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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 198

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 198
30 March 2006








Sometimes it seems that Parliament is little more than a talking shop for the production of hot air. While our House of Representatives is supposed to be the great forum of the nation and the place in which the direction of our country is determined, many note that our politicians seem to spend more time scoring points off each other, blustering on points of order and accusing the other side of being the problem than they do finding constructive solutions and ways forward for our country.

This perception might be a little unfair. The vast majority of MPs work hard and are genuinely willing to listen. Disillusion with the politicians running things is often widespread, which is why it was so refreshing to Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, address the ACT Party conference earlier this week.

Mrs Turia pulled no punches when stating that the Maori Party's agenda is to advocate for Maori people, thereby revealing a key point of difference with ACT. Her presence at the conference demonstrated something which is crucial - that differences of opinion can be constructive and people can, and indeed should, put their differences aside and properly engage with others. This is especially important in Parliament. Examples have abounded in recent months of widely differing political groupings working together on issues of common concern, such as electoral reform, welfare and education.

While there was undoubtedly political self-interest involved, there is something profoundly encouraging about watching a former Motua Gardens protester share a platform with an ex-Treasury Secretary. As Mrs Turia points out, dialogue with others might not change our view, but at least we will have heard a different voice, one which may cause us to question our own viewpoint and might even highlight blindspots in our thinking. As she also said, "Ko te kai a te Rangatira he korero", Discussion is the food of Chiefs.


Tony Blair's visit to New Zealand was always going to make headlines. Despite murmurings about the war in Iraq, the visit has seen much consensus between Helen Clark and Tony Blair. Though they may agree on many things, Tony Blair is trying to move England's education system in a completely different direction to that of Helen Clark's government.

The New Zealand Labour Party has consistently opposed policies that would lead to greater parental involvement in schooling, while in Britain, Tony Blair has taken a very different approach. He has called for an expansion of parental choice of schools, primarily by advocating for every grant-maintained school to have the opportunity to become an independent non-fee paying trust school. These schools would be able to expand to meet demand and have more flexibility over curriculum, ethos and admissions policies.

The original proposals would have substantially curbed the powers that local authorities have to control admissions and school capacity. But Mr Blair has Parliament, with many of his own Party's MPs refusing to support it. Pressure from within has resulted in a watered down Bill, such that local authorities would continue to have more of a say over who gets to go to a particular school than parents. Despite this, 52 Labour MPs have still dissented, meaning Labour has had to rely on David Cameron's Conservative Party to see the Bill through to the next phase. Interestingly, these British Labour MPs probably have more in common with their New Zealand counterparts (in terms of education policy), than they do with their own leader.

Commenting on the relevance of the education reforms here, Education Minister Steve Maharey said New Zealand had no need for independent trust schools as the history of New Zealand schools was different to England's. He claimed the Tomorrow's Schools reforms had already introduced community involvement into schooling. His comments mask a split between how the New Zealand Labour Party and Tony Blair view education policy.


Parliament's position as the supreme law-making body is under threat in the United Kingdom. A Bill that some have dubbed the "Abolition of Parliament" Bill could give the United Kingdom government an unprecedented ability to make law and could nullify the doctrine of the separation of powers.

This doctrine traditionally stops the government and the judiciary from encroaching on Parliament's law-making powers. However, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill would, if passed, fundamentally alter the balance of power between the Government and Parliament in the United Kingdom. This could have important implications for New Zealand as our constitutional system is based on the United Kingdom model. Changes in Britain could create an impetus for similar change here.

This Bill is a Labour Government Bill. It recently passed its second reading in the House of Commons and is now being considered by a Standing Committee. If passed, it would give Ministers of the Crown the power to amend, repeal or replace any legislation simply by making an order. Therefore the Bill would give law-making power, usually the prerogative of Parliament, to the Government. The danger of concentrating power in the hands of the Government is obvious.

The Bill does contain some restrictions. For example, orders which impose or increase taxes could not be made, Ministers would have to be satisfied that certain pre-conditions were met and they would have to consult interested parties before introducing an order. At a minimum, there would need to be no specific Parliamentary disapproval of the order, and, in some cases, Parliament would have to give specific consent to the order. However, the restrictions would not provide the same degree of protection as the normal legislative process. Nor would they give Parliament its usual and proper place in that process. In some cases, there would not even be Parliamentary debate on the proposed order. In addition, the powers contained in the Bill could be used to extend its own operation, including removal of the restrictions, thus increasing the power given to Ministers.

Not surprisingly, politicians, leading academics and senior lawyers have all expressed serious concerns about giving this type of power to Government Ministers. Proponents of the Bill claim that its powers will only be used for 'uncontroversial' matters but these claims are rightly viewed with scepticism.

The Bill has the potential to fundamentally shift the balance of power between the Government and Parliament in favour of the Government. By enlarging the Government's law-making power and undermining the role of Parliament, the Bill puts democracy itself at risk. New Zealanders should learn a lesson from this, and be ready to oppose any similar measures if they surface in this country.

To read the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, visit: http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/pdf/Legislative_and_Regulatory_Reform_Bill_(UK).pdf (To view .PDF's download Adobe Reader: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html)


A new UMR Research survey released by the Privacy Commissioner, reports that the public's concern over the environment has increased more than any other factor measured, followed closely by increased concern over individual privacy and interestingly, the power of the government.

One issue that rated highly within the individual privacy section was concern over the government intercepting telephone calls or email. While New Zealanders are becoming less worried about health care, unemployment and crime, the increasing power of our elected representatives and the government's intrusion in our lives, appears to weigh on our minds.

A full copy of the report can be read on the Privacy Commissioner's website: http://www.privacy.org.nz/OmniResults-February%202006.pdf


Maxim Institute are partnering with the Rotary Club of St Johns to organise a Charity Golf Tournament to be held at the Titirangi Golf Club in Auckland on the afternoon of Friday 7 April. There are still a few places left for individual players and teams of four and we would like to invite you to join us. Tee-off is at 12.30pm and a prize-giving will take place in the club rooms following the game. Proceeds from this tournament will go to Cure Kids, Kidney Kids and the Maxim Institute.

For more details, please call Mary Davidson on 09 627 3261 or email: mary.davidson@maxim.org.nz


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


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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