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Don Brash Writes: No. 41

Don Brash Writes: No. 41, 6 October 2004

Clause 37 of the Care of Children’s Bill

Clause 37 of the Care of Children’s Bill provides that, where a girl under the age of 16 seeks an abortion, the doctor from whom she seeks assistance is under no obligation at all to advise the girl’s parents of this request.

Judith Collins, the National spokesperson for Health, and for Families, has proposed an amendment to the clause which would create a presumption that the girl’s parents would be advised of that request. At the moment, Judith has pointed out, abortion is the only medical procedure which can be carried out on a person under the age of 16 without parental consent – despite the obvious fact that there are few more traumatic and life-changing medical procedures than abortion.

Judith is not proposing that parental consent be required for an abortion. And she explicitly provides in her proposed amendment that, where the girl or the doctor has reason to believe that there are circumstances where advising the parents would be dangerous to the girl, the need to advise the parents could be avoided by instead advising a District or Family Court judge.

Because the matter involves abortion, a subject on which National Party MPs have traditionally exercised a conscience vote, we will again vote our consciences on this issue. This is essentially an issue about parents’ right to know if something as life-changing as abortion is happening to their daughter. Interestingly, while the main medical associations oppose Judith’s amendment, several doctors have spoken to me expressing their full support.

Treaty settlements again Back in January, when addressing the Orewa Rotary Club, I argued that where historical injustice could be established, the New Zealand Government should be willing to pay appropriate compensation for those injustices. But I also argued that, to avoid a substantial number of New Zealanders looking backwards over their shoulder all the time, and living on the illusion that economic salvation depends on a hand-out from government, the process of resolving historical grievances should be accelerated and then brought to an end. Subsequently, I have argued that, if National wins the next election, we will insist that all claims related to historical grievances be lodged by the end of 2006, and we will provide the resources to ensure that all claims are resolved – fully, fairly, and finally – by the end of 2010.

In the last few weeks, there have been two relevant developments.

First, we have learnt, after making an enquiry under the Official Information Act, that when earlier this year the Ministry of Justice sought additional funding to enable the Waitangi Tribunal to accelerate its deliberations – extra funding amounting to less than $3 million per annum – so that there would be some chance of settling historical claims “within 10 years”, the Government turned down the request for the funding.

In other words, the Government is not serious about getting historical claims settled at all.

Second, Mr Winston Peters has announced that his party favours requiring all claims to be lodged by 2010, and settled by 2015. That sounds a bit like the kind of deadline which the Government itself appears, implicitly, to be working to (judging from the comments in the Ministry of Justice’s request for extra funding). He also suggested the disbanding of the Waitangi Tribunal, and its replacement by some kind of Waitangi Commission.

Well, this is all progress of a kind. Other parties are recognising the need to bring the grievance process to a close, but in National’s view prolonging the process for more than another decade is unnecessary and undesirable – given that we have as a country been trying to resolve these issues for well over a decade already.

And it is not at all clear what sort of body Mr Peters’s proposed Waitangi Commission would be. At this stage, National favours retaining the Waitangi Tribunal, but having said that there are very disquieting signs that the Tribunal is no longer the objective judicial institution which it was intended to be when it was first established in 1985. The recent report on the Tauranga claim, for example, seems to have been substantially tainted by conflicts of interest and inadequate attention to proper process. National will want to look very carefully indeed at the way the Tribunal is working before making a final decision to retain it.

Kyoto again There is now quite widespread expectation that some time this month the Government will announce the level of tax they propose to levy on carbon emissions. As most readers will know, the Government is proposing to levy this new tax because, in order to be seen as a virtuous international citizen, the Government ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2002. The new carbon tax, expected to cost about $15 a tonne, will add 4c a litre to petrol (on top of the 5.5c increase in excise tax scheduled for 1 April 2005) and increase electricity prices by another 4%.

New Zealand’s contribution to global greenhouse gases is miniscule. Even on a per capita basis, they are half that of Australia or the United States. The recent announcement by President Putin that Russia will ratify the Protocol will bring the agreement into effect. This means New Zealand will face binding commitments to reduce emissions that our key trading partners will not face, and exposes the folly of Labour’s premature ratification.

There remains a significant body of sceptics on the science and economics behind the Kyoto Protocol.

There are those who argue that the evidence that global temperatures are increasing is non-existent or at least highly contentious.

There is a further group who accept temperatures are rising, but believe that this is a natural phenomenon. Global temperatures have been rising and falling for thousands of years, and these have little or nothing to do with human activity. Greenland got its name when temperatures were much higher than currently.

A further group, lead by Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish environmentalist who visited New Zealand last year, accepts that global temperatures probably are increasing and that human activity has something to do with this. But they believe the projected temperature increases are exaggerated because of flawed assumptions about growth in petroleum use and the development of alternatives. They argue that people with a genuine concern for improving the environment would not be advocating the expenditure of vast sums – trillions of dollars over time – for limited gains when the same expenditure on improving air and water quality would provide humanity with far greater benefits.

I am who one who thinks the science is still debatable, so before imposing large costs on either the New Zealand or world economy, the scientific and economic analysis needs to be more robust.

National takes the view that New Zealand should neither be the first nor the last to move on this complex issue. We need to be a responsible international citizen that moves in line with our major trading partners.

We opposed New Zealand ratifying the Protocol in late 2002 because our major trading partners are outside the agreement. We will withdraw from the Protocol if, by 2013, countries like Australia and the United States have not made binding commitments on emissions. We are not concerned about the first commitment period to 2013 because New Zealand is in the position of having more carbon “credits” than “debits” as a consequence of growing forestry plantations.

National opposes Labour’s carbon tax and we would repeal it in Government. We believe a more sound approach is a system of tradable emission permits where emitters are allocated debits, while carbon sinks, like forests, receive credits. It is noteworthy that Ireland, a Kyoto signatory, has just abandoned a carbon tax in favour of an emission permit-trading regime.

The tragedy of Labour’s Kyoto approach is that, while it will have minimal effect on global warming, it will have a potentially major impact on New Zealand’s competitiveness.

Don Brash

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