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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 196

16 March 2006

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 196

Is Downsizing Parliament Good For Democracy

Volunteers - The Glue Of Civil Society

Letting Employers Take Risks

In The News: The Commonwealth Message

Is Downsizing Parliament Good For Democracy

This week Parliament approved the Electoral (Reduction in Number of Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill at its first reading, by 61 votes to 60. If passed, the Private Member's Bill, sponsored by Barbara Stewart of New Zealand First, would reduce the number of MPs in the House from the current 121, to 100.

Many people intuitively believe that reducing the size of Parliament would translate into a reduction in the overall size of government bureaucracy, but this is unlikely. The real issue is whether reducing the size of Parliament under MMP would be good for democracy.

Significantly reducing the number of MPs would weaken the oversight which Select Committees provide as part of the democratic process, since fewer MPs would be available to sit on Select Committees and scrutinise legislation. Under MMP, much of the business of government is conducted behind the scenes with Select Committees playing a significant role. This is particularly important since New Zealand's Parliament is unicameral; there is only one House, unlike Britain, which has two Houses of Parliament. In Britain, the upper House will often slow down or reject proposed legislation, providing a valuable check on the power of the lower House. In New Zealand, Select Committees perform much of this function.

Downsizing Parliament will not necessarily improve the quality or efficiency of government as the same amount of work will remain to be done by fewer MPs. The Bill will do nothing to improve the efficiency of the state bureaucracy which carries out the directives of Parliament. In fact, the Bill might actually harm the democratic process.

The Bill has been referred to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee for discussion and feedback from the public. A closing date for public submissions has not yet been set. To read the Electoral (Reduction in Number of Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill, visit: http://www.brookers.co.nz/bills/new_bills/b060231.pdf (To view .PDF's download Adobe Reader: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html)

Volunteers - The Glue Of Civil Society

It is difficult to measure just how much volunteers contribute to making our communities, our families and our nation, a more personal, connected and kind place. This week is Volunteer Awareness week, and though their contributions are beyond price, it is worth remembering just how much we rely on the voluntary actions of our neighbours and communities.

Consider that as at 6 March, 1,474 lives were saved by Surf Lifesavers in the 2005/06 year. Thousands of volunteer fire-fighters put themselves in harm's way for their communities, plugging the gaps in rural and isolated areas.

Over 3,400 young people benefit from the youth programmes of the Order of St. John, learning values, respect and practical skills. Staffed by a combination of volunteers and paid staff, the Order also runs an ambulance service, first aid courses and safe kids programmes.

Predator-free islands, which are vital to maintaining New Zealand's biodiversity, are maintained for our grandchildren by the NZ Conservation Trust. A 75 year old homeless man is given a blanket, a hot drink, bedding, and a warm touch from Drug Arm. Thousands of kids, from Small Blacks to future All Blacks, are taught the love of our national game by volunteer rugby coaches. Parents too give time to schools, scout and church groups, social clubs, sports and service clubs. Thousands of people all muck in to lend a hand.

Volunteers connect individuals and families in a way that government never can. Without them – without civil society – New Zealand would be poorer, colder and less human.

To find out more about volunteering in your region, visit: http://www.volunteernow.org.nz/home.html

Letting Employers Take Risks

A Private Member's Bill to establish a 90-day probation period for new employees has passed its first reading and will now be considered by the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee. The Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill is sponsored by National MP Dr Wayne Mapp and was supported by National, New Zealand First, Act, United Future and three of the four Maori Party MPs.

According to the Bill's Explanatory Note, its purpose is to "enable employers to take a chance with new employees, without facing the risk of expensive and protracted personal grievance procedures." At the moment, this risk may dissuade many employers from taking a chance with new employees, or employing people with limited work experience.

Probationary periods for new employees exist in most OECD countries and Dr Mapp hopes that the introduction of probationary periods in New Zealand will help more people find jobs, and promote greater competitiveness and productivity in the economy.

Written submissions on the Bill will now be called for and the Select Committee will consider these submissions before reporting back to Parliament.

To read the Bill, visit: http://www.brookers.co.nz/bills/new_bills/b060241.pdf

In The News: The Commonwealth Message

This has been a big week for the Commonwealth. On Monday, prior to the extravagant opening of the 18th Commonwealth Games on Wednesday night, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II delivered the Commonwealth Day message for 2006. Her message highlighted the importance of health as a source of wellbeing and placed responsibility for tackling disease with governments, organisations of civil society and individuals.

To read the Queen's speech, visit: http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page5098.asp

Talking Point

The Waitemata District Health Board will now pay for women seeking an abortion between 18-21 weeks of pregnancy, to have the procedure done in Sydney. This is because none of its staff are prepared to carry out the procedure at such a late date, when the basis for it, is that continuation of the pregnancy may threaten the mother's mental health. The District Health Board is prepared to pay the $1,800 fee for an operation because it believes it is obliged by law to do so, but the women will need to pay for their own airfares.

Under the New Zealand Medical Association's code of ethics, doctors have the right, except in emergency situations, to refuse to perform certain procedures. Commenting on this fact in the New Zealand Herald (11 March 2006), Christchurch abortion doctor Pippa Mackay affirmed doctors' rights to refuse to perform procedures on moral grounds, but also said:

"If it's morally all right [to carry out an abortion] when the pregnancy's earlier, then morally it's all right when it's later."


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