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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 293

Real Issues No. 293 – Paternity, Victim's Rights, MMP
Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 293
20 March 2008

Paternity problems
Right for victims?
Crossing the threshold

An interglobal conscience
Parenting finds a place


Fatherlessness is a devastating and cruel epidemic, robbing children of
paternal care, and the support and boundaries fathers can bring. It rips
away from children part of their identity and belonging. This is especially
the case when the father of a child is unknown or disputed; having a dad
away from home is bad, but having a blank space on the birth certificate
(as approximately seven percent of children do), and in the heart, is
worse. This is why United Future MP Judy Turner's new private member's Bill
is so desperately needed.

Introduced to Parliament last week, the Family Proceedings (Paternity
Orders and Parentage Tests) Amendment Bill allows fathers, or suspected
fathers, the ability to request a DNA test from the Family Court. Under the
current law, only mothers, or those associated with them, can make such a
request. The Bill would extend this privilege to the supposed father, and
'empower' the Family Court to 'order' a paternity test to be taken, instead
of just 'recommend[ing]' one. In essence, unless there is a compelling
reason otherwise, the Bill allows men who have 'reasonable grounds to
believe' they are or are not 'the father of a child,' to have their
paternity established or refuted. This is a vast improvement on the current
law, which allows mothers to refuse a paternity test, and fathers little
choice or recourse in the face of a refusal.

There are three main reasons the Bill is vital and needed. One is simply
practical; child support should be collected from the right man, and the
easier it is to establish the right and responsible man, the better. But
more broadly, changing the law recognises that men have a right, and a
responsibility for their actions, and their children. There are two parents
who contribute to making a child, not just one, and the law should
recognise that both have an equal stake. And more importantly still,
paternity is not simply a matter of the relationship (or lack thereof)
between the two parents. It is also important for the child's well-being,
security and identity. We can not always prevent mistakes, the breakdown of
relationships or the consequences of human frailty. But we can act to keep
the main thing, the main thing -- the interests of the child -- and limit
the damage. If it is at all possible, children have a right to a father --
if not in the home, at least on the piece of paper.

Read the Family Proceedings (Paternity Orders and Parentage Tests)
Amendment Bill


Crime happens. The aftermath can be long and is inevitably painful as we
attempt to bring justice and reconciliation to people and communities. The
question of how to care for victims in the aftermath of crime was brought
to the forefront this week, when the Government tabled their response to
the Justice and Electoral Committee's Inquiry into Victims' Rights. The
Government's response to the issue of victims' rights makes some valuable
operational changes but only touches the shallow surface of a problem that
is more deeply wedded to our understanding of crime and punishment.

The core problem facing victims of crime is a criminal justice system that
isolates people, both victims and perpetrators, by focusing on crime
exclusively as a violation against the state, rather than also the person
or people who are victims. In dealing with crime as an impersonal act, we
continue the seclusion of individuals from society, which forms a breeding
ground for further crime. If we are going to genuinely confront crime and
support its victims, it is crucial that we revive our understanding of
connection and community as the heart of healthy society.

This is vitally important for the victim in receiving recognition of the
damage done to them, but also for the offender in recognising the personal
consequences of their actions. As Joseph Conrad wrote in Lord Jim: 'The
real significance of crime is in its being a breach of faith with the
community of mankind.' The Government response announced this week includes
the setting up of a national helpline for victims to receive support and
advice. This is in addition to a Victims' Charter that will outline the
services victims are entitled to receive. These are all good things, but
fail to go deeper. More is required if we are to truly confront the
paradigm in which we address offending.

One approach to criminal justice, largely pioneered in New Zealand, is the
use of restorative justice practices. Conferences are held connecting
victims and offenders, allowing them to meet and talk about the
consequences of the crime. The victim is empowered as they take a central
role in the process. The offender is given the chance to re-engage, albeit
painfully, with other human beings as they are made aware of the
consequences of their choices on other human beings. As barriers to
relationship are minimised and people are invited into the judicial
process, a new possibility for restoration emerges. Responsibility and
empathy are given a chance to breathe. It is encouraging to see that the
Government currently supports restorative justice practice, but it needs to
follow through more convincingly and entrench such practices as a more
central part of the system. Currently it is a small alternative to the
mainstream system. We need to encourage it to grow and expand as a
challenge to the impersonal system we currently live with.

