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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 201

20 Apr 2006
Maxim Institute - real issues - No 201
20 April 2006


It was announced this week that the government is to cut funding for the Plunket Society's telephone hotline, PlunketLine, which provides professional child health advice on everything from crying babies to breast feeding. In the best and most honourable traditions of the Plunket Society, it also provides important reassurance, care, support and advice for parents, 24 hours a day. This service is in high demand, and costs at present, according to Plunket, $913,000 a year to run.

Plunket has a long history of, to use their own words, "community owned, and community driven" care, which has relieved the minds and the ailments of thousands of Kiwi families. Plunket is a New Zealand icon, a triumph of civil society, of people reaching out to other people. It has long tradition of community involvement and investment in our children. It would be a tragedy if Plunket, like some others in the charity sector, were to become politicised, dependent upon government handouts and government funding, instead of functioning on community support and community goodwill.

But sadly, this seems to be increasingly the case. According to Kaye Crouther, New Zealand President of Plunket, there is extra demand for the service. She said: "we should not be expected to employ the additional staff required to answer these calls out of our donated funds - this is a responsibility of Government to fund".

When the founder of Plunket Dr. Truby King, saw a need, he asked the community for help to fix it, believing that our children are our responsibility - and our future. Plunket is petitioning the government for more money, and it has the support of several politicians and many in the public. Signing a petition is easy. Recognising and respecting our responsibilities to others is perhaps a little harder, but it is important. The government is not capable of replacing community, and it is not the government's job to prop up the charities sector when there is need. It is our job, as a community, to invest in our children.

We often use the services of organisations like Plunket with little thought to what they cost. But if we value them, perhaps it is time for us to put our money where our mouth is, and open our wallets to organisations like Plunket. In fact, there are many charities which thrive without receiving government fund, such as the Life Education Trust and Parents Inc. Perhaps it is also time to look at how tax rebates can better serve private charitable giving, so that the props of our community like Plunket, truly are "community owned".


This week the Family First Lobby accused Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro of "bullying", charging that the Commission overstepped the mark at a social workers conference on s59 of the Crimes Act 1961.

At a conference to gather feedback on the proposal to ban physical discipline of children, the lobby group said that social workers were asked to indicate whether they supported a repeal of s59. When three of the 60 attendees said they supported amending, rather than abolishing s59, the lobby group reported that these workers were called to the front and informed by a Commission employee that they "condoned violence against children". Several were also told by colleagues their jobs were at risk. The Family First Lobby quotes one participant saying that she felt "humiliated and intimidated", and was subject to questioning by the Commissioner.

These accusations are serious, and warrant full and open investigation. If true, they are cause for profound concern. A conference to gather feedback on s59 should, in fact, be a conference to gather feedback on s59, and not an exercise in thought control. The allegation that these social workers were subjected to "bullying" raises concerns about both freedom of speech and the right and duty of professionals to give their honest opinion and judgement, without fear of intimidation.

To read the Family First Lobby's press release on this incident, visit:



Everyone from researchers, to teachers, to parents, is sure there is a gap between boys' and girls' achievement in the classroom, and that it is growing. This week, the Challenging Boys conference at Massey University sought to encourage awareness of the challenges facing boys' education, bringing together educators from New Zealand and Australia to discuss how the problem might be tackled.

Speakers at the conference described how boys learn differently, because they tend to respond especially well to structure, order and purpose. The point was made that sometimes a different approach is needed with boys, especially with those who fall behind and are at risk of dropping out.

As part of the solution, Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples, a key-note speaker, suggested that much could be learned from Maori Kura Kaupapa schools, which seek to involve a child's family in their education, saying: "if a man is taught at home, he will stand with confidence on the marae".

The Rector of Waitaki Boys' High School, Paul Baker also discussed his independent investigation into the growing gender gap in New Zealand. Baker partly attributes this to the introduction of a highly prescriptive national curriculum in state schools in the 1990s, which has led to teaching that emphasises planning and self-reflection in the way some subjects are taught, such as English and Physical Education. This has turned many boys off learning, allowing girls to forge ahead.

Because the government makes virtually all decisions about the provision of schooling in New Zealand, it is very difficult for schools to use methods different to the status quo when attempting to improve boys' achievement. If principals were given more discretion to make decisions about what is taught in their schools, how schools spend the funds they receive and what works for the needs of particular pupils, more diverse approaches to schooling could emerge that might play a vital part in bridging the gap between boys and girls.


New Zealand needs to take a long hard look at how to reduce re-offending rates among prisoners through improving rehabilitation. Answers to a series of Parliamentary questions given this week have shown that prisoners are working less behind bars than they used to. Yet equipping prisoners remains vital if they are to be successfully re-integrated into society when they complete their sentence.

Statistics released by the Department of Corrections this week, show that in recent years, prisoner employment hours have dropped dramatically. In 2001, prisoners worked in prison market gardens for 263,000 hours, but in 2005 this figure had dropped to only 67,000.

A report by the Salvation Army released in February, showed that between 1995 and 2005, New Zealand's prison population increased by 66 percent. This is a significantly higher rise than that of the USA, Germany, France, Sweden, Australia or Finland. The report, Beyond the Holding Tank, also provides an analysis of some of the trends within prison. The report suggests that: "Corrections does aim to provide useful employment and vocational development for those in prison...However employment and training opportunities are not consistent and are available to only a small number of inmates." It points out that providing work is expensive, mainly due to the extra supervision costs.

While New Zealand has soaring prison population rates, simply building more prisons is neither a long-term, nor a sustainable solution. More investment is needed in work programmes and other measures that will help to bring down re-offending rates and help reintegrate prisoners back into society.


NZQA have recently added a facility on their website to enable the public to compare individual schools NCEA results with other schools. School results have previously been available so comparisons were possible, but the new feature helps parents access this information more easily. It is pleasing to see NZQA acknowledge the need for parents to have easy access to important information.

To view schools' results, visit: http://www.nzqa.govt.nz/qualifications/ssq/statistics/index.do?statsYear=2004#t


Who should profit from military service?

Captain Charles Upham, Victoria Cross and bar, was one of New Zealand's greatest war heroes, the only combat soldier to receive the VC twice. His insignia, presently on display in an Army Museum, is currently the focus of controversy. His daughters are rumoured to have offered it to the nation for $3.3 million. The government has refused this, saying that traditionally insignia are donated and not profited from. The family considers that the VC's represent financial security, and point out that the insignia were left to them by their father. They are reportedly threatening to sell them overseas.

Captain Upham once turned down an offer from his home province, Canterbury, to help buy a farm, explaining: "The military honours bestowed on me are the property of the men of my unit as well as myself and were obtained at considerable cost of the blood of this country. Under no circumstances could I consent to any material gain for myself for my services."


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