Maxim Institute - real issues - this week: No. Forty-Six 12 DECEMBER 2002
* Privy Council vs. Supreme Court - New Zealand is set to ditch the Privy Council without any public outcry for change.
* TV violence research project - A new committee will look into the amount of violence children are exposed to on TV but will it tell us anything new and reduce violent entertainment?
* Family statistics - New data from Statistics New Zealand has implications for the proposed Commission for the Family.
* Local Government Bill - National leader Bill English speaks of a 'taniwha clause' - are we seeing the emergence of a new civil religion in New Zealand?
* Maxim Conference: 22 March 2003 - Make a note in your diary now!
Privy Council vs. Supreme Court - pragmatism vs. principle
Attorney General Margaret Wilson has initiated removing the Privy Council as our last court of appeal and in its place wants to establish a new Supreme Court. The Prime Minister says this "will make justice more accessible", while Ms Wilson says it will be more responsive to New Zealanders' needs and more affordable. This may be true for the litigants but could cost taxpayers over $10 million to set up and then $5 million each year, while the Privy Council costs the taxpayer nothing. Distance is another issue with the London based Privy Council hearing around five New Zealand cases per year, in comparison it is expected the Supreme Court to be based in Wellington will hear ten times that number.
The arguments in favour sound plausible. However, Ms Clark's comments seem to suggest that justice is currently inaccessible, which in itself, raises important issues. More importantly, it brings about a fundamental constitutional change - a massive transfer of the centre of power. With the Government appointing judges, courts could become less independent and more activist and political. The necessary gap between the judiciary and the legislature will be diminished. And, of course, the move paves the way for a republic - already the seed has been sown that this is "inevitable". As with many radical initiatives, there is no public demand for change; rather Ms Wilson has put the project on top of her agenda supported by a few others in senior places.
It is proposed that the stand-alone court of five judges be headed by Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, and one judge must be well versed in tikanga Maori, which many would applaud. However others point out that we will also lose access to some of the best and most internationally experienced judges in the Commonwealth. New Zealand, after all, is a small country and we stand to lose more than what we gain in scrapping the Privy Council. Furthermore are we ready for such a significant constitutional change?
TV violence research project - a positive first step
Green MPs Sue Kedgley and Sue Bradford have successfully convinced the Broadcasting Minister to set up a working group to look at violence on television and the effect it is having. Children's advocates say that by the age of 16 a child watching what is considered to be a "normal" amount of television will have seen 16,000 simulated murders or real murders on the news and will also have seen over 200,000 acts of violence. Mr Maharey says this continues to be an issue of concern to New Zealanders. "Parents, in particular [he says], worry about the consequences for their children." It's a timely project. Even though monitoring TV is in its charter, the Broadcasting Standards Authority has never done so. The Mental Health Foundation monitored violence up to the early 1990s, until funding ran out.
We all know there is a problem with violence in society and rising rates of violent crime. While there are many factors contributing across nations the presence of media violence presented as children's entertainment is the common variable. Psychologist David Grossman, a retired US infantry officer, says killing does not come naturally; you have to be taught to kill. "How the military increases the killing rate of soldiers in combat is instructive, because our culture today is doing the same thing to our children." The means of regular visualised exposure to violence and killing desensitises and conditions children in ways similar to basic training for soldiers.
The Government is to be commended for acknowledging the concern but the committee will probably tell us what we already know, when strategy is required to reduce violent media content. Parenting is also part of the equation and TV is often used as a 'baby sitter'. The first thing parents can do is to be discerning about what their children are watching. Public opinion can also influence TV programming by sending a message through writing to broadcasters, advertisers and taking up cases with the Broadcasting Standards Authority. Hopefully the outcomes from the committee's work will not be sabotaged by commercial interests and can produce a positive plan to reduce TV violence, particularly in children's viewing hours.
