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Real Issues: Leaders, Legislation, Gender Identity

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 285 - Great Leaders, Legislation,
Gender Identity
Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 285
25 January 2008

Heroes, and why we need them
The year ahead
Ideals, action and gender

First embryonic clones produced
Conduct unbecoming


This week, our country has been mourning the death of one of our greatest heroes--Sir Edmund Hillary. At the same time, we have also lost New Zealand poet Hone Tuwhare, in another stroke which leaves a poorer world. The double decease of two great New Zealanders offers an opportunity to reflect on the shape of a well-lived life and the role of heroes in inspiring wider culture. If (contra Shakespeare) the good men do lives after them, these men have left us much.

Others have lauded the details of their extraordinary lives: how one conquered a mountain, and served the peoples he loved; how the other found words of lyricism, controversy, passion and joy, and splashed them on a page to do something remarkable. But both Sir Edmund Hillary and Hone Tuwhare are, in their different ways, an inspiration--not the inspiration of a sound bite, or a Hallmark card, but the deeper and more public inspiration that comes from seeing a life lived with courage.

In an age far too prone to cynicism, an age in which values are seen as fluid, it does us good to see goodness, fortitude, humility and grace in action. These are the things our country needs. And Sir Edmund Hillary has done us a service, not just by climbing a mountain, but by showing us what those all too rare and fleeting virtues look like. The Prime Minister was right to say that Sir Edmund's 'humanity and compassion for others' was perhaps his greatest achievement, and that it is one we should 'strive to match.' Heroes show us the way, they light the path for us, demonstrating that goodness, kindness, loyalty, passion and service are achievable by mortal men. They remind us to fight for what we believe in, and that there are things worth fighting for. Whether heroism comes by the grace of the pen, or the strength of the ice axe, we should be grateful to be reminded of that fact.


This upcoming year is expected to provide much debate and interest in the build-up to the election--yet before then there is still much work to be done. While Parliament is not scheduled to have its first sitting for 2008 until 12 March, there are a number of interesting Bills and Inquiries currently in progress.

Amongst other things, this year there will be a focus on updating the current policing provisions, public health systems, public transport and the use of tribunals in New Zealand. The start of this year has also seen the unveiling of an updated legislation website, which provides quick and easy access to all Acts and Bills, making our law far more accessible for anyone who is interested.

The new Policing Bill, which seeks to update and improve the current policing provisions, has been introduced to Parliament following an extensive review of the current Police Act. This Bill was introduced to Parliament at the end of last year, but is yet to have its first reading. The Public Health Bill is also the result of an extensive review, with the 'objective of improving, promoting, and protecting public health.' The Health Committee is receiving public submissions on this Bill until 7 March, before making any changes or recommendations.

The Public Transport Management Bill, introduced to Parliament in October last year, intends to 'give regional councils greater powers to regulate the public transport services provided in their regions, while retaining the ability of operators to register such services on a commercial basis.' While still under the consideration of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, this Bill has been publicly criticised for leaving open the possibility of introducing state control by stealth.

The Law Commission is also looking ahead to a busy year having already released an issues paper on 16 January. The paper, part of a combined review of tribunals with the Ministry of Justice, identifies several problems with tribunals in New Zealand, including the large number, the 'lack of cohesion' and the varying degrees of public knowledge about them. The Commission is receiving public submissions on this paper until 20 February.

The year is off to a quick start, and will be jam-packed from beginning to end. Now is a good time to get familiar with what is going on and be a part of the changes being made in our country.

Visit New Zealand's updated legislation website

Read the Policing Bill

Read the Public Health Bill

Read the Public Transport Management Bill

Read Tribunals in New Zealand


As the Human Rights Commission says, 'All persons, everywhere, are entitled to respect for their dignity by virtue of their humanity.' Translating this ideal into action is a difficult endeavour, and often the problem is in misunderstanding the essence of dignity. This issue is at the heart of the Commission's latest report, To Be Who I Am: Report of the Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People. The report follows the Commission's inquiry into 'discrimination experienced by transgender people,' their access to health services and barriers they encounter 'when attempting to gain full legal recognition of their gender status.'

