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Real issues - No 215

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 215
20 July 2006






Recent comments from former Children's Commissioner, Dr Ian Hassall, have cut to the heart of the debate over the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act; the role of the state in family life.

Dr Hassall comments that in Continental countries, such as Sweden, people see the state (or government) as "the expression of people's interests" which "enables them to do better if they are unable to fulfil their obligation as parents." According to Dr Hassall, New Zealanders are more likely to see the state as "a force external to ourselves that has to be resisted". These competing conceptions of the role of the state underpin the two sides of the argument about the repeal of section 59: is the state an aid to parenting, or is the state to be resisted in matters of the family.

If the state is to be welcomed as an aid to parenting, then repealing section 59 is an obvious step to take, as it removes the freedom,

discretion and authority for parents to determine disciplinary measures and

transfers them to the state. But the state is not a neutral arbiter that is able to gently assess specific situations and make useful suggestions, as Dr Hassall seems to think. Rather, as George Washington pointed out, "Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."

It might be nice to think that by involving the state in every area of our lives we can improve outcomes for people, but the reality is that the state can only ever act in broad brush-strokes. It can never take into account the very specific sets of circumstances which families find themselves in. It cannot account for every eventuality and instruments of the state, such as government departments and the police, often get it wrong as a result. The state has an important part to play in a functioning country, but we need to understand its limitations.

Sue Bradford's Private Member's Bill, which would repeal section 59 and criminalise parents for using reasonable disciplinary force, sends the message that parents cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of their children and that the state is better placed to do this. If the Bill passes, our politicians will be tacitly agreeing.

The British government is currently reviewing its Fertilisation and Embryology Act which outlines the process for IVF treatments. As part of this review, it is planning to drop the requirement that IVF clinics consider the child's need for a father before providing treatment.


At present, Britain's IVF laws require clinics to consider the child's "need for a father" as part of considering the child's welfare. But Public Health Minister Caroline Flint told a Parliamentary Select Committee last week that the government was "minded" to scrap the requirement, replacing the need for a "father" with a new focus on "a loving home" instead.

The move has been welcomed by a variety of groups, who label the requirement to consider the child's need for a father "discriminatory", "outdated" and "judgemental". But as the British government blithely contemplates declaring fathers irrelevant to the best interests of children, it is worth thinking about the motives behind such a change, and the effect it will have on children.

The debate has been cast in terms of adult rights to self-fulfilment. But the reason the law requires clinics to

consider the child's need for a father is not because they cling obstinately to an outdated model of family; rather, it is because having a dad is vital to "the child's welfare" and best interests. Kids need dads to anchor identity, to share in parenting, and to scare monsters under the bed. Fathers make a unique contribution to a child's development.

The removal of the requirement, despite protestations from the Minister, would send the message that having a dad is not vital to a child's welfare and prioritises ideology and politics over the best interests of children.

It is expected that the proposed reforms will be outlined in a White Paper by the end of the year.


The debate around whether children with special needs should be taught in "mainstream schools" or separately has been taking place for decades, yet it seems we are in as much of a quandary over it as ever.

This week the National Party has suggested that teachers should have a greater say over whether they have children with severe disabilities and behavioural problems in their classrooms. Overseas in Britain key proponents of mainstreaming have recently expressed concern over the actual impact mainstreaming can have on

children with special needs. A report by researchers at Cambridge University raised concerns that "mainstreaming" seems to be unhelpful for children with special needs and also for other pupils. But in New Zealand more pragmatic issues are causing concern and the issue of whether "mainstreaming" works for children with special needs has been overshadowed by questions of resourcing and disruption.

As the PPTA have pointed out, schools pay for support staff from their operations grant, but this grant is not sufficient for schools to employ enough support staff to assist special needs children in mainstream classes. There is also concern that children with special needs may sometimes be disruptive in class. Teachers often end up struggling to give enough attention to the children in their class with special needs and also to the rest of the class, to everyone's detriment.

The difficulty for government policy is that it is dealing with finite resources, so we have to ask whether the policy is affordable, as well as whether it balances the requirements of those with special needs against the rest of the class. Clearly though the current balance is not a satisfactory one. One thing is for certain; "mainstreaming" will only work if adequate support is given to teachers.



The Bioethics Council is asking the New Zealand public, "Should human embryos be used for research in New Zealand, and if so, where might these embryos come from and what might be the result of such research?" This week the Council launched a discussion booklet entitled, "The Cultural, Ethical and Spiritual aspects of using Human Embryos for Research". It will be followed by online dialogue and a public seminar, before the government Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ACART) advises the Minister of Health on the use of human embryos for research later in the year. As debate about the ethics and merits of stem-cell research heat up around the globe, now is the time to have your say.

For more information about the Bioethics Council, and the various stages of public consultation on the issue of embryonic research, please visit: http://www.bioethics.org.nz/news/media-releases/24-jul-06.html


The Dominion Post has released new crime tables, highlighting the highest crime areas in each of 11 categories. Based on police and Statistics NZ reports and rates per 10,000 of the population, the tables reveal the highest risk area for murder (Wanganui), car theft (Hamilton), cannabis (Marlborough), rape (Wairarapa) and burglary (Rotorua), to name a few.

To see where your district features in the tables, please visit: http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,3742237a10,00.html


This week is Maori Language Week, te wiki o te reo Maori. It is an appropriate time to remember that the preservation of language is important. Te reo Maori is a national treasure, a living and beautiful language worth preserving. So this week, as the website says, "Kia kaha ake!" "Give it a go!"

For lots of resources and ideas for promoting Maori language, see the official website:



Kaua e rangiruatia te ha o te hoe; e kore to tatou waka e u ki uta. "Do not lift the paddle out of unison or our canoe will never reach the shore."

Maori Proverb


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