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Maxim Institute - Real Issues No. 304

Real Issues No. 304 – Representation, Discrimination, Foster Care Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 304 5 June 2008 www.maxim.org.nz

One person, one vote CPAG takes on the Government Stability paramount when it comes to foster care

IN THE NEWS

Social integration helps elderly keep their memory Paternity changes in the UK

ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE

A new paper has stirred up controversy by calling for the seven Maori seats in Parliament to be abolished. The paper, written by Professor of Law and constitutional expert Professor Philip Joseph, makes the case that the Maori seats have created an 'insidious' form of discriminatory privilege. He claims that while they were once necessary for ensuring adequate Maori representation in Parliament the seats now work against fair representation for Maori and other ethnicities. Professor Joseph's concerns about the Maori seats are warranted, as they divide society by ethnicity and make it difficult to foster the common good.

The Maori seats first became part of the New Zealand constitution in 1867 as an interim step designed to give Maori the franchise while the state individualised land tenure. At this point voting was tied to land ownership and without this measure Maori would not have been eligible to vote as they owned land collectively. But the innovation stuck and remains a feature of the Electoral Act today. Some argue that the purpose of the seats is now redundant as under MMP Maori members 'have a 5 percent higher representation than the relative national population of Maori,' however, it is not a question of how many of which ethnicity or sex or age sit in Parliament relative to the proportion in the population. The bigger question is why do we assume that someone must share our ethnicity or sex to be able to represent us well?

The current situation vindicates the position of the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System, which did not support separate Maori representation. It believed that Maori interests could be represented more effectively through general constituency MPs and party list MPs. This is because voting on a common roll would actually help Maori to maximise their voting power by making them a part of the mainstream, rather than marginalising them to a separate roll.

Debate surrounding the Maori seats should not be about determining the right proportion of seats Maori should have in Parliament. Rather it should be about treating everyone the same -- one person, one vote. The seats make it hard for Maori and Pakeha together to pursue the common good of New Zealand because they section off 'Maori interests' from mainstream debate. If the electoral system is to treat everyone fairly, and to help foster common ground between Maori and Pakeha, then the electoral system should give everyone the same vote. What unites us as people must be the focus of our politics. Wisdom and sound judgement, rather than ethnicity, must be the primary criteria of how we choose MPs if everyone's interests are to be well represented.

Read Professor Joseph's paper, 'Maori Seats in Parliament' http://www.nzbr.org.nz/documents/publications/Maori%20Seats%20in%20Parliament.pdf

CPAG TAKES ON THE GOVERNMENT

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is going head-to-head with the Government this week, as they argue that a Working for Families tax credit breaches the Human Rights Act. The hearing before the Human Rights Review Tribunal claims that the In-Work Tax Credit (IWTC) discriminates against children whose parents do not work. This case emphasises the anomalies and difficulties that are raised when a complicated system of incentives and entitlements is created.

The IWTC provides an incentive for those raising children on a low income. The minimum credit of $60 per week is available to a solo parent who works 20 hours a week, or to a couple who together work 30 hours a week. This tax credit cannot be received by parents who already receive an income-tested benefit. The IWTC was introduced by the Government as an incentive to get people into work, but CPAG claims it breaches the Human Rights Act, as it is not available to the families of those whose parents do not work. Nationally, such families have approximately 200,000 children.

CPAG's case is now being heard by the Human Rights Review Tribunal -- the most they can do is to grant an 'inconsistency' declaration. The hearing, funded on both sides by the taxpayer, is likely to take a few weeks and the Prime Minister is reserving judgement until a decision is reached, but is not required to do any more than consider the Tribunal's decision.

There are legitimate reasons to treat the unemployed and those in employment differently when it comes to welfare policy. For example, it is important to maintain an incentive for people to find work, rather than encouraging them to become dependent on welfare. While this undercuts CPAG's claim of unjustified discrimination, the case does highlight the problems and inconsistencies that arise when an intricate system of incentives, credits and entitlements is developed, which favour some people substantially more than others. In New Zealand our 'safety net' of welfare has expanded into a widely complex structure of rights and entitlements; CPAG's claim only goes to show the difficulties of ensuring that such a system is just.

Read Child Poverty Action Group's case history and legal proceedings http://www.cpag.org.nz/campaigns/Child_Tax_Credit_IWP.html

STABILITY PARAMOUNT WHEN IT COMES TO FOSTER CARE

Research released this month shows children fostered with relatives fare better than those who are placed in general foster care. The study, published in Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, uses longitudinal data based on 1,309 children, and shows that those placed with kin exhibited fewer behavioural problems than those who were fostered by non-relatives. While the study's conclusion may seem somewhat unsurprising, previous studies have been somewhat ambiguous.

Behavioural problems when young may sound rather innocuous, yet more than the odd tantrum is at stake. Children with behavioural problems while young are most likely to end up with serious problems when they mature. And the degree to which kin care seems to protect children from having behavioural problems appears to be significant. The study indicates that one of the key reasons for the more positive outcomes associated with family care relate to its more stable nature -- children are less likely to be moved frequently if they are being cared for by relatives. Although part of this advantage is down to the stability it provides, there also appears to be something intrinsically valuable about this form of care. Even after controlling for the stability of placements, initial levels of behavioural problems in children and whether the children reunited with their parents at any time during the study, 32 percent of children who were fostered by relatives were at risk for behavioural problems, compared with 46 percent of those under general foster care. At the same time it is worth remembering that there are also potential risks with kin care arrangements. Foster children are often removed from their family of origin due to abuse or neglect experienced there. Children fostered with relatives are more likely to remain in contact with their birth parents, which may place them at further risk.

Stability of care arrangements was earmarked as a key protective factor related to fewer behavioural problems. The study's findings have obvious implications for us in New Zealand. The stability of foster care here is generally poor; records from the Ministry of Social Development show that in the ten months leading up to January this year, 986 children in the care of CYF were moved at least three times between different foster families.

Read Impact of Kinship Care on Behavioral Well-being for Children in Out-of-Home Care http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/162/6/550?ijkey=6a48eb8bee07ebc8c099aa71a5841c82c44d9b59

IN THE NEWS

SOCIAL INTEGRATION HELPS ELDERLY KEEP THEIR MEMORY

A recent study published by the Harvard School of Public Health shows that elderly people who are surrounded by a larger number of friends, family and neighbours retain their memory for longer. The research report, Effects of Social Integration on Preserving Memory Function in a Nationally Representative US Elderly Population, tested 16,638 elderly over a six year period, assessing social interaction through measures such as time spent with family or neighbours, volunteer activities, and marital status. The report concludes the research 'provides evidence that social integration delays memory loss among elderly.'

PATERNITY CHANGES IN THE UK

The UK is looking at ways to increase the number of babies who have both their parents named on their birth certificates. Legislative change being considered would give registrars extra powers to follow up those men that mothers name as fathers. It could also help give fathers greater powers to prove their paternity in cases where mothers are refusing to allow them to be named. New Zealand's Parliament is currently considering this same issue in the form of the Family Proceedings (Paternity Orders and Parentage Tests) Amendment Bill; if passed this Bill would make it easier for fathers in New Zealand to prove their paternity.

Read the Family Proceedings (Paternity Orders and Parentage Tests) Amendment Bill http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/member/2008/0202-1/latest/DLM1206502.html

TALKING POINT

'Popular democracy implies that political representation must be won on the hustings, not gifted on grounds of ethnicity.'

Professor Philip Joseph

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

ENDS


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