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Real issues, No. 164, 7 July 2005

maxim institute
real issues

No. 164, 7 JULY 2005

• Can we make poverty history?

• New Zealand according to the OECD

• Modernising our oaths and affirmations

• Taranaki Political Forum

Can we make poverty history?

Large crowds make the headlines; this week Bob Geldof, Madonna, Bono and every Live 8 concert goer who filled Hyde Park or Philadelphia no doubt had the best of intentions. But will it make a difference to such crises as: the AIDS epidemic in Kenya, the famine in Sudan and the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe-which most of us feel powerless about?

The 'make poverty history' campaign has galvanised massive support from across the globe. It is an easy way to appease the conscience, as we all know we should be doing more to help the poor. It is easy to 'love Africa' from the comfort of our living rooms. But if all we do is give a little spare change for a white arm-band and enjoy the music, such statements are little more than exercises in self-righteousness. It is certainly cheaper to make a statement than a difference.

The concerts organised by Sir Bob Geldof have been intended to put pressure on the Group of Eight (G8) leaders who have been meeting in Gleneagles this week. Just how the G8 will respond to this pressure remains to be seen, but two unasked questions must be answered: What makes a country wealthy? And where does responsibility lie?

Much of Africa's poverty is the result of corrupt leaders and bureaucrats. Where this is the case, little will change until they are dealt with.

Political and legal frameworks which underpin a country's economic infrastructures must be sound. The social ethic of a nation is critical. The rule of law, democracy, private property rights and a virtuous citizenry have always been essential for a nation to be prosperous. A case can be made for forgiving debt, and even for aid, but formation states must take responsibility for themselves when it come to fundamental structures.

Many of Zimbabwe's citizens are poor primarily because the Mugabe regime lacks the rule of law, and has no regard for private property. Foreign aid will at best be a band-aid, until the obvious basic changes are made.

New Zealand according to the OECD

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its Economic Survey of New Zealand 2005 this week, and both Labour and National have found reason to claim it supports their policies.

On a positive note, the report says New Zealand's economic outlook is "bright", "a deserved reward for the wide reaching macroeconomic and structural reforms put in place over the last 20 years". Economic growth for the last year was just under 4.5 percent, and last year's government surplus of over four percent was one of the highest in the OECD. The report also highlights several key challenges facing New Zealand in the coming years.

While New Zealand's unemployment is comparatively low, and we work relatively long hours, our productivity is lagging behind the OECD median. Further steps need to be taken to ensure that the work we do is more effective. For example, even though enrolments in tertiary courses are up 35 percent since 1999, many of these courses are "low quality" or "have only remote career relevance", and are therefore not contributing to an equivalent increase in productivity.

Key markets such as the electricity sector do not yet have the certainty needed to attract investment. Similarly, our investment in transport infrastructure is hampered by the strictness and lack of clarity of government regulation. New Zealand faces increased spending pressures as the population gets older, particularly in the health sector. Our government spending priorities have not reacted to increases in the overall budget by "pruning back lower-priority spending". In short, we are spending money in areas that are not delivering economic returns.

The OECD's findings are especially interesting in light of the recent budget, where Dr Cullen introduced minimal tax cuts. A significant examination of the Government's spending priorities is needed. It is likely that further tax cuts could increase productivity and changes in the tertiary sector could more effectively address the educational needs of New Zealand.

Modernising our oaths and affirmations

The Oaths Modernisation Bill has passed its first reading and is now being considered by the Government Administration Select Committee.

Although the original discussion document on oaths indicated we would see major changes to the way we take oaths, including the removal of any reference to the Queen or to God, the Bill has thankfully retained these key aspects. Justice Minister Phil Goff said there was clear support from public submissions for retaining the current values and beliefs, particularly loyalty to the Queen, references to religious belief, and promises as to how an office or role should be carried out.

An oath to serve the monarch, under God and according to law, covers the full spectrum of authority and accountability and reflects our constitutional history. Even though one might not acknowledge the Queen or God, an office holder is still acknowledging an authority higher than himself or herself. This reminds us that we are not the final authority and that we are ultimately accountable to others; something which is particularly important for those in positions of power.

The Bill does make substantial changes to two important oaths, the Citizenship Oath and the Parliamentary Oath and on this basis Maxim Institute opposed the Bill. Citizens and MPs will now swear or affirm that they will respect "the democratic values of New Zealand and the rights and freedoms of its people".

This raises the question of what the legislature actually means by "the democratic values of New Zealand" or "the right and freedoms of its people" and what the historical basis of "rights and freedoms" actually is. The current oath, in which the oath-taker, swears to "faithfully observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil my duties as a New Zealand citizen is accurate, easy to understand and is not open to manipulation.

To read our written submission on the Oaths Modernisation Bill, visit:
http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/pdf/Submission on Oaths.pdf
To read our original submission on the Ministry of Justice discussion document, click here: http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/pdf/Oaths & Affirmations.pdf

Taranaki Political Forum

This Friday night, MPs will debate political party policies on education, tax, spending and other areas in New Plymouth. For details of the event visit:

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919)

It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly

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Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from the Maxim Institute. The focus is current New Zealand events with an attempt to provide insight into critical issues beyond what is usually presented in the media. This service is provided free of charge, although a donation to Maxim is appreciated. Items may be used for other purposes, such as teaching, research or civic action. If items are published elsewhere, Maxim should be acknowledged.


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