Read the Government Response to the Report of the Justice and Electoral
Committee on Inquiry into Victims' Rights

Read the Justice and Electoral Committee Report on Inquiry into Victims'

Read Maxim Institute's submission on the Inquiry into Victims' Rights


A study of how well New Zealanders understand the electoral system has
revealed that many people still do not completely understand how it works.
The findings come from the Electoral Commission's mid-term monitor survey
of 3,000 voters, collected during June and July 2007. While the study found
that 51 percent of New Zealanders say they either find MMP easy or very
easy to understand, the study also showed that New Zealanders' 'declared'
level of understanding of MMP is not as good as their 'actual'
understanding of it. Faced with a general election in 2008, these results
mean that voters need to be attentive to the finer details of how MMP
works, so that we can understand fully the implications of voting for
particular electorate candidates or parties.

New Zealanders' actual understanding of MMP was investigated by asking them
which of the two votes voters cast at an election 'is more important in
deciding the number of MPs each party will have in Parliament': the party
vote or the electorate vote. Only 65 percent of New Zealanders understood
correctly that the party vote is more important in deciding the number of
MPs each party will have in Parliament. People were also asked to identify
the criteria which parties have to satisfy to win seats in parliament. The
alarming finding was that after more than a decade of MMP only 27 percent
of voters understood that parties can win seats by either winning five
percent of all party votes or by winning one electorate seat. Another 27
percent were unsure of what the threshold criteria are at all.

One reason for the low levels of understanding might be that a number of
the smaller parties, like Act and the Progressives, won an electorate seat
in the 2005 election, bringing a proportionate number of other MPs with
them into Parliament according to their share of the party vote.
Nevertheless, these findings are consistent with research carried out by
the New Zealand Electoral Study at the 2005 election which showed a similar
proportion of New Zealanders did not know or understand what the threshold
criteria is.

These findings have important implications for voting at the coming
election. Most of the smaller political parties are polling below the five
percent threshold, yet together they might still win a number of the seats
in parliament if they win electorate seats. This will influence the range
of partners the major parties will have to negotiate with to form a
government. While most New Zealanders now understand the party vote is the
most important vote, more voters need to understand that under MMP winning
an electorate seat is another way which parties can enter parliament, and
have an effect on government.

Read the Electoral Commission's full monitor report, Understanding of MMP



A new paper published by the Heritage Foundation looks at the current
political situation in Kenya, and makes suggestions for the best way that
the United States can act to help improve this crisis. The paper recognises
the interdependence that exists between countries, and encourages a greater
civil society approach to ensure the stability of Kenya.

The paper, written by Tom Woods, outlines the Kenyan political crisis,
which has seen an outbreak in ethnic violence following the 2007 elections.
He pinpoints the trouble to two leaders -- Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga --
who have an ongoing and uneasy relationship. He suggests due to the
'wide-ranging interests' that the United States has in Kenya, that there is
'leverage' for diplomats to have an influence in the distressed state. He
recommends that instead of the US penalising Kenyan citizens by pulling out
aid and investments and enforcing trade sanctions, they should instead
focus on penalising corrupt individuals, and continue to channel
non-military aid through civil society organisations, rather than
government agencies.

Read Kenya's Stability is an Important U.S. Priority


Auckland-based parenting organisation, Parents Inc., has just opened a new
centre to the public devoted solely to the art of Parenting. The centre
offers a wide range of facilities to parents including a cafe, bookshop and
seminars, and will have staff and volunteers on-site to give advice and
support. It also allows parents to access information using touch-screens
and aims to give support to parents with children of all ages.

This is an excellent initiative and a significant step towards helping
ensure the future of effective parenting in our country. The centre is sure
is to be an excellent resource for any parent.

Visit The Parenting Place website


'When you have victims and their families talking about the horrendous pain
and confusion and powerlessness in their lives, it has a really powerful
resonance on everyone who's in that process. The offenders are naked for
the first time ... having to face (what they've done) without a lawyer or
someone making excuses.'

Terry O'Connell

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Maxim Institute's regular email publication, Real Issues, provides
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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
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