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Real Issues - No 205, 18 May 2006

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 205 18 May 2006

www.maxim.org.nz

Feedback Sought On Real Issues No Budging On The Budget
Time For A Change Preaching To The Children
In The News: UN Celebrates The International Day Of Families
In The News: Assisted Suicide Rejected In Lords

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FEEDBACK SOUGHT ON REAL ISSUES

Thank you to all our Real Issues readers who have completed the feedback survey so far. If you still haven't given us your feedback, we would be grateful if you could complete the short online survey this week: http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/survey

NO BUDGING ON THE BUDGET

A report from the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) released this week, has reinforced the feeling that New Zealanders are highly taxed. Despite a large government surplus and substantial tax cuts across the ditch last week, Finance Minister Michael Cullen did not budget for tax cuts in this year's Budget.

Questions about the proper role of government must be asked of any Budget. Dr Cullen says there is currently no room to move on tax cuts. However, if government spending was scaled back, the situation would be quite different. The government is justified in collecting tax revenue in order to fund its core responsibilities, such as defence and the maintenance of law and order. It is therefore pleasing to see the significant investment in the police force extracted by NZ First, which demonstrates that the government has not forgotten its core responsibilities.

However, when it taxes to fund activities outside core areas of responsibility, more often than not, it transgresses its proper boundaries, thereby overtaxing hard-working families and denying society the chance to flourish on its own terms.

The CIS report notes that New Zealand has a comparatively low top tax rate. However, New Zealanders pay this rate when they earn 1.4 times the average wage, compared to the weighted average for OECD countries which is 5.6 times the average wage. The top tax rate even applies to some families that qualify for assistance under the Working for Families Package.

The report calculates New Zealand's Tax Freedom Day for 2006, the symbolic day when workers have paid their taxes to the Government and can start working for themselves, as 10 May. This compares to a Tax Freedom Day for 2006 of 25 April for Australia. In other words, New Zealanders must work 15 days more than Australians to meet their tax obligations. According to the report, anyone earning under $180,000 is likely to pay more personal income tax in New Zealand than in Australia.

The Budget represents an opportunity for the government to commit to restraint, and to its core and proper responsibilities and allow New Zealanders to keep more of the money they have earned. Sadly, this opportunity was missed.

To read the CIS report: Are New Zealanders paying too much tax? Please visit: http://www.cis.org.au/IssueAnalysis/ia71/ia71.pdf (To view .PDF's you will need Adobe Reader)

TIME FOR A CHANGE

Momentum appears to be gathering for a change in approach on how we deal with criminals. A landmark conference focusing on restorative justice was held in Upper Hutt last weekend. Organised by Prison Fellowship New Zealand, Beyond Retribution was called in response to the fact that, despite falling crime rates, imprisonment rates are still going up. The conference was attended by judges, politicians, community workers, policymakers, and many other experts on the criminal justice system.

The key impetus for the conference was that the current response to crime; building more prisons, is unsustainable, both in its economic and its social cost. The effects of crime obviously reach far, affecting the victims, the offender's family, the perpetrator of the crime, and society as a whole. It is therefore vital that society's response is well thought out. Policy should be well informed and based on sound evidence, rather than just political slogans.

The conference highlighted the large numbers of prisoners with drug, alcohol and mental health problems, and addressed the difficulties they face in breaking free from the cycle of crime. There was a clear consensus amongst those represented at the conference that it is time to more carefully examine options other than prison. Many of the politicians that attended seemed broadly supportive of a multi-party accord, addressing issues such as the "mainstreaming of the principles and practices of victim-based restorative justice" and dealing with the "causes of crime".

The role of the community was a key theme of the conference, with many acknowledging that punishing retributively does little to address the underlying factors behind offending. The notion of restorative justice provides scope for a more holistic approach to crime, as it does not concentrate solely on punitive action. By aiming to connect the victim and the perpetrator, restorative justice helps provide an offender with the opportunity to confront their crime, whilst also allowing the victim a channel of expression. This can help bring closure as the offender seeks to make amends for their crime.

The consensus of opinion at the conference marks a significant step forward and Maxim Institute looks forward to being a part of the further discussion that is sure to take place.

PREACHING TO THE CHILDREN

Most Kiwis agree that protecting the environment is generally a good thing, but they certainly don't agree on the best way to do it - especially not politicos. And when they debate environmental issues, whether it is the government's forcible cessation of native logging on the West Coast, or what should be taught in the National Curriculum, controversy is sure to follow.

Last week, Dr. Nick Smith called for the National Party to embrace a new vision for the environment and formulate a coherent policy based on "National Party values". He highlighted the need to set out a broad approach to the environment based on "trusting people" to manage their resources, and the principle of "sustainability". Dr. Smith puts "sustainability" and environmental stewardship in a framework including private enterprise, development, decentralisation and stewardship for future generations.

This came hot on the heels of a new report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE); See Change: Learning and Education for Sustainability, which called for a greater emphasis on "sustainability education" in society and in the curriculum. The PCE Report also promotes "education for sustainability", but puts the concept of environmental protection in a framework diametrically opposed to that articulated by Nick Smith. "Sustainability", according to the report, is tied to values of peace, reducing inequality, diversity and human rights. While the report loudly disclaims "indoctrination", it also admits that these values are invariably political.

In calling for more support for "sustainability education", then, the authors of the report are pushing an agenda based on the almost neo-Marxist "transformation" and "interrogation" of unjust social and cultural structures. It is important to remember that our approach to protecting the environment is not solely a matter of biology and environmental science. We bring to the debate our assumptions about human nature and the role of government. It is vital that these are honestly put onto the table and debated along with the policies to which they give rise, especially when, as with the PCE, they use tax-payer funds and the school curriculum as a pulpit from which to preach.

IN THE NEWS: UN CELEBRATES THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF FAMILIES

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a message to mark the International Day of Families on 15 May. Mr. Annan pointed out that the family has undergone "profound transformation", singling out, among other things, the rise of divorce and sole parenthood, and the emergence of alternative forms of union, such as cohabitation. Mr. Annan called states to "adapt and shape public policy in a way that addresses the needs of families".

Mr. Annan is right to say that family structures have changed over the last decades. Recognising the diversity of family forms and relationships that exist is important and such diversity requires a diversity of legal and social structures to deal with it. The one-size-fits-all approach of the Civil Union Act 2004 and the Relationships Act 2005 for instance, is inadequate. Governments should look for creative ways to ensure that families can flourish, while retaining a firm grasp on the reality that family form matters, for parents, families and communities.

IN THE NEWS: ASSISTED SUICIDE REJECTED IN LORDS

The United Kingdom's House of Lords has maintained its commitment to human dignity for all by delaying the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill.

On 12 May, The Lords voted 148-100 to delay the Bill for six months, which means that the issue will not come up again this session. The Bill was opposed by a broad coalition, including religious leaders, medical professionals, disability groups, and a broad range of peers. Those opposing the Bill included His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, television presenter and IVF expert Professor Lord Winston, Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile, and former Conservative MP and Hong Kong Governor Lord Patten, who said "Grant the right to die and the right to live is lost".

To read the account of the debate on the Bill, please visit: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldhansrd/pdvn/lds06/text /60512-01.htm#60512-01_head2

TALKING POINT

"The oddest thing about Republicans and Democrats in power is that they always know the technical facts, always know about fund raising, always know what the national committee is saying about getting turnout. But so often they don't know the message or even have a message. Which is funny, because they're in the message business. They're like shoemakers who make pretty shoeboxes but forget to make the shoes."

Peggy Noonan (former speech writer for President Reagan) Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2006

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