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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 93

Maxim Institute
real issues.

this week: No. Ninety-Three 11 DECEMBER 2003

* Loving our teenagers
Despite dire predictions our teenagers are not a lost cause

* Families Commission common sense
Amendments to the Families Commission Bill are a step in the right direction

* 'Girls can do anything' - except pay off students loans
The quest for equality and criticism of student loans is dangerous

* Summer Evidence now available
The latest issue of Maxim's journal is compelling summer reading

Loving our teenagers

Are our teenagers in crisis? The New Zealand Herald this week reported: 'The present generation of teenagers in the West will become the fattest, sickest and least fertile in history, doctors warn. Their eating, drinking, sexual, drug taking and smoking habits are creating a public health time bomb, say British and New Zealand specialists.'

These concerns are backed-up by data. Our youth suicide rate, for example, although it has recently declined, is still among the highest of all Western nations. An Auckland University Youth 2000 questionnaire answered by nearly 10,000 high school pupils found that more than 20 percent of girls aged 15 reported having serious depression.

What's going on? Our problems have no single cause, but changes in family structure, shifts in attitudes, the growth of materialism, an ethic of 'choice' and self-gratification are all significant.

Teenagers are idealistic, but today their inheritance from the previous generation has killed that idealism and replaced it with the goal of living for pleasure. 'Live for today, maximise pleasure but try to minimise harm' is about the best we can offer them. The utilitarian approach to 'sexual health' peddled by the Family Planning Association (FPA), for example, kills idealism because it puts abstinence on the same plane as the 'safe-sex message' - it's all about choice. The FPA's latest 'Three Wise Men' campaign featuring posters of men with condom packets sticking out of their pockets shows just how reductionist their message has become.

If our teenagers are not to become the 'fattest, sickest and least fertile in history', we need to restore some hope in ideals, and provide a stable context in which they are raised. To face the pressures and changes they experience, children need families committed to them over the long haul.

That's not a function of government or new rights law, but simple connectedness. Secondly, they need the confidence that comes from leadership that can impart and inspire vision. When that's not there, hope diminishes. The state of society and inheritance we pass onto to our children is a reflection on our priorities as a nation.

Families Commission common sense

The Families Commission Bill will today pass its third and final reading in Parliament meaning the Commission will be established in law before Christmas. At a cost of $28 million over the next four years, its main function is family advocacy. United Future deserves credit for persuading the government to amend the Bill to improve its effectiveness with the following amendment:

...the Commission must identify and have regard to factors that help to maintain or enhance either or both of the following: a) families resilience b) families strength

The definition of 'family' has also been amended deleting the controversial inclusion of any group with 'significant psychological attachment'. Common sense has prevailed with the working definition now including marriage and specifically preventing gangs from qualifying. These were significant gains especially in light of the fact there was no select committee report.

Fortunately, there are politicians who understand that to maintain and enhance family resilience and strength requires a man and woman in a committed marriage. Junior cabinet Minister John Tamihere was on to it when he said this week: "In an ideal world the whanau is nurturing, supporting, loving, protecting, teaching, guiding, sharing and strengthening. But too often it does not. ...In an ideal world the whanau has two loving parents...We need to make it a reality again." His comments are all the more poignant in light of revelations this week regarding the murder of Coral Burrows by her step-father. Mr Tamihere understands that the real world of disorder has to be attended to, without losing sight of the ideal.

The Families Commission will provide for New Zealand research and stimulate public debate on marriage and family issues. Although Commissioners are still to be appointed, the Commission is due to be up and running by July next year.

'Girls can do anything' - except pay off students loans

The Human Rights Commission is examining a claim by the NZ University Students Association that student loans discriminate against women, because they take, on average, twice as long to clear their debt as men.

This confuses a symptom with the cause of the problem. The student loan scheme is unjust; however that applies to an entire generation, regardless of sex.

In making it a human rights issue, NZUSA has merged the quest for equality with criticism of the loan scheme, creating a dangerous line of reasoning.

People have equal opportunity to go to university, but this does not guarantee equal outcomes. Will this case compel the government to engineer the amount of time in which individuals must repay their debt? Why is the difference between sexes more significant than between ethnic or socio-economic groups (who may also take longer to repay than the average man)? Where do the consequences of individual choice and personal responsibility come into play?

The student loan repayment criteria, like mortgage conditions and academic requirements to enter university, are the same for either sex. Inequality would be more likely if the government altered the criteria.

Summer Evidence now available

The summer edition of Maxim's quarterly Evidence journal is now out and is the best yet. It has feature articles on the separation of church and state, probing the political left and right, and a report on the return visit of feminist Germaine Greer. We look, too, at how Civil Society works in practice in the Open Home Foundation and in a low decile school, Onehunga High.

Maxim researcher Andrew Shamy also offers a personal reflection on his time at university both here and in the US. He shares how the liberalism of contemporary academia was unquestioned despite much talk of 'critical thought'. Only subsequently has he realised that conservatism, rather than modern versions of liberal thought, actually provide a better and more secure basis for freedom.

You can read Andrew's article at: www.maxim.org.nz/ev/conserv.pdf You will need the free Acrobat reader programme to view this article. You can download it from http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html

Evidence is available at bookstores around New Zealand or by becoming a Maxim Partner. For more information visit: www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/act_page/act_support.html#member

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Claudia 'Lady Bird' Johnson (1912-)

"The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom."


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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. 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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