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Real Issues: Electoral Finance, QE1, Demographics

Real Issues No. 280 - Electoral Finance, Queen Elizabeth 1, Demographics
Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 280
22 November 2007
www.maxim.org.nz

Send it back
Gloriana on film
Difficult demographics

IN THE NEWS
The public on politicians
Inflexible new law

SEND IT BACK

The Electoral Finance Bill has come back from the Justice and Electoral Committee this week, which recommended it pass with amendments. These amendments would substantially change the Bill, and while some of the changes would be positive, overall the Bill would still place unreasonable and undemocratic limits on free speech and public participation during an election year. These changes are now being debated in Parliament, with no opportunity for further public submission. This is despite their significance, and the importance of the public submission process.

The aim of the Bill, to 'provide greater transparency and accountability' of the electoral process, remains the same. So does many of its other provisions such as the extended 'regulated period' and the registration regime for participating third parties.

The most positive changes being proposed would increase the expenditure limit of third parties, from $60,000 to $120,000, and would narrow the definition of 'election advertising.' This definition would no longer include 'taking a position on a proposition,' associated with a party or candidate, meaning that members of the public who advocate on specific issues, such as climate change or men's health, would not automatically be electioneering if the issue was mentioned by an MP or candidate. The amendments would also lessen the restrictions on third parties by only requiring them to make a statutory declaration if they intend to spend over a certain amount, which has been increased to $12,000.

Unfortunately features of the Bill still unreasonably limit free speech, some newly introduced by the Select Committee. A new donations regime has been created, where anonymous donations could be given to a political or third party, but only if channelled through the Electoral Commission. These anonymous donations would be capped at a total of ten percent of the expenditure limits; in other words, $240,000 for political parties and $12,000 for third parties. Other restrictions and incongruities would remain, such as the requirement to state your name and address before any form of election advertising-which could simply be speaking-and the strict cut-off date for registering as a third party, leaving an unregistered group unable to spend money defending itself if attacked after that date.

This Bill has sparked much public interest since its introduction in July this year. A Bill such as this, that makes such significant changes to the law, should be carefully scrutinised, and should not be rushed through. Granted, the amended Bill is an improvement on its original form, but that is not to say the revised version is good. It suffers from major flaws, inconsistencies and restrictions. Third parties would still be unreasonably limited, incumbent politicians would have an immense advantage over anyone attempting to get into Parliament for the first time, and political debate would become the province of political parties only, rather than a medium for every New Zealander. This Bill, rather than being pushed through by a frantic Government, should be sent back for more consultation with those whom it directly affects.

Read the Justice and Electoral Committee report http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/B3855C0D-338F-42C8-8E8F-C82715337CA7/69335/DBSCH_SCR_3906_5586.pdf

GLORIANA ON FILM

The recent release of Elizabeth: The Golden Age continues our fascination with the Tudors in general, and the great Elizabeth I in particular. Following in the footsteps of Flora Robson, Bette Davis and Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett turns in an accomplished performance as the Virgin Queen, helped by sumptuous staging and an appropriately heroic Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh.

Although Elizabeth: The Golden Age takes liberties with history and language, airbrushing out the Earl of Leicester and romanticising with abandon in an effort to make the bloody and noble Elizabethan Age small enough for modern sensibilities, the film is still a useful pointer to some of the things worth remembering about that Age.

The Elizabethan Age was an age of great brutality, but also one of great heroism and great virtue. Martyrs and discoverers, soldiers and poets, priests and indigenous peoples, all jostle for place. In the Age of Elizabeth, the foundations of English identity are fixed: as a Protestant, outward-looking, maritime power, with a sense of mission and purpose. The Providential victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588, the Elizabethan Settlement in religion, and the longevity and stability of her reign irrevocably altered the shape of England, its Church, empire, literature and sense of self, and in altering the future Britain, altered the future New Zealand too.