Transgender means 'a person whose gender identity is different from their physical sex at birth.' The situation of 'intersex' people, who are of indeterminate sex at birth, was outside the report's terms of reference. The report describes discrimination ranging from insults and ridicule to violence and sexual abuse. It gives specific examples such as refusals by schools to allow students to use 'appropriate' toilets, changing rooms and uniforms--a situation it says must change. The Commission considers that the public health system should do more to allow trans people to obtain 'gender reassignment services.' It also states that changing official records of sex, such as birth certificates, drivers' licences and passports, should be easier so that trans people 'have documents affirming who they are.' One of the report's key recommendations is to amend the Human Rights Act to specify that 'gender identity' is an explicit category of unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex.

Well-intentioned though the proposals are, there are some obvious difficulties with them. Schools have good reasons to restrict access to changing rooms and toilets, and hormone treatment, radical surgery and birth certificates are not a good source of affirmation or dignity. We should all be troubled by findings of violent abuse and discrimination and the denial of human dignity this represents, and we should all be supportive of compassionate efforts to find real improvements. However, the report reinforces the dangerous idea that sex is objectively and actually capable of change, even fluid, and that fluctuating gender identity is 'simply one dimension of the rich diversity that is humanity.' In a day and age when there is already enough confusion over what it means to be male or female, the message this sends can only be counter-productive. If it is taken on, we should not be surprised if the rate of confusion escalates.

Read To Be Who I Am: Report of the Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People



Last week saw further developments in the contentious field of stem cell research, opening the way for new and greater controversy. The privately held US embryonic stem cell research company Stemagen has announced the creation of the first cloned human embryo through the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer, using donated oocytes and adult skin cells obtained from two different men. The process involves injecting the nucleus of the donated skin cell into the hollow of the egg cell. Five eggs were apparently successfully developed into blastocysts—the development stage at which it is possible to extract the desired stem cells, destroying the embryo in the process. Three of the five blastocysts were confirmed to be clones. The research is being conducted for the purposes of developing patient-specific embryonic stem cells. Such cells can generate almost any kind of specialised cell in the human body.

Despite the numerous potential benefits that could arise from therapeutic cloning, the ethical issues around such a procedure are manifold and can only increase as research into the area progresses. The destruction of human embryos through stem cell extraction is an obvious ethical hurdle, as is the idea of cloning human beings, whether or not the intention is to see the embryos to full-term, which in this case it is not. Scenarios depicted in mainstream entertainment in recent years, in which the intrinsic value of human life is systematically devalued through, paradoxically, the use of cloning to enhance and prolong life, spring to mind. Furthermore, the argument is a part of the much wider field of contention over artificial reproduction and egg donation, the treatment of such eggs and the uses to which they are put.


A Government initiative that seeks to curb 'severe antisocial behaviour' in young children has been announced in a joint venture by the Ministries of Education, Health and Social Development. The scheme would allow for the screening of children as young as three, and put in place training courses for the child and his or her parents where antisocial conduct is observed. Research shows that such behaviour, if left unchecked, often 'leads on to youth offending, family violence and, ultimately, through to serious adult crime.' Pilots of the scheme have been trialled in Wanganui and Counties-Manukau, which have both had a successful participation response from parents. While there are associated dangers with the programme such as unwarranted intrusion into some families and the undermining of community responsibility, the scheme is more positive than other previously suggested programmes and encourages the active involvement of both the parents and teacher of a child.

Read Inter-Agency Plan for Conduct Disorder/Severe Antisocial Behaviour 2007-2012 http://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/work-areas/


'True dignity is never gained by place, and never lost when honours are withdrawn.'

Philip Massinger (1583-1640)

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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/.



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