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Newsworthy: 9 December 2005

Newsworthy: 9 December 2005

Media peccadilloes and pecuniary interests At the close of the last Parliament, new Standing Orders were produced which regulate Parliamentary procedure. A significant change was to require all Members of Parliament to disclose their financial interests.

The argument is that this will lessen the possibility of corruption. I am cynical about that for reasons which include the fact that corruption exists where politicians have actual power. Those who are opposition MPs or government backbenchers are scarcely in that position.

In any event the Standing Orders require the disclosure of financial interests before participating in the consideration of Parliamentary business.

A Registrar of Pecuniary Interests has been appointed and a Register of Pecuniary Interests will be established. Similar arrangements exist in the United Kingdom where the House of Commons in 1995 set up the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The Commissioner oversees the maintenance and monitoring of the Register of Members Interests.

Interestingly in the United Kingdom a Register of Journalists' Interests is required. Holders of photo-identity passes as lobby journalists accredited to the Parliamentary Press Gallery are required to register any employment for which they receive over £575 from the same source in the course of a year if that employment is any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by the accreditation.

Carbon Tax Last week the National Party launched a campaign to 'axe the carbon tax'. If Labour has its way and the carbon tax is passed into law, New Zealand households, motorists, farmers and businesses will become the first in the world to pay a carbon tax. The carbon tax will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nor will it have any impact on climate change.

Yet Labour is determined to push ahead with what influential English newspaper The Guardian has described as 'an experiment' similar to that abandoned by members of the European Union in the 1990s. Labour's experiment will see all New Zealanders pay 6c more per litre of petrol, 6% more for electricity, 7% more for gas, 7c more per litre of diesel, 1.3% more for groceries and 1.4% more for public transport.

The combined cost of these price increases will directly impact on the average New Zealand household to the tune of around $400 each year, or about $7.50 per week.

Readers can find out more about National's campaign to defeat the carbon tax by visiting www.axecarbontax.co.nz and signing the petition by 10 February next year.

Same-sex marriages This issue which surfaced in arguments about the Civil Unions Act has re-emerged with a vote two days ago on the Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill. The Bill was defeated by 73 to 47.

The Bill records that marriage may only occur between one man and one woman. It codifies a decision of the Court of Appeal. I voted in favour of the Bill.

In a number of jurisdictions the courts have sanctioned same-sex marriage and clearly that remains a real risk here. The latest example of South Africa shows how easy it is to introduce same-sex marriage when a definition of marriage is not in legislation.

Australia has dealt with the issue specifically. In August 2004, the Australian Liberal, National and Labour parties all voted to pass legislation virtually identical to the Bill proposed in New Zealand.

During the second reading, the Australian Attorney General, Peter Ruddock stated: "The Bill is necessary because there is significant community concern about the possible erosion of the institution of marriage... The government has consistently reiterated the fundamental importance of the place of marriage in our society. It is a central and fundamental institution.

It is vital to the stability of our society and provides the best environment for the raising of children." (Hansard, 24 June 2004, p 30563). Supreme Court appointment - quis custodict ipsos custodes Media speculation continues as to who will replace Sir Kenneth Keith on our highest court. He has been appointed to the International Court of Justice.

When our final court was the Court of Appeal, appointments in the court hierarchy were of less significance but now with debate about judicial activism and judge-made law, the appointment of our top judges is a matter of political interest and importance.

The time has come to ensure that such appointments are truly merit-based and free from political taint. In that regard a good model which would lend itself to application in New Zealand is that which occurs in Canada.

There following a consultation process and appointment of the judge the Minister of Justice appears before the Justice Committee (in the New Zealand context that would be the Justice & Electoral Select Committee) after the appointment to explain the appointment process and the professional and personal qualities of the appointee.

The right to die The tragic suicide of Nelson voluntary euthanasia campaigner Ralph Vincent, who ended his own life at his home after a small stroke, has prompted calls to re-examine the so-called "right to die". There are many issues at the heart of the euthanasia debate, and the debate itself is important.

Frequently used terms such as "the right to die" are misleading. What voluntary euthanasia is really about is the "right to kill", or giving someone a legal right to end another person's life on the grounds that the person wanted to die.

New Zealand unplugged The heading has been plagiarised and reflects a report by the New Zealand Institute that with less than a third of GDP involved in exports, New Zealand is not plugged into the world economy.

Over the last five years the exported share of GDP actually fell from 36% of GDP to just 29%. The average small developed country exports more than half of GDP.

In marked contrast to other countries, New Zealand has been slow to take advantage of a ready source of trade advantage. Those other countries appoint honorary consuls who have significant trade networks and substantial influence in their home states.

The consuls actively work to promote the export interests of the appointing country and con do so often more effectively than Government trade entities.

Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade chooses not to see the merit of such arrangements. We are the losers for its blindness.

As Sheikh Ahmed, Emirates Group Chairman, said on vision and timing: "We believe that you have to put supply before demand. If you wait until demand exists, you may be too late. Go wherever your vision leads you, and the business will come through good business practices." New Zealand heroes - Part 8 of a continuing series - Katherine Mansfield Katherine Mansfield revolutionised the 20th Century English short story.

Her best work shakes itself free of plots and endings and gives the story, for the first time, the expansiveness of the interior life, the poetry of feeling, the blurred edges of personality. She is taught worldwide because of her historical importance but also because her prose offers lessons in entering ordinary lives that are still vivid and strong. And her fiction retains its relevance through its open-endedness-its ability to raise discomforting questions about identity, belonging and desire. Katherine Mansfield was born in Wellington in 1888.

Political Quote of the Week "For a politician to complain about the press is like a ship's captain complaining about the sea" Enoch Powell - British Conservative Politician

Richard Worth

ENDS

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