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Maxim Institute real issues No. 156, 12 May 2005

Maxim Institute

real issues. ============ this week: No. 156, 12 MAY 2005

Please note, due to unfortunate technical difficulties, the distribution of Real Issues #155 was delayed.

Contents: --------- * Parliamentary accountability in the spotlight

* Marriage Amendment Bill pulled from the ballot

* Defence under fire

* A quick constitutional

* Maxim Institute wins international think-tank awards

Parliamentary accountability in the spotlight ------------------------------------------------------------------------ The recent re-election of Tony Blair's Labour Party has sparked debate over whether the UK electoral system is fair. Labour won a comfortable majority of seats, with only 37 percent of the national vote.

British commentators have suggested that a party proportional system, like the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system used in New Zealand, might have given a more satisfactory result. With the fourth MMP election on the horizon in this country, New Zealand voters need to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of choosing Members of Parliament through an MMP system, so they can vote strategically.

The major weakness of the First Past the Post (FPP) system is that it can ignore minority interests and disadvantage parties that have supporters spread out over many electorates but which are not strong enough to win any one of them. MMP solves this by taking into account the overall national vote that each party gets, and by drawing MPs from a party list.

The problem with this method is that list MPs are not accountable to an electorate, only their own party leadership. This can lead to voter concern playing second fiddle to party pressure. The basic principle of any representative democracy (like New Zealand) is that representatives must be accountable to the people, who can choose not to re-elect MPs if they believe they are not being represented appropriately.

MMP makes sure that more voices are heard in Parliament, but voters should check before casting their party vote what names are on the list, and who their party vote might put into Parliament.

Marriage Amendment Bill pulled from the ballot ------------------------------------------------------------------------ The public debate about marriage will soon be reignited when the Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill comes before parliament. Larry Baldock's Private Members Bill was pulled from the ballot this week, and seeks to codify in legislation what the New Zealand courts have already affirmed - that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Part 2 of the Bill seeks to ensure that the status quo and any future moves to advance marriage do not constitute unlawful discrimination. The Bill comes hot on the heels of the first civil union ceremonies last week, and is likely to create controversy.

It will provide a litmus test of Parliament's and individual MP's attitudes toward marriage; something which will be valuable for the public as they weigh up their options in election year. Throughout the debate over the Civil Union Act, many proponents were quick to assure those concerned that civil unions were not intended as a stepping stone to changing the Marriage Act 1955. Some clearly indicated their support for same-sex marriage, but most did not. This Bill will test the sincerity of these statements.

In the current social and political environment, there is obvious value in removing ambiguity to ensure the law expressly states what cultural and historical convention, the New Zealand courts and the public-at-large understand marriage to be. For this reason, there is no sound basis for opposing this Bill.

To read the Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill visit: http://www.maxim.org.nz/bills/Marriage_(Gender_Clarification)_Bill.rtf

Defence under fire ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Debate on defence issues has surfaced again. Both the government and the National Party want to spend more money on defence. The announcement by Labour of increased investment is welcome, but since the mid-1980s we have not had a coherent philosophy on defence. Since then, the ANZUS alliance has effectively lapsed, the services have become demoralised and their equipment has either run down or run out.

Both main parties must share the blame for what has happened. Symbolising the present confusion is the fact that we currently have a Minister of Defence and a Minister for Disarmament. One is meant to resource the services, while the other is committed to reducing armaments. Yet even a commitment to peacekeeping relies on a well-equipped defence force.

The first two obligations of the state are defence of the realm and the maintenance of law and order. Indeed, they are essential to the provision of any state services, and are tasks that only the government is capable of doing. These two obligations form its half of the social contract with citizens. New Zealand should be doing better in both.

To read a statement on defence by the RNZRSA released on Wednesday visit: http://www.rsa.org.nz/about/nws2005may/pdf/RSA-Defending-NZ.pdf

A quick constitutional ------------------------------------------------------------------------ No-one has yet explained the unseemly haste over the inquiry into New Zealand's constitution. When the committee chaired by United Future leader Peter Dunne called for submissions in early March, it allowed slightly less than six weeks for people to respond.

The impossibility of making a considered response on such a complex issue in that time was illustrated by the fact that only 48 submissions were made. Some were little more than rants, judging by those so far published on the select committee website, which has now been set up. (The website is the first dedicated to a particular parliamentary committee).

It is now being suggested that the question of whether New Zealand should have a written constitution will be put to the country in a referendum. That obscures the main issue at stake.

We have inherited a constitution that has a range of checks and balances, which have grown out of an historical understanding of human dignity that ultimately rests on Judeo-Christian foundations. Virtually all constitutions that have been written over the last 300 years have been based on the conviction that there are permanent truths.

We now live in a secular society dominated by cultural relativism - in other words, the conviction that there are no permanent truths. Codifying a constitution in an era with diminishing confidence in past foundations leaves the way open for tyranny and ambiguity. How will this help defend our nation against the many forces that today beset it? Any change to New Zealand's constitutional arrangements must be widely and deeply considered, and not hurried, as the initial consultation process has been.

The constitutional website can be found at: http://www.constitutional.parliament.govt.nz/

Maxim's submission to the committee can be read at: http://www.maxim.org.nz/submissions/constitutional_inquiry.html

Maxim Institute wins international think-tank awards ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Last week, Maxim's research director Paul Henderson collected two international think-tank awards in Miami on behalf of Maxim Institute. Maxim received two Templeton Prizes from the Atlas Foundation, one for Social Entrepreneurship and the other for Institute Excellence. The Templeton Prizes are awarded to organisations that contribute to the protection and growth of freedom around the world. Maxim is delighted to eceive the awards in recognition of its work and contribution to public debate in New Zealand.

To read Maxim's media release visit: http://www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/news_page/R050428.php

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Samuel Adams (1722-1803) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ ...it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.

ENDS

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