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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 210

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 210
22 June 2006





David Cameron, the leader of the British Conservative Party, announced new childcare plans this week which would see all working mothers receive tax relief for childcare. He claims the proposed changes are about improving choice, but one effect will be to strip away meaningful choice.

"In a word, the new politics works by persuasion, not by power. So on the most important element - family life - of the most important social challenge of our day - general well-being - politicians need to be involved, without being coercive." This is how Cameron describes his approach to politics and the rationale behind the Party's new childcare plans. He argues that by making childcare more affordable for a wider range of people, and by giving people greater choice over the type of childcare provision they use, the government is increasing people's choices.

Unfortunately though, Cameron has not heeded his own warning that, "In this area [family] of all areas, heavy-handed government interventions are likely to produce unintended and counterproductive consequences." For while tax relief for childcare may make some choices more affordable for some families, other families making other choices miss out. For example, if in a two parent family one parent chooses to work and the other stays at home with the children, they not only miss out on tax relief for childcare, but the working partner's wage will effectively subsidise the choices of other families who do receive the tax break. The increased financial burden this family will now face will end up limiting the choices they are able to make.

Cameron has also hinted at tax allowances that would mean women who decided not to use childcare were not discriminated against, but whether this would help solve the problem of weighting some choices over others remains to be seen.

One of Cameron's greatest strengths as a leader has been his rhetoric claiming that people as a society are inter-connected. He reminds us that our decisions affect our neighbours and that society not government must therefore be the primary decision-maker. But sadly his childcare plans remind us that as good as words are, if they remain simply rhetoric, they are only empty promises.

To read a recent speech by David Cameron's speech on society, please visit:



New Zealand played host to Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, this week. Mr Lee's visit has been marred by controversy following revelations that a leading opposition politician in his home country is facing prosecution for speaking without a licence. The issue brings into sharp focus concerns about free speech and the role it plays in a functioning democracy.

While Mr Lee is in New Zealand for discussions with Prime Minister Helen Clark, Singapore Democratic Party Secretary, General Chee Soon Juan, is facing a prosecution for speaking in public without a permit during the election campaign. Mr Chee is also defending a defamation lawsuit issued by the Prime Minister. Mr Chee has been jailed before for breaching Singapore's restrictive speech laws, which prohibit public speaking without a police permit and allow the government wide powers of censorship.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have documented a pattern of cases in which opposition politicians were sued for defamation and subsequently fined or imprisoned. Singapore's judicial system has also faced criticism for being too compliant when dealing with Mr Lee's People's Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since its independence in 1959.

New Zealanders would consider the freedom to speak our minds a basic liberty, and in this vein Green Party co-leader Russel Norman urged Helen Clark to "speak out" to defend free speech. It would be easy for New Zealanders to take free speech for granted, but this situation on our doorstep is a reminder that we cannot afford to be lax in defending free speech.

Restrictive laws can have a chilling effect on free speech and the expression of contrary or unpopular ideas, particularly in the political arena. Without a free exchange of ideas in the public square,

democracy would not exist. We would be deprived of the information and the ability we need to participate in the running of the country. Free speech isn't always pleasant or comfortable and people may sometimes take offence at things that are said. However, allowing the expression of ideas, even discomforting or unpalatable ideas, is a minimum condition for democracy. And it is a price worth paying.


The launch of the new ratemyteachers.com website has caused controversy across the education sector recently. The website is an offshoot of the American version and allows pupils and parents to give feedback on teachers, rating them for "easiness", teaching ability, clarity, helpfulness and "coolness".

The site quickly proved very popular, with over 45,000 ratings of individual teachers in over 1,000 schools. Its popularity shows the desire of pupils and parents to give feedback on teaching, and the strong degree of interest families take in their local schools and what goes on in them.

The degree of information available to parents is important. Information helps to keep schools accountable and also tends to raise the quality of schooling. Despite the Ministry of Education investing considerable sums in information provision, parents still do not have access to the kind of information they want, so it is no surprise that ratemyteachers.com is proving popular.

The feedback offered on websites like this though is often questionable to say the least. Ratings range from the positive: "Miss X is great learned so much from her always helpful" to the witty: "Mr. Y is a great teacher, when he remembers to turn up", but also, the inevitable badly-spelled diatribes and negative comments: "Mr. X is a psyco. He is one of the wurst teachers in skool" (sic). "Mr. A. has taken boredom in the classroom to a whole new level. He is a bad teacher and doesn't know what he is talking about."

Useful perhaps, for venting teenage frustrations and vendettas, but it is hardly an objective measure of reality or competence. And this is the point made by the teacher unions and concerned teachers; the site allows defamatory remarks and personal attacks on teachers, takes away genuine grievances from official channels and hands a weapon to the mischievous and angry.

Research profiled in Maxim Institute's Parent Factor series found that parents want accurate and understandable information on teacher quality. The survey of 1,001 New Zealand parents found that 89 percent of parents wanted more information about the quality of the teachers who will be teaching their children. When a system is rigidly unresponsive to parents' requests for information, sites such as ratemyteachers.com inevitably result. Accurate information on schools is urgently needed to inform and empower parents and provide genuinely helpful feedback to teachers. The system ignores such a desire at its peril.

To read The Parent Factor: Information for parents, please visit:




The Green Party has long campaigned for cannabis to be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue in law. Last Thursday they moved one step closer to this when a Private Members Bill sponsored by Metiria Turei was pulled from the ballot.

The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill would allow a person carrying a "Medicinal Cannabis Identification Card" to consume, smoke, or otherwise use marijuana and carry with them any amount of the drug, so long as they have agreed upon this amount with their doctor. To be granted a "Medicinal Cannabis Identification Card" a person would have to provide evidence that they "suffer from a condition where cannabis may alleviate the pain and suffering associated with that condition" and they must have written support of their doctor (as well as their parents if they are under 18). The Bill sets out that there would need to be "exceptional circumstances" for not granting the card and the card would be valid for 12 months. The Bill also makes provision for card holders to nominate "designated agents" to grow and supply marijuana to them, if they cannot grow it themselves. The Bill could have its first vote as soon as 28 June.

To read the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill, please visit:


To let your MP know how you would like them to vote at the first reading, email: firstname.lastname@parliament.govt.nz


Philanthropy is alive and well in the United States according to the latest Giving USA report released on Monday. Charitable giving rose by 6.1 percent to US$260.28 billion in 2005, the highest figure since 2000. The report is published by the Giving USA Foundation and is researched by the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University. Some

interesting points to note on 2005 giving include:

Giving to disaster relief made up around half of the $15 billion increase on the previous year. Individual giving accounted for 76.5 percent of all estimated giving. Donations from corporations grew by 22.5 percent (18.5 percent adjusted for

inflation) totalling an estimated $13.7 billion. To read a summary of the Giving USA report, please visit:



"...neither must we imagine that legislation, regulation, targets and bureaucracies will somehow be able to engineer happy families. This is the paradox of politics: politicians should not dictate how people choose to live their lives - but we cannot be indifferent to the choices people make." - David Cameron, British Conservative Party Leader

To what extent should government be involved in shaping people's choices?


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