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Maxim Institute - real issues

Maxim Institute - real issues. ============

this week: No. Thirty-Eight

Contents: --------- Defence - first things first The first responsibility of the government is defence of the realm. However the government presumes peace is normative, recent events prove its not and we need to come to terms with that reality. When right are wrong - birth porn saga Whether a baby's birth can be used in a pornographic movie is a case of confused rights. Without any clear or consistent common ethic the only recourse is law. Smacking debate - Minister speaks up Mr Tamihere has spoken out against the call to ban smacking and should be applauded for his common sense. Preserving the status quo is not advocating smacking as the sole mean of discipline, nor is it advocating abuse. Suicide statistics down - real causes obscured The lowest youth suicide numbers in a decade are no cause for celebration because 96 young people took their lives in 2000. While complex the causes need to be seen in the context of human disconnection and the decline of the family.

Defence - first things first
In the debate about a nuclear free New Zealand and the rising threat of terrorism we need to remember that the first responsibility of government is to defend its citizens. If a government fails in this area, it can't conduct its business in others.

Section 5 of the Defence Act empowers the Governor General, in the name of the Sovereign to raise and maintain armed forces for the defence of New Zealand, the defence of its interests at home or abroad, the contribution of forces under collective security (e.g. ANZUS) or to the United Nations. In April last year the Prime Minister said we live in a 'benign strategic environment.' But problems in the Solomons, Fiji, 9/11 and just this week, the Bali bombing have proven this wrong. Our anti-nuclear policy has always been a luxury and looks like it is now compromising trade as well as security.

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At the beginning of World War 1 there were 89,000 (8 percent) of New Zealanders under arms (in the armed forces or training). Taxation was one third of what it is today. An equivalent for New Zealand in 2002 would be 300,000 citizens under arms. Are we pulling our weight? Probably not. The sub-text is ideological insofar the Government maintains a notion that peace and pacifism run together. The present Government also presumes peace to be normative. But conflict is normative. The sooner we come to terms with that reality the better.

When rights are wrong - the porn film saga

It's a drama in itself: whether or not 'Nikki' can have the birth of her baby recorded for a pornographic film. First made public a couple of months ago, this issue has now been through the courts, with the judge ruling proceedings can be filmed but not images of the actual birth and baby. Now, Health Minister Annette King has banned any filming in a public hospital. Meanwhile filmmaker Steve Crow is saying he may make his film in a private setting and any profits will go to the child. This is an attempt to pour oil on troubled waters.

And, very murky waters, too. We have a case of confused rights. The Children's Commissioner Roger McClay is talking of the unborn child's rights - but death by abortion is legally sanctioned by the state and occurring every day (there were over 16 000 last year, but he's not railing against that); we hear of 'Nikki's rights to do as she pleases with her body (a feminist argument); Steve Crow also has rights to conduct his business; the Minister has a right to protect the hospital from being used for 'unlawful purposes', and there are the rights of medical professionals and hospital management to protect a clinical environment from the intrusion of the seedy world of 'adult entertainment'. Whose rights are most right? Without any clear or consistent sense of morality operating, the only recourse is law.

The whole situation is bizarre, but we not hearing ethical remonstrations - only points of law and legal technicalities. Annette King is to be commended for intervening. Her only clout comes from a little known part of the law (section 32 of the Public Health and Disability Act), but at least she's prepared to be decisive. It would be much better and less costly if there was a common understanding about what was right and wrong in the first place.

The smacking debate - Minister speaks up
The Minister of Youth Affairs, John Tamihere, has spoken out against the call to ban smacking. But his position has angered groups promoting children's rights and he's been muzzled from making any further comments. Mr Tamihere is to be applauded for having the courage to air his common sense views, even if they are unpopular.

What he's saying is eminently sensible. This is a big issue and it's not going to go away. It rests on a child advocacy and rights position championed by the UN (the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNCROC). In this world of international law, states are to give children full adult rights of participation and where possible, eliminate any vestiges of a view of children which sees them as immature. In short, children have been reconceptualised from being innocent, immature and in need of guidance and protection, to being agents fully capable of participation at every level of decision-making. This is the context which allows those wanting to ban smacking to say things like "You're not able to hit an adult and get away with it, so why children?". However this overrides the fact children are not adults, and the reality of all history that this is the phase of life to teach and reinforce right and wrong.

Preserving the status quo is not advocating smacking as the sole means of discipline, nor is it advocating abuse. Advocates for change do not seem to understand the difference between hurt, harm and abuse - they fixate on the extreme cases of parental irresponsibility and cruelty. Most parents are responsible and intuitively know the difference. Abolishing Section 59 of the Crimes Act, which allows parents to use 'reasonable force' assumes the state is more authoritative in the raising of children than parents are. But seen against the wider cultural shift to embrace the international imperatives of the UN, that is precisely what will happen.

To read an article published this week by Bruce Logan click on:

Suicide statistics down - but real causes obscured

The number of young people committing suicide has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade, according to Associate Minister of Health, Jim Anderton. "But", he said, "there is no cause for celebration because 96 young people [aged 15 to 24] took their own lives that year [2000]". These figures mean that there is a suicide rate of 18.1 per 100,000 young people, compared with 22.6 in 1999 and 28.7 in 1995. The statistics are encouraging, but as Mr Anderton adds, they are still too high, and overall, our rates are still very high: New Zealand had the second-highest rate for males aged 15 to 24, and the fourth-highest rate for females among selected OECD countries. Mr Anderton is well aware these statistics are not just numbers as his family has suffered the trauma of suicide.

The Canterbury Suicide Project found that about 90 percent of people who committed suicide or made suicide attempts had one or more psychiatric disorders at the time: depression, substance disorders, drug and alcohol abuse and significant behaviour problems.

Mr Anderton believes that improved mental health services and the youth suicide prevention strategy released in 1998 have made an impact. That may be so, but there is a deeper problem that many politicians seem to overlook. They tend to point to new laws and programmes, and depending on their political philosophy, at economic conditions and employment opportunities as well. However there is a marked reluctance to take a contextual view that sees suicide as a consequence of human disconnectedness and the decline of family. Certainly, the issues are complex, but the undermining of the natural family - sometimes directly assisted by Government policy - is a critical factor. The despair that manifests in clinical conditions has its roots in the hopelessness and sense of dislocation that comes from being adrift, and functioning families are all about belonging, acceptance and connectedness.

We can look to the Government to do something about this, but more law and programmes won't get to the heart of the matter, despite excellent intentions. The Government can't legislate to make us belong, only strong families can attend to that.

For more information on the statistics released visit:

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Bertrand Russell

It is preoccupation with possession more than anything else that prevents men from living freely and nobly.

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Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from the Maxim Institute. The focus is current New Zealand events with an attempt to provide insight into critical issues beyond what is usually presented in the media. This service is provided free of charge, although a donation to Maxim is appreciated. You are encouraged to forward the newsletter to others who might be interested. Items may be used for other purposes, such as teaching, research or civic action. If items are published elsewhere, Maxim should be acknowledged.

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