaning nature', where this material is likely to encourage children to 'treat or regard themselves, others, or both, as degraded or dehumanised or demeaned.' Material can also be rated R18 or R16 if it contains 'language that is highly offensive to the public in general' which is likely to cause serious harm to children.

    The Act has not altered the kind of material that can be banned in this country and it is not clear that it will restrict expression of opinion either. It restricts depictions of physical conduct and it restricts offensive language as defined by the public.

    Whatever the reality of this Bill, the more serious threat to our freedom of expression comes from the recent inquiry of the Government Administration Committee into whether New Zealand should introduce 'hate speech' law.

    To read more about this inquiry visit http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/hatespeech.html

    THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - David Hume (1711-1776)

    It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.

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