Posts Tagged ‘Muriel Newman’

Muriel Newman: Making a Difference

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

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NZCPR Weekly

Making a Difference

This week, NZCPR Weekly looks at whether individuals can make a difference (printer-friendly view>>>), NZCPR Guest Sheryl Savill explains why she started the petition to hold a Citizens Initiated Referendum on the smacking ban, and the poll asks whether a smack should be a criminal offence.

Can an individual make a difference?

Sheryl Savill would like to think so. Sheryl is the instigator of the Citizens Initiated Referendum petition on smacking. Launched in February last year, her petition asked the question, “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

Sheryl, a young mother of two, whose husband is a police officer, is this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator. In her article she explains, “I am not normally one to get involved in politics or public demonstrations. But when I realised how the anti-smacking bill would directly affect the way I was raising my children, I just knew that I had to do something. And I discovered very early on that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way – many of the parents I talked to thought the bill was ludicrous. So ludicrous, they felt that there wasn’t even a need for a petition… surely our politicians weren’t that blind”.

Well, Sheryl, it appears that they were (and are)!

The Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill – which repealed Section 59 of the Crimes Act to remove the defence of “reasonable” force for parents who physically discipline their children – was passed by the vast majority of Parliament in May last year. Only 8 MPs voted against it: ACT’s Rodney Hide and Heather Roy; New Zealand First’s Winston Peters, Ron Mark and Pita Paraone; United Future’s Judy Turner; and the Independents Gordon Copeland and Philip Field.

Both Labour and National changed their stance on the issue, originally intending to allow their MPs exercise a conscience vote, but ultimately requiring them to vote along party lines. This turnaround was particularly damaging for Labour as before the 2005 election, the Prime Minister went on record stating, “As you know I do not support a ban on smacking. I am opposed to that because I think it defies human nature. No-one wants to see a stressed and harassed parent who in exasperation lightly smacks a child dragged before the court”. 1

The resignation of Philip Field from the Labour Party in February 2007 had a major influence on the Prime Minister. Field’s resignation cut Labour’s majority and forced the Government to turn to the Green Party – but their support came at a high price which included government backing for Sue Bradford’s anti-smacking bill.

For many New Zealanders the Prime Minister’s u-turn became symptomatic of the inherent problems with MMP. It demonstrated that under MMP parties are quite prepared to abandon any principles they might have held in order to retain power. It showed that under MMP, the needs of the electorate and the good of the country are all too often relegated to secondary considerations.

Under the new law, any parent who uses any sort of force – verbal or physical – to discipline a child is breaking the law. And while the Police have the discretion not to prosecute a particular case, all cases must nonetheless be investigated by the Police and Child Youth and Family. That takes the state right into the heart of the family, judging parents and dictating how they should or should not raise their children.

Sheryl explains that this was one of the main reasons that she started the Referendum petition: “The government was intruding yet again into the lives of parents, and as a mum, I was really concerned about the impact that this type of bill would have on my family. To remove and undermine a parent’s authority in their own home is a treacherous area for the State to wade into”. To read Sheryl’s article here>>>

And the horror stories that are starting to emerge are very worrying with children as young as five telling parents that they have rights and threatening to report them to their teachers or the Police if they try to discipline them. If you have concerns about the effects of this new law, please feel free to share them when you vote in the poll.

The law change proved to be very damaging for Labour, as the trend series for the Colmar Brunton political opinion polls shows. According to the poll taken in May 2007, just after the passing of the Bill, support for Labour had dropped from 39 percent in mid-April to 31 percent, their lowest poll rating since February 1997. In comparison, National rose in the poll from 49 percent to 56 percent, their highest poll rating since September 1990. With July’s Colmar Brunton poll showing Labour on 35 percent and National on 52 percent support, history may well show that for Labour, the anti-smacking bill was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Sheryl Savill’s petition for a Citizens’ Initiated Referendum is New Zealand’s forty-second petition since the CIR Act was introduced in 1993. While referenda have been proposed on matters as diverse as outlawing battery hens, saving forests, and changing the flag, only three have been successful so far. They were the 1995 firefighters referendum, supported by 87.8 percent of voters, and the 1999 proposals by Margaret Robertson to reduce the number of MPs and by Norm Withers to introduce tougher sentences for violent crime. They gained 81.5 and 91.8 percent support respectively.

Parliament’s Clerk’s Office, which is checking whether the petition has been signed by 10 percent of registered voters, is expected to deliver the news on its success or otherwise by August 23rd. If successful, the government must announce the referendum date within a month, and the ballot must then be held within a year.

Undoubtedly, the best time to hold a citizens initiated referendum is at an election. It ensures a far higher turnout at a much lower cost. However, it appears highly unlikely that the Prime Minister will want anti-smacking “nanny-state” accusations clouding the election campaign, even though putting her own political interests ahead of the wishes of the public will cost taxpayers an estimated $10 million – the cost of holding a stand-alone referendum.

