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Real Issues: No. 148, 17 MARCH 2005

Real Issues: No. 148, 17 MARCH 2005

'Hate speech' laws unwarranted

Government seeks to control TV coverage of Parliament

The death of DIY?

The oldest debates still fresh at 'Beijing +10'

Relationships Act passes 76-44

'Hate speech' laws unwarranted

The Government Administration select committee began its hearings on the 'hate speech' inquiry in Auckland today. Maxim Institute submitted that introducing further legislation to prohibit 'hate speech' is totally unnecessary and would be an unjustified limitation on the rights of free thought and free expression affirmed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights 1990. When New Zealand's current law is examined, it is clear that further restriction on freedom of expression to control so called 'hate speech' is not warranted, and would be an unconstitutional use of Parliament's power.

To read Maxim's oral submission to the select committee click here: http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/HateSpeechSubmission.pdf

To read Maxim's media release click here: http://www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/news_page/R050317.php

Government seeks to control TV coverage of Parliament

The government is moving to prohibit independent TV cameras from filming in Parliament. Instead it is spending $6 million for TV coverage of Parliament to be provided by in-house cameras. TV stations will then be allowed to access this feed, costing tax-payers around $3 million per year.

The media are outraged, claiming the move is an attempt by politicians to censor footage which may show them in a negative light. On Wednesday night, TV3 ran pictures of MP David Benson-Pope asleep in Parliament to protest against the plan.

One justification made by the government is that the cameras create too much clutter in the parliamentary press gallery (the numbers vary, but there is usually around four). If clutter is a problem, then it could be solved through small alterations to provide dedicated space for the cameras, which would undoubtedly cost less than $6 million.

Secondly, the government claims that independent TV stations don't provide much coverage of Parliament and a state-produced feed will enhance democracy. While this is a positive goal, there is no obvious link between the problem and the proposed solution. Even though a state-produced feed would increase the public's access to Parliament, independent stations should not be prevented from filming. It is noteworthy that TVNZ streams live coverage of Parliament on its website, and that Parliament has been broadcast live on National Radio for many years.

Free access to Parliamentary broadcasts is an important part of an open and accountable democracy. The government denies that their real motive is to control their media image, but it is difficult to see how this will not happen.

The death of DIY?

Kiwis have been 'do-it-yourselfers' from the year dot. Since the founding of New Zealand, countless Kiwis have built their own homes, put in new kitchens, added on rooms, built garages, and so on. But on 31 March, the new Building Act comes into force, and will be a huge nail in the coffin of the Kiwi home builder. The regulations will be phased in over four years. The days of building your own home could soon be over.

The part of the Act that bites (sections 84-89) stipulates that all major building must be carried out by a "licensed building practitioner". Restricted work covers anything that requires a building consent, and work on the structure or envelope of a building. At the risk of a $20,000 fine, home handymen will be able to do little more than reline a room, or add a sundeck.

The new Act is a response to the leaky buildings crisis of 2003, which was caused by builders not knowing how to properly install new surface claddings that were coming on the market. The subsequent raft of new regulations will catch everybody in the same net, although there has been no suggestion that home handymen are a problem.

The oldest debates still fresh at 'Beijing +10'

New Zealand was at odds with the United States over the right to abortion at the 49th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which finished in New York last week. 'Beijing + 10' came ten years after a landmark UN conference which adopted a Platform for Action aimed at global gender equality and women's empowerment. Last week's disagreement centred over whether the Beijing documents confer an international right to an abortion.

The US delegation, headed by Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, moved an amendment to clarify that the Beijing Platform for Action did not include the right to an abortion. The US concern centred on the migration of language over time: "It is clear that there was no intent on the part of States supporting the Beijing documents to create new international rights... including a right to abortion."

In contrast, Ruth Dyson, New Zealand's Minister of Women's Affairs, stated that "Beijing contains clear commitments on women's sexual and reproductive health rights, and the right to control their own sexuality, and these commitments must be implemented." New Zealand's delegation went further, pushing to have statements regarding sexual and reproductive health added to a US resolution on economic empowerment. The language was so unacceptable to the US that it ultimately withdrew from sponsorship of its own resolution.

To read an article about 'Beijing + 10' by Maxim's Amanda McGrail in the New Zealand Herald last week visit: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?ObjectID=10114611

Relationships Act passes 76-44

On Tuesday, the Relationships (Statutory References) Act was passed into law by 76 votes to 44. The final version of the Act increased the distinction in the original Bill between marriage and de facto relationships, acknowledging that different relationships should be treated differently in law. However, there was no distinction made between civil unions and marriage, which will now receive virtually identical rights and responsibilities.

Civil unions have been made legally equivalent to marriage - an institution which has served adults and children well throughout history. This was done, not because of an interest in the long-term wellbeing of New Zealand, but for ideological reasons. To make these relationships legally the same, when they are in fact different is to legislate for a legal fiction.

To find out how your MP voted on the final reading, click here: http://www.maxim.org.nz/letter/cu_letter.php

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Rodney Hide, 16 March 2005

I ask for leave for the bells to be rung for three minutes to wake up the Minister of Education, David Benson-Pope

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