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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 214

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 214
20 July 2006


Protecting the Planet?
Terrorism and the Clash of Freedoms
Tackling Obesity

In the News:
Stem Cell Research Brings First Veto
Supporting New Zealand Leadership Week


Federated Farmers' President, Charlie Pedersen, has fired the latest salvo in the debate on the environment this week, using his speech to the annual conference of Federated Farmers to attack the "green" movement as religiously motivated "missionaries" driven by dogma, fear and a hatred of progress. His attack drew a strong response from many in the environmental movement who condemned his comments as "hysterical", and pointed out that clean air, clean water and a sustainable environment benefit everyone-and on that point they are right.

He defended the responsible cultivation of the environment, saying: "We do need to protect our country, our planet, our children's' future and their children's' future, but not with fear." He went on to condemn an ideological approach to environmental issues, saying that, "Environmentalists ... look upon mankind and our achievements as a negative that needs to be curbed and defeated. Environmentalism talks of humans failings and is scathing of its influences and the changes made to the "natural world", and seeks to wind the clock back." Human progress will always impact on the landscape; our challenge is to steward it wisely.

Agree or disagree with Mr Pedersen's comments (and there is much to be said on either side), his speech addressed several important issues. It is fair to say that "environmentalism" has become a cause celebre for many, an important part of the national ethic. This increased focus on the environment is a good thing in many ways, because responsible stewardship of the environment is indeed a vital moral issue. It forces us to temper our choices in light of their impact on the generations to come.

Yet cultivating the land always involves a balancing act between protecting our natural resources and the legitimate needs of human beings, our families and communities. Mr Pedersen also rightly raised concrete issues such as RMA reform, water management and the vital contribution farming people make and can make to our future.

We should also, and indeed we must, marry human innovation, ownership of property, progress and a pioneering spirit with a valid commitment to the sustainable management and development of our environment. The environment has a legitimate claim on us, but so do the myriad of human needs which it must sustain.

To read the speech, please visit:



On Monday, The Times reported that two Islamic militant groups would be the first to be banned in Britain under new powers which allow the government to outlaw groups that glorify terrorism. The ban means that it will be a criminal offence to support the groups in a number of ways, such as by belonging to them, associating with them or even wearing clothing that suggests support for them. The powers could potentially be used widely to limit freedom of expression and freedom of association. Their use reminds us of the need to carefully balance competing rights and freedoms when responding to the threat of terrorism.

The powers to ban groups that glorify terrorism were introduced by the Terrorism Act 2006. Creating these powers was controversial to say the least; critics were concerned that the limitations on freedom of expression and association would criminalise "non-violent political parties", and that this would "make Britain less safe by silencing dissent". However an independent review of the Act took a different view, saying that the powers were a reasonable limitation on the freedom of association justified by the requirements of "the greater public good". In other words, freedom can be limited in order to protect the rights and freedoms of those who might be subject to a terror attack. The reviewer conceded, however, that it would be important for restraint to be shown in the exercise of the powers, given how wide they are.

Deciding on the correct response to the threat of terrorism is never easy. As is the case with the Terrorism Act, it almost always involves trying to balance rights and freedoms that clash. The balancing act usually requires limitations on some rights and freedoms to protect others. However, limitations on freedom should be reasonable, justifiable and should not go any further than is absolutely necessary. The mere existence of a terrorist threat does not justify arbitrary or overly broad limitations on fundamental rights and freedoms.

The powers in the Terrorism Act are sufficiently broad to raise concerns that they could be used to impose unjustifiable limitations on freedom of expression and freedom of association. The use of the powers will show whether these concerns are well-founded and whether the right balance has been struck between the competing rights and freedoms. Striking the right balance is crucial; if we do not achieve this, we risk completing the terrorists' job by undermining the freedom of the society they seek to attack.


The Health Select Committee conducting an inquiry into how best to tackle the problems of obesity and type 2 diabetes has been hearing submissions this week. The Ministry of Health estimates that half of New Zealanders are overweight or obese; and with health costs rising and health and well-being dropping, obesity is clearly an urgent public health concern.

Ideas mooted to help address the problem range from: banning advertisements for fatty foods during children's television (New Zealand Medical Association); banning vending machines in schools (visiting French MP); abolishing GST on fruit and vegetables (Canterbury District Health Board); more nutritional education; a fat tax; and all of the above (Fight the Obesity Epidemic). Then there is the argument that government-led initiatives to curb the problem are not the solution; personal responsibility needs to be encouraged instead.

It might be tempting to take the personal responsibility line, but in isolation, it is not a realistic solution. Obesity is a drain not only on the personal health and well-being of a large proportion of the country; it is also a drain on our public health system. Like smoking, obesity costs the taxpayer millions in the health budget every year at a time when every hospital bed is needed. Because the government funds our public health system, it is entitled to take some responsibility for helping prevent the future problems posed by obesity.

Nevertheless, the government is not solely responsible. Individuals and families have a vital role to play in promoting health and well-being. It is pleasing to see a number of schools and community organisations take concrete action to cut out junk food and encourage healthy lifestyles. Nutrition education is also important and even television (despite its potential association with an unhealthy lifestyle) can play a role. Programmes such as Honey, We're Killing the Kids and Eat Yourself Whole promote the importance of healthy choices. Government action on some of the ideas suggested might help prevent obesity in the long-run, but it cannot replace the importance of people choosing to eat what is healthy.



President George W. Bush has used his powers of veto to stop a Bill just passed by Congress, which would allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. It is the first time President Bush has vetoed any legislation (a veto requires a two thirds majority to override). In comparison, President Clinton vetoed 37 Bills, and Reagan 78. Not since Thomas Jefferson has a President gone so long without vetoing a Bill.

The embryonic stem cell research, promoted in H.R. 810 - Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, is controversial because it requires the intentional destruction of human embryos to extract their high-growth "stem cells", which can then be used to treat a range of illnesses. Supporters tout the potential health benefits of the treatment, but opponents call the treatment "an affront to human dignity" and the destruction of human life. They point out that developing stem cells can be extracted from adults and umbilical cord blood, without the destruction of human life.

To read President Bush's statement on the issue:



The inaugural New Zealand Leadership Week (15-21 July) was launched on the weekend at the Sir Peter Blake Award ceremony to "...highlight the strategic relevance and value that great leaders and great leadership provide for our country ... Maxim Institute's Centre for Tomorrow's Leaders is pleased to support the initiative.

To read more about Maxim Institute's Centre for Tomorrow's Leaders, please visit:


To read more about New Zealand leadership week, please visit:



"No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy-with a full repairing lease." Margaret Thatcher (British Prime Minister, 1979-1990)


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