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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 225 5 Oct 2006

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 225 5 October 2006

WHO REPRESENTS WOMEN?
CAMERON'S NO CONSERVATIVE
POLICE NEED COMMUNITIES INVOLVED

IN THE NEWS: FEDERAL SPENDING DATABASE BECOMES LAW IN US MAXIM INSTITUTE CONTRIBUTES TO FAMILY POLICY CONFERENCE IN CANADA MORE IN THE BANK ACCOUNT

WHO REPRESENTS WOMEN?

Minister of Women's Affairs, Lianne Dalziel, gave a speech at the 110th anniversary of the National Council of Women (NCW) last week, redolent with praise for special interest groups.

The Minister said that as Minister of Women's Affairs she had three "partner organisations"; the NCW, the Maori Women's Welfare League, and Pacifica, which gives her access to the "...best possible sources of information available ... from women themselves". The NCW, she said, is heir to the legacy of the suffragettes who founded it, and who worked hard in favour of equal rights for women.

Just how many New Zealand women have even heard of the NCW is a mystery. But what is even more mysterious is the calculus under which the Minister treats it and her "partner organisations" as in some sense representing the voices of all New Zealand women. The NCW may have been representative of the aspirations of women in 1896, when it was advocating for women in Parliament, prison reform and old age pensions. But to link the legacy of the suffragettes to tiredly liberal causes like repealing section 59 of the Crimes Act, government action plans for work-life balance and the Human Rights Commission's "Give girls a go" campaign not only trivialises and misrepresents that legacy, it marginalises the voices of women who refuse to toe the feminist line.

New Zealand women are not monolithic; there are a range of responses to the issues the Minister raises, and they are not all liberal. Kate Sheppard built a coalition of diverse women from the grass-roots up; they were women with real and common concerns about their place in society. As the Minister admits, the suffragettes valued women's role outside the home as well as the vocation of motherhood. Kate Sheppard reached out to a wide variety of women, even those who espoused the "conservatism" which the Minister takes a swipe at in her speech. And Kate Sheppard did not need a government "Give girls a go" campaign to do it. She opened doors for women by kicking them down, without a government strategy or an action plan. That is why Kate Sheppard changed the country, and why the NCW, the Minister and her fellow travelers remain irrelevant to it.

To read the Minister's speech, please visit:

www.beehive.govt.nz

CAMERON'S NO CONSERVATIVE

David Cameron, the leader of the British Conservative Party, honed his skills in political rhetoric at the Party's annual conference this week. Buried beneath the politicking are some important concepts such as social responsibility and quality education. But aside from the odd positive innovation, Cameron is increasingly representing a new brand of conservatism that lacks coherence and is founded upon ad hoc pragmatism.

He chastises his own party for having emphasised issues such as tax cuts, grammar schools and Britain's relationship with Europe-apparently because these don't top the list of Britons' concerns. But he fails to realise that abandoning these issues does more than simply shift the policy direction of the Party, it actually takes it far from its conservative roots. Ultimately, any policy position speaks of an underlying assumption about human nature and the world.

Cameron is moving away from the traditional conservative understanding that government, whilst necessary and useful, is also something we must treat with a healthy respect, aware of its limitations and dangers. Rather, he faces government with a determined optimism; it seems no problem is too big for the government to fix. Cameron is happy to use the government to promote cultural change, incentivising mothers into the work-force and engineering "work-life balance".

His decision to abandon tax cuts is another example. Whether a Party advocates high or low levels of taxation is, to a large extent, determined by how much they trust the people they govern. Should people be encouraged to spend their money responsibly, or should the government do that for them? Does recognising someone's dignity involve allowing them, where possible, to exercise freedom?

We may not agree with the carelessness with which some people spend their money, but ultimately, developing a culture which encourages citizens to act with conscience is preferable to abdicating that duty to government. If anything, it reminds us of the need to nurture good character in our citizens.

By answering the big policy and human questions based on pragmatism and popularity rather than a coherent philosophy, Cameron abandons many of the assumptions upon which a conservative understanding is based. In that sense, Cameronian conservatism is not conservative at all.

POLICE NEED COMMUNITIES INVOLVED

The release of New Zealand's crime statistics put the police squarely in the public gaze this week. With the level of resolved crime remaining constant from the year before, there is an urgent need to find ways of assisting the police.

The release of the latest discussion document for the Police Act Review highlights the importance of community in doing just that. It examines the relationship of the police and the community and asks several questions about how the police should consult with the community and local leaders and the role of volunteers in the police force. The discussion document rightly puts a high premium on the relationship between the police and the public. It quotes Sir Robert Peel's famous maxim, "The police are the people, and the people are the police". This is key to a right understanding of the role of the police in our common life.

As Sir Robert Peel points out, law and order are the responsibility of the whole community, of which the police are an integral and valued part. Policemen are not in this sense a special species, but are organically involved in, and a product of, their communities. They are citizens and members of a wider whole, and it is the responsibility of that wider whole to help them when they need it; whether that is by joining the local neighbourhood watch, reporting the crime in our street, or watching out for the thin blue line. When police and their communities are close and cohesive, liberty and order lie down together in peace. When police and communities are distant, the fracture damages the whole of society.

For this reason, structures and initiatives which encourage understanding and engagement between police and their communities are themselves to be encouraged. The discussion document is welcome because it takes the issue seriously and recognises exactly why it is so important.

To read the discussion document, please visit:

www.policeact.govt.nz

IN THE NEWS

FEDERAL SPENDING DATABASE BECOMES LAW IN US

Last week President Bush signed a new Bill into law which will create a federal spending database enabling citizens to "google their tax dollars". The new website will publish a searchable database of approximately US$2.5 trillion worth of government grants, spending and contracts, bringing greater transparency to government. The bipartisan Bill was notable for the key role that webloggers played in its passage, mobilising enough public support to break through delaying tactics and see it become law.

To read about the law creating the new database, please visit:

thomas.loc.gov

MAXIM INSTITUTE CONTRIBUTES TO FAMILY POLICY CONFERENCE IN CANADA

Maxim Institute Research and Programme Director, Paul Henderson, recently addressed the first annual Family Policy Conference hosted by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. The title of Paul's address was "Family in the 21st Century: What's love got to do with it?" Maxim Institute is delighted to have been invited to contribute to this significant event.

MORE IN THE BANK ACCOUNT

On Thursday, Statistics New Zealand released the New Zealand Income Survey for the June 2006 quarter, which found that New Zealanders' average weekly incomes from all sources has risen to $610, up 4 percent in the last year.

To read more about the Survey, please visit:

www.stats.govt.nz

TALKING POINT

"Genuine politics -- even politics worthy of the name -- the only politics I am willing to devote myself to -- is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole." Vaclav Havel

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