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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 257

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 257

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 257 14 June 2007 www.maxim.org.nz

Losing our identity Free trade closer for the Pacific The challenge of decentralisation IN THE NEWS A code of conduct? Family Group Conferences Receive International Award

LOSING OUR IDENTITY

The philosopher Richard Rorty died last week at the age of 75. His life was one of major impact and influence, his place in history is assured. Rorty questioned the very nature of identity, of truth and of knowledge, attempting to kill any basis for certainty. In short, he is held to have destroyed the notion of an objective reality and in so doing removed the basis for any sound intellectual thought.

Following in the wake of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche as part of the post-modern movement, Rorty solidified the idea that we cannot know anything with certainty. Therefore, there is no purpose in searching for truth, since knowledge and identity are simply social constructions. If accepted the implications of Rorty's proposition are both profound and terrifying as he removed the grounds for truth.

Rorty also famously claimed that a person lost in a forest has no identity, as a person's identity can only exist in community. When people are isolated they lose themselves. Yet, the irony is that as community is emphasised, togetherness can be lost. As we lose our idea of self, we lose our concept of common humanity, of that which unites us, and instead we are segregated into our own little community. Consequently, our ability to have meaningful engagement with those from other communities is lost and group differences--rather than what we share in common as people--become what defines us.

Rorty left us a lonely world. The impact of his thinking can be seen in universities where debate rages over the status of ethnic science and maths, where cultural relativism is endorsed and universal knowledge denied. As academics struggle to find their feet again they flounder. Rorty's life shows that good intentions can destroy and that one man's ideas can have a tremendous impact over the course of his lifetime.

FREE TRADE CLOSER FOR THE PACIFIC

The Minister of Trade, Phil Goff, has announced this week that New Zealand and Australia will be seeking to progress free trade with the member states of the Pacific Islands Forum. Specifically, the two countries have asked the Forum Trade Ministerial Meeting, which is due to meet in Vanuatu in August, to explore ways that trade barriers, like tariffs, can be reduced and eventually eliminated. However such moves could result in significant economic and social costs for the Forum island states.

The coming conclusion (by 1 January 2008) of negotiations between the Forum and the European Union to establish an Economic Partnership Agreement, that would see the two regions liberalise trade barriers, has triggered the latest call for talks. Any regional free trade agreement made by the Forum and the EU would mean the Forum would be obligated, due to prior agreements, to also reduce trade barriers with New Zealand and Australia.

One reason why Europe, New Zealand and Australia support reducing trade barriers with the Forum is so that goods they export to the Pacific would not be subject to tariffs. In theory, reducing trade barriers also allows trade to become more economic, as countries can import goods and services from the lowest cost producer and in exchange export goods and services they are most efficient at producing. Organisations such as the WTO also consider regional trade agreements like the ones planned as useful stepping stone towards the goal of multilateral free trade. While this is generally true, the logic of regional economic integration does not hold up as well in the Pacific.

Trade economist Robert Scollay has suggested trade liberalisation in the Pacific is problematic as the exports of Forum island states do not amount to more than five percent of the exports of any other and because Forum island states do not have enough goods to trade. What is more, reductions in tariffs would remove a substantial source of government revenue and make Pacific producers uncompetitive, leading to job losses.

The WTO, Europe, New Zealand and Australia all need to be more mindful of the timing and scope of the trade barrier reductions they are proposing. Such drastic change could raise huge dilemmas for the welfare of Forum island states. Whereas moves, such as allowing non-Pacific primary products to have tariffs applied when they enter Pacific markets, could help to boost the island economies. This would result in a situation where free trade would be more advantageous.

Read the Minister of Trade's Press Release, Preliminary Discussions on Pacific Trade Agreement

Read a recent discussion paper on regional integration in the Pacific, Toward a New Pacific Regionalism

THE CHALLENGE OF DECENTRALISATION

As part of a comparative study being conducted by the OECD, the Ministry of Education has released, this month, a report Improving School Leadership. The report provides background information on the current state of schooling in New Zealand, with particular emphasis on what is being done to improve leadership in New Zealand schools. Education reforms introduced a decentralised model of leadership into New Zealand schools in 1989 that differs substantially from other countries. With that comes a number of advantages but also challenges.

The report raises a concern over the future supply of quality school leaders. One of the Ministry of Education's findings was that 72 percent of new principals 'had no prior experience as a deputy principal.' The finding of another report was that '40 percent of principals described their current stress level as 'high' or 'extremely high.'' The danger is that being a principal can easily become overwhelming given the tension of the job.

While decentralisation provides schools with significant freedom, allowing them to address the challenges that are unique to their community, the flipside is that current policy expects principals to manage extra administrative responsibility. Their experience as teachers may not have thoroughly prepared them for this. An added tension is that principals are accountable to two very different bodies; the government and the community. Effective leadership requires principals to manage this tension.

A programme known as the First Time Principals (FTP) scheme is attempting to address the problems, however, by offering training to lessen the administrative knowledge gap that comes from a change in role and to help schools to support 'newly appointed, first-time principals,' for example, by showing ways to spread out the workload of running a school through middle management positions. It will be interesting to see how the New Zealand model of decentralised management compares against OECD countries with a more centralised model of school leadership when the full study is complete.

Read the report, Improving School Leadership

IN THE NEWS

A CODE OF CONDUCT?

A group of smaller 'MMP parties' has come together to sign a 'code of conduct' for MPs. Concerned at deteriorating behaviour in Parliament, ACT, the Green Party, the Maori Party and United Future have all pledged to abide by the voluntary code. It includes commitments to, amongst other things, work 'for the public good,' show 'respect for Parliament,' and 'refrain from personal attacks.' MPs' conduct is traditionally guided by Standing Orders, and National, Labour and New Zealand First have not signed on to the new code, arguing that the code is superfluous and may even undermine the current Standing Orders.

Read the Code of Conduct

FAMILY GROUP CONFERENCES RECEIVE INTERNATIONAL AWARD

New Zealand has received the American Humane Association Award in recognition of our Family Group Conference model. The system was set up under the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989. It was a revolutionary idea, owing much to Maori culture, and is now being used in varying forms in over 20 countries. It has most noticeably been used with young offenders in our justice system and aims to help bring families into the process, rather than just deal with individuals.

TALKING POINT

'Truth is simply a compliment paid to sentences seen to be paying their way.'

Richard Rorty

A registered charitable trust, funded by donations, Maxim Institute values your interest and support.

ENDS

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