To view an article by David Grossman click on: http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/tv_violence.html
Family statistics - new trends highlight demographic changes
The tradition of a family of two parents and 2.4 children is fading in New Zealand, although it still remains dominant. Statistics New Zealand says the 2001 Census showed a rise in the number of couple-only families and one-parent families. Six of every ten families had children, with 41 percent of those families having one child, 36 percent having two children, and 23 percent three or more children. The number of couple-with-children families has decreased from 48 percent to 42 percent in the last ten years, although marriage still accounts for almost 80 percent of all partnerships. The percentage of both couple-only and single-parent families has risen to 39 and 19, respectively. Notably the census reported the actual numbers, rather than the percentages of same-sex couples with children (1356), and most of these (960) were female couples.
All of this is relevant to the proposed Commission for the Family. What is responsible government and what will be promoted in light of these figures? The two clear options (there may be others) are: 1) to constitute the Commission in a manner which reflects the trends, and thereby create policy which approves, accepts and condones what is happening; or 2) create a Commission which recognises, acknowledges and values what the two-parent family contributes to the economic, social, emotional and educational well-being of society. The former appears inclusive, but actually denies the best interests of the child by not emphasising his or her need for both a mother and father. The latter attends to the best interests of the child and is more akin to what we call Civil Society. This accepts the reality of alternative arrangements but values the unique structural and relational importance of the natural family and seeks to preserve and promote it.
Local Government Bill - questions of civil religion and governance
New local government law is intended to "reflect a coherent position on the role and purpose of local government...We [according to former Local Government Minister Sandra Lee in introducing the Bill] want to move from a detailed, prescriptive form of law to one that is empowering and flexible..." Accordingly, Maori are given special consideration. But National leader Bill English has major concerns about the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi and a push towards separate seats for Maori. This he has called the "taniwha clause". He asks what is meant by "particular regard to the relationships Maori have with the land, sea and air, and other taonga". "We are starting [he says] to call it the taniwha clause because we are giving the force of law to a spiritual belief."
The "taniwha clause" is reinforcing the establishment of a Maori civil religion, ie. Government-sponsored religion. Civil religion consists of symbols, ideas and practices that provide an orientation attempting to bind people together in common action within the public square. It is "religious" because it evokes commitment to an overall worldview, and expresses a people's ultimate sense of worth, identity and destiny. It is "civil" because it officially sanctions public expressions of rituals, sacred places, stories and other behaviours. This is certainly what the present government has attempted to do for Maori as it tries to remove the spectre of "colonial oppression" from civic consciousness.
Aside from the obvious political mileage to be had on both sides of this debate, another issue concerns democracy itself. What is the role of local government? Many people believe it should stick to rubbish, rates, roads and dogs on leashes. That, of course, is simplistic, but the emphasis is on the pragmatic. From a wider viewpoint, local government is an organisational structure that helps maintain Civil Society. It upholds and enforces the law and mediates between central government and individuals, attempting always to act fairly in the common interest. However, with this Bill, especially the so-called "taniwha clause", we are seeing potential to undermine local authority and replace it with state power. While on the surface it looks to be "empowering local communities", all the dynamics suggest we're likely to see a consolidation of state (central government) power. The critical question remains: Where does authority lie?
Inaugural Maxim Conference - 22 March 2003
Make a note in your diary now to attend the inaugural Maxim Conference. 'In Search of Civil Society' is the theme of the one day conference with an outstanding line up of international speakers including; Rutgers University Professor of Sociology, David Popenoe; President of Mackinac Public Policy Centre, Lawrence Reed; Australian MP and Chairman of the Federal Policy Committee on Family, Kevin Andrews; and Centre for Independent Studies Education Analyst, Jennifer Buckingham. The conference venue is the Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre in Auckland, to book accommodation call 0800 WAIPUNA. More details and registration form will be available early in 2003, for any more information please call (09) 627 3261.
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Clement Attlee (former British PM)
Democracy means government by discussion but it is only effective if you can stop people talking.
To subscribe send a blank email to: mailto:email@example.com
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 this 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.
Maxim Institute 49 Capehorn Road, Hillsborough, Auckland. Ph (09) 627 3261 50 Acacia Avenue, Riccarton, Christchurch. Ph. (03) 343 1570