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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 194

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 194

http://www.maxim.org.nz/

GET REAL ABOUT YOUTH CRIME

A HYBRID DEMOCRACY

HOW FREE IS FREE SPEECH?

IN THE NEWS: A NOTABLE INNINGS FOR JOHN HOWARD

GET REAL ABOUT YOUTH CRIME

Andrew Becroft, principal judge of the Youth Court, this week drew attention to New Zealand's burgeoning youth crime rate. Judge Becroft points out that the dramatic increase in violent assaults over the past decade is at the serious end of the spectrum, and contrasts with a generally stable picture for other less violent forms of youth crime. His question demands an answer. Why, he asks, are young people becoming more violent?

Maori Party co-leader Dr. Pita Sharples is calling on parents and communities to "get real about youth crime", emphasising that reversing the social disconnection and isolation of many young people lies with parents and whanau "taking responsibility" and not leaving it to government. Youth crime is our problem, not Helen Clark's.

Dr. Sharples insightfully locates the capacity to care in parents and families, not government agencies. He said, "The last thing whanau want is for the state to intervene, and take actions which can ultimately destroy the nature of whanau relationships .... Building strong communities is not the responsibility of the police, the courts, CYFS, WINZ etc. It is families who have to get real about the behaviour of their own." He exhorts parents "If your kids are roaming around town, round them up. If they've got weapons, then take the weapons off them. Show the kids you care, by intervening and stopping their anti-social behaviour."

Parents love their children in a way that a police officer or a social worker never can. Ultimately, a strong, cohesive and compassionate society is built by families working together, not by expanded government programmes. Parents, families and communities are able to build character and responsibility in their young, to provide connection and belonging.

Dr. Sharples is right to say "It all comes back to whanau". "If any intervention is to be successful ... [it must be about] inspiring
whanau to take on their responsibilities to their children". Dr. Sharples lays down a tough and vital challenge.

A HYBRID DEMOCRACY

The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill has received scant attention in the media, yet as New Zealand Herald columnist Jim Hopkins pointed out, the Bill reaches to the very heart of our democracy by challenging the nature of representation. Submissions on the Bill, commonly known as 'the party hopping Bill', closed this week and will be considered by a Select Committee.

Under the provisions of the Bill, an MP who resigns from, or is forced out of, their party is unable to remain in Parliament for the remainder of the Parliamentary term. These provisions are similar to those of the 2001 Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act which expired in September 2005.

Under MMP, a party is allocated list MPs according to the proportion of the total party vote it receives. The rationale for the Bill is that if an MP leaves their party, the proportion of MPs from different parties in Parliament changes, which violates the wishes the people expressed at the previous election. If MMP was a purely proportional system, this logic would at least be consistent. However, the New Zealand system is a hybrid, with constituency MPs, a remnant from the old system, still remaining.

The old "First Past the Post" electoral system was premised on the idea that citizens voted for a representative, someone who would apply their reason, intelligence, understanding, character and conscience when deciding the best position to take on issues. Parliament was comprised solely of people who were elected in for who they were, not simply because of the party they belonged to.

With the introduction of MMP, the rationale under which individuals enter Parliament has become clouded. Some MPs enter simply because their party wants them there; others win a seat because individual electorates have voted for them to represent their constituency. The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill fails to distinguish between these two types of MPs.

Ultimately treating the two equally undermines the very basis of the rationale for constituency MPs. It assumes that all MPs should vote on party lines and ignores the fact that constituency MPs were chosen to represent a specific group of people.

The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill highlights a vital question: do people vote for an individual or for a party? A system based on inconsistent answers to this question cannot help but undermine democracy.

To read the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill, please visit:
http://www.knowledge-basket.co.nz/gpprint/docs/bills/20050031.txt

HOW FREE IS FREE SPEECH?

Over recent weeks, the boundaries of free speech have been well and truly tested. Some commentators have argued that the boundaries have been stretched too far, so how free is free speech really?

Freedom of speech is not an absolute right. In New Zealand, there are approximately ten laws that operate to prohibit certain kinds of speech. Laws currently restrict expression in areas such as privacy, race relations, human rights, defamation, censorship, telecommunications and broadcasting.

For example, words that are likely to "excite hostility or bring into contempt" any group on the grounds of colour, race or ethnic origin are prohibited under the Human Rights Act and words that are intended to "threaten, alarm or insult" are also prohibited under the Summary
Offences Act. The Defamation Act protects against personal libel and slander where comments are not true and do not express an honest and genuine opinion.

The Broadcasting Act and the codes of practice prescribed by it restrict speech that "encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age ... or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs". These laws frequently operate to prohibit or punish speech that is found to be in breach.

When free speech deeply offends, there are often calls for further government intervention and more legislation to further restrict freedom of speech. However, it is important to understand that freedom of speech is already tempered by the restrictions above. Any further restrictions on freedom of expression must be balanced with the desire to allow the advancement of knowledge and the discovery of truth in a free and democratic society like New Zealand.

IN THE NEWS: A NOTABLE INNINGS FOR JOHN HOWARD

Thursday marks John Winston Howard's ten year anniversary as elected

Prime Minister of Australia, a record second only to Sir Robert Menzies in the '50s and '60s. For a man generally acknowledged as having little or no personal charisma, Howard's charm seems to be his personal humility and ordinariness.

His decade in power has seen Australia's economy go from strength to strength, surviving the Asian downturn. Howard has delivered tax cuts, record unemployment, reform of the education and health sectors, and a strong sense of national security. However, his tenure to date has not been without its controversies, including his country's involvement in the war in Iraq and criticism of the government's treatment of illegal immigrants.

Talking about his achievement, John Howard has been typically modest:
"I can say it's a 10 year achievement for a team. I've been fortunate to be the captain of the team but I have had a very good team."

To read an interview with John Howard on Radio 2UE on Monday, visit:
http://www.pm.gov.au/news/interviews/Interview1791.html

TALKING POINT

In his Parliamentary speech on the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill in December 2005, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said:

"We do not need the gorilla of laws, to frighten us or to threaten us in order to guide our behaviour. Ours is not a party which uses fear, intimidation or bullying as a means of achieving discipline. Discipline must come from within."

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