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Real issues - No 204

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 204
11 May 2006

www.maxim.org.nz

THE PRICE OF FAMILY BREAKDOWN
20 YEARS OF THE MINISTRY OF WOMEN'S AFFAIRS
BACKTRACKING TO THE LEFT
WE WANT YOUR FEEDBACK ON REAL ISSUES
IN THE NEWS: COUNTING THE BENEFICIARIES
IN THE NEWS: SUBMISSIONS CALLED FOR ON THE HUMAN TISSUE (ORGAN DONATION)
AMENDMENT BILL

THE PRICE OF FAMILY BREAKDOWN

A new government programme launched this week highlights the crippling cost of family breakdown. Rick Barker, Minister of Courts, announced the plan to spend six million dollars over the next three years on a new initiative, "How to Help Your Kids When You Separate". Aimed at couples who are undergoing or contemplating separation, the programme will provide tools and advice to help children cope with separation.

Separation and divorce are tragic realities in modern society, and of course, every effort should be made to limit the damage on children. This kind of programme is a noble attempt at addressing an urgent social problem, but it will unintentionally contribute to normalising separation and divorce.

Government interventions in family life are tricky at best, but if the government has to intervene, it should be on the side of strengthening commitment and encouraging families to stay together. Couples contemplating divorce need help and support from family and community, encouraging them to weather the treats separation as inevitable.

Governments and communities should value marriage and the marriage bond. Sadly, in the last decade, we have moved from an attitude of valuing marriage and commitment to undermining marriage. For instance, the Relationships (Statutory References) Act 2005 has made cohabiting relationships virtually equal to marriage in every way, thereby sending the message that society does not value public and life-long commitment.

We urgently need policy and a culture that values the marriage commitment and encourages families to stick together. The costs of family breakdown impact all of us, and children most of all.

20 YEARS OF THE MINISTRY OF WOMEN'S AFFAIRS

As Minister of Women's Affairs, Hon Lianne Dalziel, marked the Ministry's 20th anniversary this week, most women were too busy getting on with their lives to notice.

Celebrating the unspecified "achievements" of the Ministry over the past two decades, the Minister lamented that the Ministry had not yet dealt with the "structure of inequality" which it was founded to "demolish". She failed to cite any ways in which the Ministry has actually grappled with this inequality, aside from celebrating the fact of women's suffrage, which has little to do with the demolition efforts of bureaucrats in the Ministry.

"Sadly many women's issues that remain today are intractable and cannot be solved solely by government action," she said. "The problems of domestic violence and the clustering of women in low-paid jobs have much of their roots in social attitudes and behaviours...We must therefore all work closely together - women, men, families, communities, non-government organisations, and government - to achieve better outcomes for women."

This encapsulates so many of the problems which have bedevilled the Ministry from its inception. Government policy on women is focused on government driven solutions to social problems, lamenting that the government's impact is not more significant. The Ministry also treats women as a monolithic interest group.

Problems such as domestic violence and the pay gap are, as the Minister says, not fixable by government fiat. They are the result of complex social and cultural interactions which, in many cases, have little to do with a government Ministry. While the Minister is right about this, it is not cause for sadness. A programme put out by government bureaucrats dancing to a political tune is not the measure of how women are valued, or indeed what they want.

The granting of women's suffrage, for example, a real achievement for women, was a grass-roots effort, which sprung from the desire of Kiwi women to be more involved in shaping the decisions that affected their lives. Similar grass-roots efforts are needed to deal with the very real issues identified by Ms. Dalziel, like domestic violence. Initiatives springing from women's lives and their desire to shape their own destinies, and those of their families and communities, are the way to real, sustainable and positive social change for women.

BACKTRACKING TO THE LEFT

An interesting new trend may be emerging in the US according to a recent article in the New York Times. There are now murmurings that US Democrats may be moving from its increasingly centrist position, and returning to their socialist roots. The utopian ideals of socialism are its defining quality. Perhaps the problem the Democrats now confront, is that in softening many of their original principles, they have left voters unclear about what they stand for.

In the past decade, many of the traditionally socialist parties in Western countries have shifted significantly towards the centre, taking the so-called 'Third Way'. In Britain, Tony Blair's Labour Party is an obvious example, while in the US, President Bill Clinton championed the movement. The 'Third Way' essentially took elements of market economics and tried to integrate them with social liberalism and big government.

Robin Toner, political commentator at the New York Times, thinks that things are changing. She suggests that Democrats are strategising to try and convince US voters that they are a "compelling choice". Quoting analysts, she said: "It needs a broader vision, a narrative, they say, to return to power and govern effectively – what some describe as an unapologetic appeal to the "common good", "to big goals like expanding affordable health coverage and to occasional sacrifice for the sake of the nation as a whole."

Arguably "broader vision" and "a narrative" are exactly what the 'Third Way' rejected. It abandoned many of the principles on which socialism was based, yet in becoming more pragmatic, it has lost its consistency. Under the 'Third Way', it is no longer necessary for all the policies espoused to fit within a broader vision. The shift back to a more coherent vision for the Democrats may instil confidence in voters and help them to better understand what the party stands for.

New Zealand was swept up in the wave of the 'Third Way' when Helen Clark came to power in 1996. If the US Democratic Party swings back towards a more coherent socialism, watch for 'left wing' parties around the world to follow suit.

WE WANT YOUR FEEDBACK ON REAL ISSUES

What do you like about Real Issues and what issues interest you most? We want your feedback so we can make it even better. We invite readers to complete the online questionnaire at the end of this week's Real Issues.

To give your feedback on Real Issues, please complete the online questionnaire at: http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/survey

IN THE NEWS: COUNTING THE BENEFICIARIES

The government is celebrating a drop in the number of beneficiaries. At Question Time this week, Minister for Social Development and Employment, David Benson-Pope, claimed that the government has presided over a 30 percent drop in the number of beneficiaries since it came to power. He praised the government's commitment to "work for all New Zealanders", and considers that it is making positive progress to address the problems of welfare dependency.

The declining numbers of 'beneficiaries' is good news. But the issue is not just those who are totally dependent on the government, such as those on the dole. The government's reach extends far beyond that, into a grey morass of soft and partial dependency. Assistance payments, rebates, and packages like Working for Families, mean that many working families are becoming dependent, to a greater or lesser extent, on the Labour Party's largesse, paid for by the public purse. Balancing the role of the government means that these grey areas of dependency need to be honestly counted as part of the welfare debate.

IN THE NEWS: SUBMISSIONS CALLED FOR ON THE HUMAN TISSUE (ORGAN DONATION) AMENDMENT BILL

The Health Select Committee is now receiving submissions on the Human Tissue (Organ Donation) Amendment Bill. The closing date for submissions is 14 July 2006. Although it is widely acknowledged that New Zealand's donation rate is low, whether a family should be able to override an individual's wish to be a donor is a very contentious issue. To have your say on this Bill, make a submission to the Committee.

To read the Bill, please visit:
http://www.knowledge-basket.co.nz/gpprint/docs/bills/20060331.txt

To find out more about how to make a submission, please
visit:
http://www.maxim.org.nz/ca/1.html#3

TALKING POINT

"I can't think of anything to write about except families. They are a metaphor for every other part of society."

Anna Quindlen (1953 - )


ENDS

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