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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 192

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 192







This week Avondale College announced plans to launch a new website that will enable parents to access information on how their child is doing at school. The new project will allow parents to log on and view information about their child's progress including academic performance and class attendance. This project will help parents to become more involved in their child's education and better able to monitor their development.

Information is necessary to ensure accountability within any system. It fosters a transparent environment and sets a culture of honesty. A greater sense of partnership between schools and parents in the education of children can only benefit all those involved.

There is now a broad consensus in education that involving parents is a major key to increasing pupil achievement. In New Zealand, vast sums of money are being spent on campaigns to involve parents in their child's education, yet the government continues to have substantially greater access to information about schools than parents do. The SchoolSMART website currently contains information including academic achievement, suspension and stand-down rates, but at the moment, this website can only be accessed by schools and the Ministry of Education. Parents are kept out of the loop.

This week, Maxim called for parents to be given access to more of this information too, so that schools can be held accountable and parents can have the best possible information about their child's progress. Maxim Institute's third report in the Parent Factor series released last year, Information for parents, found that the SchoolSMART database holds much of the information a majority of parents want to know but currently don't have access to.

In the so called "information age", it seems absurd that the information parents want about schools is available – but not to them. In time, as more schools follow Avondale College's lead in increasing communication with parents, perhaps the government will also come to appreciate the value of informing parents and open up SchoolSMART.

To read The Parent Factor: Information for parents, please visit: www.maxim.org.nz/parentfactor


This week Parliament was kick-started with visionary speeches by Prime Minister Helen Clark and opposition leader Don Brash. Within Clark's address was a focus on the family as a priority for this term, with the aim of "...ensuring that families, young and old, are able to be secure and have the opportunity to reach their full potential." Obviously this is an honourable intention, and the Labour-led government should be commended for appreciating the importance of strong families. It is highly questionable however, whether the primary policy of extending the Working for Families package, will achieve the goal of strengthening families when it will make more households dependent on the state.

The Prime Minister promised that by April 1 of this year, the extension to Working for Families will see 60,000 more families eligible to receive a payment, increasing the total number of families entitled to family tax relief to 350,000 in 2006. While the package is attractive because it places more money in the hands of families, the underlying assumption is that it is legitimate to use public funds to supplement household incomes as a matter of course, rather than as a matter of need.

This shift can clearly be seen in a recent television advertisement to promote the Working for Families package. The advertisement shows a happy suburban family about to sit down and eat dinner and the father resorts to texting his daughter to tell her dinner is ready, because she can't hear him over the sound of her iPod. A voice-over then tells us that those in higher income brackets are now eligible for assistance under the Working for Families package.

Welfare used to be a social safety net, however now such payments (in the form of tax credits) are being offered to those who otherwise expressed no need for them. The extension of this policy and the blatant recruitment of new 'beneficiaries', introduces the idea that the government is responsible for topping-up otherwise sufficient incomes. It is worth considering how long it will be until such assistance is considered an entitlement.


Many readers will be aware that the Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill passed its first reading last year and will soon be considered by Select Committee. Submissions on the Bill must be received by the Select Committee by 28 February 2006.

This Bill will affect how parents can physically discipline their children by repealing section 59 of the Crimes Act. The Bill has generated a lot of public attention and has been the subject of heated debate. Debate, however, has not generated a coherent understanding of the current legal situation or the practical implications of such a law change. Supporters of repeal say that their intention is not to criminalise parents for what they call "trivial" smacking. Their intentions however are, to put it bluntly, irrelevant. What matters is what the law will say.

Currently, section 59 gives parents, or those in the place of parents, a defence to charges that could result from a parent's use of physical force to discipline their child. The defence is a limited one; any force used must be "reasonable in the circumstances" and used "by way of correction". If section 59 is repealed, the law will say that ordinary smacking constitutes an assault to which parents will have no defence. The Police have confirmed that this will be the case. This is because the law defines "assault" very widely. Assault is a criminal offence for which parents could be charged if they do not have the protection of section 59. Other occasions in which parents touch their children for disciplinary reasons, such as putting an unwilling child into a chair for a five minute "time-out", will also constitute assault.

Many of those supporting repeal also say that the defence needs to be removed to prevent child abuse. However, child abuse is already illegal and is not protected by section 59. An analysis of cases involving section 59 shows that in the vast majority of cases, the limits of the defence are applied sensibly.

If you would like to know more about section 59 in general, or would like information about how to make a submission, please visit Maxim's website: http://www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/current_page/bills_2006_section59.php.


This week in England the House of Commons voted to ban smoking in pubs, clubs, and all indoor public spaces. This ban is expected to pass into law by mid-2007, after passing through the House of Lords. Although a survey last year showed that 72 per cent of Britons wanted a sweeping ban on smoking, there was much debate within the Labour government and opposition from libertarian and smokers' lobby groups leading up to the vote.

England follows Ireland, New Zealand, and six other countries who have introduced bans of varying degree since 2004. Opponents of the ban claim that it is an illiberal intrusion on an individual's choice, while those who support moves to restrict smoking in public places claim it is a response to health considerations and cite the link between smoking and lung cancer and the subsequent cost to society.


"It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare." Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

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