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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 195

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 195
posted by David Underwood 09 Mar 2006

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 195








If you are living in New Zealand, you will have filled out a census form on Tuesday night, and if you have been following the news, you might have noticed the public outcry over question eleven: "Which ethnic group do you belong to?" which omitted 'New Zealander' from the pre-printed responses. The Statistics Act 1975 sets out several mandatory questions to be asked in the census, one of which concerns ethnic origin.

The real problem arises because the recent census did not actually ask "what is your ethnic origin?", but rather, "which ethnic group do you belong to?" The subtle difference is important. "Ethnic origin" is an objective term, as it pins down your identity to a specific time and place. "Ethnic group" on the other hand, as defined in the census, is a subjective term, since it refers to the group we identify most closely with, or see ourselves as belonging to.

The census guide notes state that an ethnic group has some or all of "a shared culture, such as traditions or ways of doing things, customs, beliefs or language; a common ancestry or history; and/or a similar geographic, tribal or clan origin." This appears simple enough, until you consider the range of identities that can fit within this definition of "ethnic group." This is not the same as asking people to classify their race or nationality.

Most religions have a shared culture, customs, beliefs, even a common history. Political identities, such as being part of the 'women's movement', could conceivably form one's primary "ethnicity". While it might also seem ridiculous to identify your ethnicity as deriving from being a "One-Eyed Cantabrian", many of the criteria – shared culture, customs, common history, even shared language – are arguably there.

Finding out which "ethnic group" people identify with may be worth measuring in a census, but because people's answers to this question are entirely subjective, their use is limited. Perhaps to clear up confusion, and to gather more concrete information in the future, the 2011 census should also include questions on ethnic origin nationality.


The Education Amendment Bill, currently before Parliament, could lead to further prescription about what your child is taught, even before they start school. It specifically sets out a provision that would allow the Minister of Education to prescribe a curriculum for early childhood education.

The Ministry of Education already provides a curriculum for early childhood education, Te Whariki, and providers currently have the option to teach either this curriculum or one of their own. This flexibility enables providers to be innovative, and develop a curriculum that will be specifically suited to the needs of children in their community.

There are no government owned early childhood education centres. All centres are either owned privately, or by the community. Therefore, prescribing a curriculum for all early childhood education centres would not be consistent with the freedom over curricula that independent primary and secondary schools enjoy. Whilst the government sets out a compulsory curriculum for state secondary schools, it recognises that schools independent of the state should not be bound by a national curriculum.

The introduction of a compulsory curriculum for early childhood education would restrict the number of alternatives on offer and therefore reduce parents' ability to choose from different educational options for their child.

To read the Education Amendment Bill, please visit here: LINK

To read Te Whariki, the optional early childhood education curriculum, please visit here: LINK


The threat of terrorism affects our security, raises questions about how we should respond and impacts on our thinking about rights and liberties. It creates an awkward dilemma: while it is legitimate to respond to terrorism and protect ourselves against it, the way in which we do this can make things worse. So we must ask, how should we respond to terrorism? Has our reaction to the threat of terrorism increased its menace?

His Honour Justice David Baragwanath spoke to these issues at the University of Auckland's Alumni Summer Celebration last weekend. His Honour, giving a Distinguished Alumni Award Winner's address, delivered a paper entitled "Liberty and Justice in the Face of Terrorist Threats to Society". His paper points out that attempting to reconcile the state function of responding to terrorism with the public interest in liberty presents formidable challenges.

The state's response to terrorism must include the ability to take the fight to the enemy. Society must be able to respond to terrorist threats and protect itself against potential attacks. However, this creates the dilemma that when the state responds by using force against terrorists, it becomes increasingly likely that terrorists will use force in response. When the state takes other measures to protect itself, such as "extraordinary rendition" or the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without trial and without bail, it compromises the standards of liberty and freedom that normally characterise a democratic state.

Striking the right balance and resolving the dilemma is a difficult task. As Justice Baragwanath says, it can not be left to governments alone. The informed and active contribution of the wider community is required. Our response to the dilemma created by the threat of terrorism, and the attempts to resolve that dilemma, are matters for us all to debate.

To read Justice Baragwanath's paper, please download the Word document from here:



This week the tenth National People's Congress (NPC) is meeting in the People's Republic of China. Representatives from all around China will meet to outline the country's policy priorities.

One of the major issues this NPC is tackling is how to minimise the significant gap in outcomes between rural and urban China, as people in the urban regions enjoy a substantially better quality of life. The NPC is discussing a five-year plan to try to reduce the gap, which will include, among other things, improving health care and education in rural areas.

As New Zealand's relationship with China grows closer, watching its development is more important than ever.


"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)

Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from 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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