Maxim Institute: Real Issues
No. 154, 28 APRIL 2005
• What kind of identity did Gallipoli shape?
• The future of civil unions
• Families Commission seeks public input
• Correction and clarification
What kind of identity did Gallipoli shape?
Prime Minister Helen Clark is the latest in a long line of people who claim that New Zealand's national identity was shaped by Gallipoli. At the Chanuk Bair memorial this week, she said: "what began as a great adventure became a nightmare ... yet it also stirred within our people a new sense of national identity."
The extent to which our national identity was born on a Turkish beach is a debatable point. But regardless of this, the number of young people still flocking to Gallipoli's shores is testament to its ongoing significance; something about that battle resonates in our country louder than ever. On that ground, comradeship and loyalty were forged in the crucible of great suffering. But is our national identity still characterised by those things which were fought for at Gallipoli?
It is certainly true of both great art and human experience that something stronger-even redemptive-can come out of suffering. The courage of men who will sacrifice their lives for the sake of something greater than themselves is a notion that still appeals. We enjoy freedom because those men were prepared to fight for the nation they loved.
Suffering sits very uncomfortably with the post-modern approach of today's liberal governments, which emphasise personal pleasure and 'rights', as opposed to duty, personal responsibility, nationhood, community and sacrifice.
But if New Zealand's identity is to be truly shaped by the battles of our past, and the lives of those men who died are to be honoured, then the trends towards risk-aversion and rights entitlement must be tempered by the understanding that there are things more important than minimising personal pain.
The future of civil unions
At a public meeting this month Maxim was approached by a middle-aged woman who was upset by her recent discovery that she is excluded from the Civil Union Act. She and her close male friend had originally been excited about the possibility of legally registering their 'partnership', but now realise that contrary to the assertions of the Act's promoters, civil unions are just marriage by another name.
This was most certainly not what she had wanted. She and her friend are not, and do not intend to be, involved sexually nor romantically, but are committed to being close companions for life. They hoped to simply attend to a range of legal 'next-of-kin' issues, but the marriage-like connotations of civil unions are inappropriate for their relationship.
In the final stages of the Bill's passage an amendment was put forward by National MP Richard Worth, which would have sufficiently widened the scope of the proposed law so as to include non-sexual and familial relationships. Not only would this have met the needs of people like the woman above, it would have also underscored the very line argued by the Act's promoters: that civil unions were not about marriage. Curiously the Act's supporters voted down those amendments and now this week we have words like 'honeymoon' and 'wedding' being used in the context of upcoming civil union ceremonies.
We are still left with a foundational question: is it the role of law to recognise love and commitment between adults? The way forward is clear. The Civil Union Act should and can be amended to make it both an honest and inclusive piece of legislation that attends to the legal needs of all New Zealanders without undermining marriage. With several political parties beginning to signpost such a change, this will certainly be an election issue.
Families Commission seeks public input
Since July last year, the Families Commission has existed as an independent, government-funded body to promote the interests of New Zealand families. The Commission has the potential to improve the situationfor families in New Zealand by recommending sound policy to government. It also has the potential to further erode civil society, as the state is effectively becoming more involved in shaping social order.
The Commission is now conducting research to try to understand the current situation for families, so that it can promote policies to help strengthen them: "We're asking families with dependent children to tell us what is important to family life and what makes it work well. We'd like to hear about what gets in the way, and the choices you've made to ensure family life is manageable. We're also interested in what you think would make your family life better."
Discerning current trends is helpful, but the laboratory of history also provides valuable insight and should not be ignored. Just because something is happneing now, doesn't mean it is the goal we should be aiming for. The goal of strengthening marriage must lie at the heart of social policy if the objective is to improve family life in New Zealand, and particularly outcomes for children.
The Commission's research will consist of surveys, in-depth discussion groups and case studies. The surveys are open to anyone with dependent children to complete. This is an opportunity to influence government and encourage policy that will help strengthen families.
To complete the survey
(online response form)
Correction and clarification
Last week's Real Issues item, "Liberals in Crisis in Canada", could have been misleading for many readers.
The sentence, "33 liberals defied Mr Martin and voted with the Conservatives to kill a government bill recognising same-sex marriage", would have been better worded: "33 liberals defied Mr Martin and voted with the Conservatives for an amendment which attempted to kill the government bill recognising same-sex marriage." We apologise for any misunderstanding this might have caused.
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - George Washington (1732-1799)
To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.
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Key principles - The Building Blocks of Civil Society