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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 197

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 197
23 March 2006





Aspiring politicians take note: the powerful rarely escape the flipside of fame. Though they seldom grace the covers of women's magazines, politicians generate more public gossip than the average celebrity entertainer. The media hover around a scandal like moths to a flame, especially when power and justice are concerned. This may at times be annoying, but it is important.

Former Attorney-General David Parker was the latest to suffer at the hands of scrutiny. The media seem to view his resignation as an unfortunate necessity, with some questioning whether the prevailing nature and level of scrutinising is counter-productive, as it may discourage competent and capable people from seeking the responsibility of office. It is doubtful whether the 'best and brightest' also have the most to fear from the public spotlight, nevertheless, there is a kernel of truth in this concern.

No one wants to have their character condemned in the court of public opinion as well as in the court of law. Those who seek to represent us in Parliament take a great risk, as any past mistake, prima facie or matter of fact, become fair game for the opposition as the recent Parliamentary ping-pong around David Benson-Pope shows.

Still the old adage remains, that to err is human, and the honest among us would acknowledge our own potential for error in matters large and small. We must hold this truth alongside the fair and necessary expectation that our lawmakers, should in fact, abide by the law and be held accountable to it.

Don Brash's admission that David Parker is probably not the only MP to have committed this particular offence highlights the fact that MPs are fallible like the rest of us. Parker's dignified resignation is a reminder that the position of MPs does not include immunity. MPs actions carry greater consequence as they must retain the respect of both the public and the House.

Politicians and the public should expect the best of their lawmakers and continue to hold MPs accountable for their actions. Yet our judgments should always be tempered by a humility that is grounded in a realistic understanding of our shared human nature.


This week Justice Minister Mark Burton tabled in Parliament, the government's response to the Law Commission Report, New Issues in Legal Parenthood. The report addresses, among other things, ways of resolving disputes over the validity of a man's claim to be the father of a child who is now in the care of an ex-partner. The government considers that more time is needed to consider the implications of proposed law changes.

One significant and complex issue the government wants to consider is whether to grant men the right to establish the integrity of their claim through DNA testing of children, or to enforce a penalty on them for failing to undergo tests at the mother's request.

The proposed changes would be welcomed by some fathers and considered troublesome to others. For fathers who want to be involved in their child's life, this will certainly afford them greater responsibility and authority. The changes will also advantage those children who are uncertain about who their father is. This week, the New Zealand Herald reported that about seven percent of children born in New Zealand have no named father on their birth certificate. However, for those men who do not want to contribute financially to their child's upbringing, these changes could see their paternal responsibility enforced.

These proposals would also improve efficiency and the outworking of justice, by helping to cut legal costs and shorten prolonged periods where fathers are unfairly denied access to their children. In one case, a father had to wait four years to see his daughter because of disagreements with his ex-partner. Such changes would benefit men who have often lost visitation rights by default, because their relationship with their child's mother has gone sour. While these changes would be a positive step forward, they highlight the very human cost of family breakdown.

To read the government's response to the Law Commission Report, visit: http://www.justice.govt.nz/pubs/reports/2006/govt-response-law-commission- legal-parenthood/index.html


With the four month extension of Dame Silvia Cartwright's term as Governor-General due to expire in August, the search for a replacement has begun. Because Governors-General exercise all the powers on behalf of HM The Queen as Head of State in New Zealand, the appointment process is important.

Appointment is not governed by law, but rather by constitutional convention. Because the Queen acts on the advice of her ministers, she will appoint whoever is recommended by the government of New Zealand, which in practice means the current Prime Minister. There will often be an informal consultation with the opposition to ensure political neutrality. Normally, Governors-General occupy their position for five years.

Customarily, the appointment is non-political, as the Governor-General can in exceptional circumstances, exercise the powers of the royal prerogative, such as refusing to sign Bills into law, or by forcing Parliament to dissolve. The Governor-General is also the highest constitutional office within New Zealand, and so must be a nationally unifying figure.

Interestingly, having New Zealanders as our Governors-General is a relatively recent phenomenon. The first New Zealand-born Governor-General, Sir Arthur Porritt, was appointed in 1967, although he had been a British resident for over thirty years. The first New Zealand-resident Governor-General, Sir Denis Blundell, followed Porritt, and was appointed in 1972.


This week the Families Commission launched a new website that will seek feedback and ideas from the public on issues relating to families. You can register to take part in the online questionnaires at: http://www.thecouch.org.nz


"No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent." Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)


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