Elizabeth was vain, crafty and sometimes autocratic, but her careful posturing as Mother of England concealed a true and courageous reality: she was a Prince who saw her crown and her duty as a 'glory with ... labour,' and carried it with fortitude, sacrifice and steely resolve. She held firm to her intended course in spite of storm, internal opposition and external threat, defying Pope, puritan, invading army and rebellious rabble. Capable of great charm and piety, she preserved England's independence, Church and liberties, conciliating, coaxing and bullying, and above all enduring, with a fierce steadiness of purpose and lightness of touch equalled by few monarchs. Called 'Gloriana,' by at least some of her enchanted subjects, Elizabeth ushered in a golden age of stability, glory and valour for England, leaving us too an example of enduring leadership, strength, grace and fortitude against impossible odds.

DIFFICULT DEMOGRAPHICS

One way of looking at what a society values and what we are investing in is to look at birth rates. Latest figures released from Statistics New Zealand show an increase in birth rates across the board, from an average of 2.0 children per family in 2006 to 2.1 in 2007. The long-term trends (between 1997 and 2007) show that birth rate increases are highest for two groups of women, those aged between 30-34 (increasing 16 percent) and those aged 35-39 years (increasing by 46 percent). However, during the shorter 2006-2007 period, the highest increase has come from those aged 25-29, representing one third of the increase in birth rates.

The overall trend for teenage births has been declining, though 2007 may mark a change in this trend. Early child-rearing is often associated with a number of challenging factors such as economic stress, family breakdown, welfare dependency, low educational achievement and criminal offending. At the other end of the spectrum, there are also risks associated with childbirth to older mothers that should be considered. They include difficulties conceiving and health risks. At the social level there are also tangible effects, such as higher health care costs for state-funded birth treatments.

Although these latest figures show that trends are not entirely clear, it is possible that cultural and economic changes in society which are causing people to delay marriage or cohabitation are also delaying child bearing, with associated risks and consequences. In fact, these apparently dry numbers actually represent changing trends that affect all of us. In a recent interview demographer Janet Sceats, from the University of Waikato, noted that many women face a painful tension between really wanting to start a family, and desiring stable relationships and financial security before they make that step. Hopes and reality simply are not measuring up for them. Overall, perhaps we need a paradigm shift in the value we place on commitment and child-bearing, enabling the positive connection between the two to be more readily acknowledged.

Read the latest information on birth rates from Statistics New Zealand http://www.stats.govt.nz/products-and-services/media-releases/births-and-deaths/births-and-deaths-sep07qtr-mr.htm

Read about long-term trends in birth-rates from Statistics New Zealand http://www.stats.govt.nz/NR/rdonlyres/6B43201D-EC01-49A5-BC46-5180BB8B466F/0/birthsanddeathsep07qtrhotp.pdf

IN THE NEWS

THE PUBLIC ON POLITICIANS

The Electoral Commission has released results from its latest survey, which asked participants about their opinions and understanding of our electoral system. Only 38 percent of those surveyed felt they really understood what politicians do, while 50 percent believed that 'list MPs are not as accountable to voters as electorate MPs.' A staggering 53 percent agreed with the suggestion that if an electorate MP does not win their electorate seat they should not get into Parliament as a list MP. The Electoral Commission suggested that while 72 percent say they have an interest in politics, it is well-known that the younger age group are more likely not to vote. They suggest that more education at a secondary school level could help remedy this.

Read the Electoral Commission news release http://www.elections.org.nz/news/ec-media-MMP2007-161107.html

INFLEXIBLE NEW LAW

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Bill passed its third reading in Parliament this week. This new law will give employees a 'statutory right' to request flexible working hours or arrangements in certain circumstances, such as when they are caring for 'children under five years,' or for a 'dependent relative.' Employers will accordingly have a legal duty to seriously consider an employee's request, and are obliged to agree if the request can 'reasonably be accommodated.' The new law is due to come into force at the beginning of July 2008.

Read the Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Bill http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/BEF5ED45-D8C0-4256-B2F5-6FD35DB45D38/69122/DBHOH_BILL_6638_5571.pdf

TALKING POINT

'To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it.'

The Golden Speech of Queen Elizabeth I, 1601

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

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Maxim Institute's regular email publication, Real Issues, provides thought-provoking analysis of developments in policy and culture in New Zealand and around the world. You can express you views on any of the articles featured in Real Issues by writing a letter to the editor. A selection of the best letters will be posted each week on Maxim Institute's website http://www.maxim.org.nz/

Maxim Institute. 49 Cape Horn Road, Hillsborough, Auckland, New Zealand.

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