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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 234


Maxim Institute - real issues - No 234

7 December 2006 www.maxim.org.nz

Fiji's military enters politics - again Can your child count? Government agencies look to family links to target crime

IN THE NEWS New leader for the Australian Labor Party Next stage of immigration review

Fiji's military enters politics - again

Once more Fiji's fledgling constitutional democracy has been trampled by the military. The leader of the Fijian armed forces, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, followed through on his ultimatum requiring a "clean up" of politics by executing a bloodless coup this week against the democratically elected government led by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. Bainimarama had repeatedly demanded that Mr Qarase drop three pieces of controversial legislation. One, the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill, would have granted amnesty to the perpetrators of Fiji's last coup.

This is the fourth coup in Fiji within the past 20 years. The previous coups, led by George Speight in 2000 and two by Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987, were both related to long-standing racial tensions between Fiji's large Indian minority and the indigenous Fijian population, sweeping away multi-racial governments. This coup is different, however, as it has come about through a dispute between the executive arm of government and the military over specific legislation. However, in a constitutional democracy, it is not the job of the military to concern itself with affairs of state.

The events of recent days show the degree to which the Fijian military has enmeshed itself in politics. This is a problem symptomatic of politics in countries which have suffered from repeated coups. Once the military's intervention becomes an accepted part of politics, the line between civil and military authority becomes blurred and it is tempting for the military to interfere again, for ever smaller and less significant reasons. Commodore Bainimarama's contempt for democracy is clearly shown by his claims that military intervention is necessary to resolve the very conflict he created with the civil authority.

In democracies, the authority of government should be respected, as it assures our freedom. Differences should be worked out through legal processes. The coup is an affront to progress made towards constitutional democracy in Fiji. Sadly, Fiji's prosperity and its international relationships will again be damaged.

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Can your child count?

New Zealand's education system is set to become more accountable to parents and families in the near future. Both main political parties have, within a week of each other, announced measures to increase the information available to parents, allowing families to check their child's progress in school.

National's deputy leader, Bill English, has put forward a Private Member's Bill which would establish national standards for literacy and numeracy. The Education (National Standards of Literacy and Numeracy) Amendment Bill has been pulled from the ballot and would allow the government to set national benchmarks as well as the minimum progress a child should be making in school. Schools would be obliged to measure results against the benchmark, publishing the comparison in the school's annual report. This would allow parents to check their child's progress, to make sure they are learning basic skills of reading, writing and calculation. The comparison would also help target assistance to the pupils who need it.

Also this week, Education Minister, Steve Maharey, announced that schools and parents will be able to access the Achievement to Learn test data (Asstle). Asstle is a CD-ROM based achievement test, which highlights gaps in pupils' learning. Because Asstle has been going for five years, it is possible to compare achievement between similar schools and achievement over time, as well as to compare pupils' achievement with the national average. This could provide a form of benchmarking, although it is not a legal obligation.

Both main parties seem to recognise that a good education system is an accountable and transparent one and that parents need to be able to measure their children's progress against an external standard, so they can catch those falling behind and give them the help they need. Both moves are positive and welcome steps in the right direction, an education system which helps parents to be involved in their child's learning.

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Government agencies look to family links to target crime

Christchurch police, along with other government agencies such as the Ministry of Education and the Corrections Department, are trying an innovative way of tackling crime in the city, targeting family dysfunction in the top ten 'crime families'. District Commander, Sandra Manderson, told Radio New Zealand recently that two percent of the criminals commit 20 percent of the crime and that the ten families being targeted had cost the taxpayer $53 million in justice costs alone. According to the Commander, the "revolving door" of jail acts as no deterrent.

Instead, police are piecing together family trees and tackling the underlying issues such as truancy, family breakdown, unemployment, domestic violence and drug abuse.

This approach, a co-operative effort between many different government agencies, recognises that people's choices are profoundly affected by their family environment and dynamics. It recognises that many children never have an alternative way of living modelled to them, and aims at intensive intervention to change and challenge the choices families make for themselves and, crucially, for their children.

This new approach shows a promising willingness to recognise that people act within a context and a web of connectedness and belonging. In this case, the web of kinship is re-enforcing bad choices, but seeing people in the context of their families and as part of their communities, rather than atomised and separate from them, is a profoundly positive step.

A just society must be concerned with the relational element of people and with the connections between them. The authorities have always recognised this to some extent, and their increasing recognition of these connections and an approach tailored to considering them is to be welcomed.

Write to the editor

IN THE NEWS

New leader for the Australian Labor Party

On Monday the Australian Labor Party announced Kevin Rudd as its new leader. This move has been seen by some as part of an ongoing shift in the party towards the political "centre". It appears that the ALP is seeking to position itself as an alternative to the ruling Liberal Party by tempering what Mr Rudd describes as the "fundamental liberalism" of John Howard with a portrait of a government that is more caring and compassionate towards the family. The question for Australian voters is just how conservative they would like their government.

Read the transcript from the ALP press conference

Next stage of immigration review

Immigration Minister, David Cunliffe, has announced new immigration proposals as the next stage of the review of the Immigration Act 1987. The main intention is to attract skilled migrants and increase border security but critics have claimed that some elements of the proposals are too vague and will put human rights at risk. The proposals will now become a Bill, with the intention of replacing the 1987 Act. The Bill will probably come before Parliament in April next year.

View more information on the review

"Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it."

Judge Learned Hand (1872-1961)

ENDS

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