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Maxim Institute: Real Issues No. 312

Real Issues No. 312 - Parliamentary Process, Social Justice, Daycare Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 312 31 July 2008 www.maxim.org.nz

Parliamentary Recklessness: Why we need to legislate more carefully Statism vs Social Justice The real costs of care

IN THE NEWS The profits of crime Uncertainty continues to underlie the Electoral Finance Act

Parliamentary Recklessness: Why We Need To Legislate More Carefully

On Monday 28 July, Professor Jeremy Waldron delivered Maxim Institute's inaugural Annual John Graham Lecture, in Auckland, on the topic 'Parliamentary Recklessness: Why we need to legislate more carefully.'

In his lecture Professor Waldron suggests that 'New Zealand has stripped safeguard after safeguard away from its legislative process -- leaving it with virtually none of the safeguards that most working democracies take for granted.'

'We defend the stripping away of each safeguard by pointing to some other system that doesn't have it. But we only ever consider them one by one, without considering how many of these safeguards we have stripped away and how anomalous it is in the world to have a legislature with such untrammelled powers.'

'No quorum, no second chamber, no requirement to attend in order to vote, no judicial review, no real independence from the executive and constant recourse to urgency. It may be possible to justify each of these features considered in itself, but we must consider their cumulative effect on the quality of public debate.'

'New Zealand's Parliament has become a place where preordained positions are stated, with hopefully as little fuss and as little public expense as possible. Parliament -- the one forum dedicated to public debate -- is becoming the one place where public debate has become perfunctory -- a simple matter of political posturing.'

'I am afraid that a society which has allowed its tradition of parliamentary debate to atrophy is also in danger of allowing its traditions of more informal public debate to atrophy. As Parliament becomes a place where people simply state preordained opinions, maybe civil society at large is in danger of becoming a place where people simply state preordained opinions. Parliament becomes a place where no one listens and society too becomes a place where people deafen themselves to the opinions of others.'

Listen to 'Parliamentary Recklessness: Why we need to legislate more carefully' http://www.maxim.org.nz/files/media/john_graham_lecture_2008_prof_jeremy_w aldron.mp3

Listen to Leighton Smith on Newstalk ZB discussing his experience at the Annual John Graham Lecture (starts 10 minutes in) http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/thisweek/hourrecs/Tue,%20Jul%2029%2009.00%20tr n-newstalk-zb-akl.asf

Listen to an interview with Professor Waldron on Radio Live http://www.maxim.org.nz/files/media/RadioLive_Coleman_Jeremy_Waldron_08072 8.mp3


At a lecture, co-hosted by Maxim Institute and the Business Roundtable, Father Robert Sirico (President of the US-based Acton Institute) discussed the role of social justice in a free society.

'Do we know who we are? I think that has to be the beginning question with regard to statism and social justice. I think we have to begin with the question of anthropology, if for no other reason than two facts: first, the human person is prior to the state. If we're going to understand what statism is, what the state is, we have to understand first that the human person is prior to the political arrangement. And the second fact that we have to keep in mind is that the state exists for man, and not man for the state.'

By statism, I mean the presupposition that when confronted with human and social needs, the resort of first resort is the central government. That's what I take by statism. By social justice, I take my definition from the Catholic Catechism (though I believe the definition is broadly accessible to believers and non-believers alike) and so I quote: 'Society ensures social justice by providing the conditions that allow associations and individuals to obtain their due.'

'We ask the question of who we are with a sense of wonder. The very fact that we can wonder is itself an indication of our dignity: human beings have the ability to self reflect. We have the capacity of not merely to know, but to know that we know -- and that there exists that which exceeds our knowledge. This capacity for transcendence takes place from within the reality of our corporal / physical dimension, which is the first and most obvious thing we know about ourselves and we see in others; that we are physical, we are material. We are located in time and space, but somehow sense that we are more than things. We are made up of a biological reality, to be sure, but we are not defined by that. We relate to the material world, and depend upon it, yet we do not ultimately discover our meaning from it ... because we transcend our material reality.'

Listen to Statism vs Social Justice http://www.maxim.org.nz/files/media/fr_sirico_statism_vs_social_justice.mp 3

Read an interview with Father Sirico in the New Zealand Herald http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10524008


Childcare is a hot topic. Daycare subsidies designed to entice more women back into the workforce are now an integral part of all political parties' policies in New Zealand. The idea that childcare costs are an issue for the public agenda stems from an understanding of childcare as contributing to the public good through expanding the workforce and generating economic growth. On this basis childcare is receiving increasing public funding. Child Care and the Labour Supply, a paper produced by the Centre for Independent Studies, questions the logic of government subsidies for childcare and challenges the assumption that childcare costs are the primary factor in women's participation in the workforce.

Contrary to popular opinion, money does not always rule the roost. While finances can significantly limit choices, they alone do not provide the information on which all decisions are built. Child Care and the Labour Supply demonstrates that the major increases in female labour-force participation in Australia took place prior to the incursion of childcare subsidies in the 1990s. Furthermore, statistics from 2005 show that only 3.6 percent of Australian families cited cost as the main reason for not using childcare. Often a direct causal relationship is assumed between subsidised childcare and mothers working, but as the paper shows, measuring such a link is speculative and does not recognise the complexity of cultural and personal factors that inform decisions.

Ironically, subsidies that have aimed to make childcare more affordable have not achieved this objective. As public funding of childcare has increased, informal care in the form of grandparents, families and friends decreased because subsidies have incentivised a move toward formal care, swelling demand and escalating prices. Over the past two decades, the inflation of childcare costs in Australia have grown at far higher rates than normal inflation. An array of factors may have contributed to the increased costs of childcare, but regardless of the cause the paper states that 'such a pattern of inflationary spending on child care is unsustainable.'

Public spending on childcare is an idea easily sold when families want immediate relief from financial pressure. Yet providing immediate relief to families may not be as prudent as it initially appears. In this issue, the need for careful consideration of long-term consequences is clear or societies like Australia may find themselves bound to a system whose real costs are continually growing to unsustainable levels

Read Child Care and the Labour Supply http://www.cis.org.au/issue_analysis/IA97/ia97.pdf



The Law and Order Committee has reported back to Parliament on the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill, recommending that it be passed with amendments made. The legislation would repeal the existing Proceeds of Crime Act, making it much more difficult for any person to profit from criminal activity. Under the current law, proceeds derived from crime can only be confiscated if a criminal conviction is obtained; the new Bill would remove this qualification, making it possible to confiscate any property 'derived directly or indirectly from significant criminal activity.' The intention is that those who are involved in crime, even if they themselves are not actual offenders, can not continue to benefit. It is also hoped the Bill would act as a deterrent to those involved in crime and to lessen the ability of criminals to further expand their enterprises. The Bill is awaiting its second reading in Parliament.

Read the Law and Order Committee report http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/99B73ABE-552D-4DB0-B89B-79F001BD5C4D /90132/DBSCH_SCR_4152_6147.pdf


The Electoral Finance Act has continued to be surrounded by a minefield of legal uncertainty. The latest question has been raised over a complaint laid with the Electoral Commission about an Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) advertisement. The advertisement, which was placed in newspapers on Wednesday 23 July, encouraged members of the public to phone key politicians in an attempt to halt changes to KiwiSaver legislation. While a spokesperson for the EMA has said that the Association does not believe that it has breached the Act, the lack of clarity in the law leaves them in an untenable position. It is alarming that in an election year, organisations engaging in public debate are stifled to such a degree in what they can say without fear of prosecution.


'I worry that in New Zealand, we have moved to the idea of dispensable debate, where debate is seen simply as an embarrassing ritual that needs to be gone through as quickly and with as little cost to the public as possible. Parliament is not a place of genuine engagement anymore.'

Professor Jeremy Waldron

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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.


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