I started this column by asking whether an individual can make a difference. Sheryl is definitely making a difference.

In my own way, I would like to think that I am also making a difference with the New Zealand Centre for Political Research. As many of you will know I established the NZCPR straight after the 2005 election, when I found that my nine-year Parliamentary term had suddenly come to an end. I believed that a public policy think tank could make a real contribution to changing the future direction of New Zealand by using research, publications and open public debate to promote the power of the free market as well as the benefits of liberty, responsibility and limited government.

While most people were very encouraging, many said I would not be able to find the funding. However, I decided to put my trust in the readers, believing that if they agreed with what I was doing they would support me.

In many respects the NZCPR has been an outstanding success. NZCPR Weekly is delivered to leading decision-makers and discerning readers through what is probably the country’s largest electronic mailing list, and, thanks to the enthusiasm of recipients, NZCPR newsletters are regularly circulated around the Internet – even making it onto Fox News!

The NZCPR website ( has grown in popularity now attracting around a million hits a month and evolving into a veritable treasure trove of services designed to keep readers well informed with live local news feeds on the HOME page, international feeds on the MEDIA page, and political feeds on the PARLIAMENT page.

The NZCPR FORUM ( is an important part of the operation for it is here that your opinion counts. The wealth of weekly comments from readers can be found in HANSARD, the HOUSE is the window into Parliamentary business, and the GENERAL DEBATE features commentary and information that NZCPR subscribers would like to see promoted more widely.

Christine Davey is a Forum contributor who is making a real difference. Mother of a P addict, Christine wanted to highlight how this dangerous drug is destroying lives. She started the blog “P” and the NZ Community on our Forum and has now built a comprehensive resource on the damage caused by P. Through the blog, Christine has gained the confidence to speak out, to challenge Members of Parliament, to write press releases, and now to become the Spokesman on Drug Issues for the Sensible Sentencing Trust.  As she recently explained to me, “All this has come about because you invited me to join your Forum 2 years ago – and look where I am now!” (To read Christine’s story visit her blog on

With your assistance, the ideas communicated through the NZCPR are making a real difference and are helping to shape the future direction of New Zealand. But while our influence continues to grow, funding remains a real struggle. The New Zealand Centre for Political Research has become a full-time commitment, taking all of my time and effort to keep it going. If you value the work of the NZCPR, then please help me – I can only continue on with your support… if you would like to help, please click here>>>

This week’s poll asks: 
Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?
Please feel free to share your experiences of the new anti-smacking law.

To vote click here>>>
(Readers comments will be posted here>>> daily)

All articles can be found on the NZCPR RESEARCH PAGE – click here>>>
1 TVNZ News, PM’s stance on smacking questioned

Muriel Newman: Moral Neutrality

Sunday, July 20th, 2008



20 July 2008
Moral Neutrality

Earlier this month Britain’s culture of “moral neutrality” came under attack. In a speech in Glasgow, Conservative Party Leader Rt Hon David Cameron said that the obese, drug addicts and the poor have no-one to blame but themselves.

He defined moral neutrality as the refusal to make judgements about what is good or bad, right or wrong: “We as a society have been far too sensitive. In order to avoid injury to people’s feelings, in order to avoid appearing judgemental, we have failed to say what needs to be said. Instead we prefer moral neutrality, a refusal to make judgments about what is good and bad behaviour, right and wrong behaviour. Bad. Good. Right. Wrong. These are words that our political system and our public sector scarcely dare use any more. Refusing to use these words – right and wrong – means a denial of personal responsibility and the concept of a moral choice”.

He went on to say, “We talk about people being “at risk of obesity” instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise. We talk about people being at risk of poverty, or social exclusion: it’s as if these things – obesity, alcohol abuse, drug addiction – are purely external events like a plague or bad weather. Of course, circumstances – where you are born, your neighbourhood, your school, and the choices your parents make – have a huge impact. But social problems are often the consequence of the choices that people make”.

David Cameron believes that there is now a very real danger of Britain becoming “a de-moralised society, where nobody will tell the truth anymore about what is good and bad, right and wrong. That is why children are growing up without boundaries, thinking they can do as they please, and why no adult will intervene to stop them – including, often, their parents. If we are going to get any where near solving some of these problems, that has to stop”. To read the speech click the sidebar link>>>

The parallels with New Zealand are surely plain for all to see. We have now become so non-judgemental that speaking the truth and calling a spade a spade, all too often leads to complaints to the Human Rights Commission – not to mention the Press Council, the Advertising Standards Authority, and all of the other organisations that sit in judgement on such matters.

The danger is that human rights laws, which were originally introduced under the guise of protecting individuals from discrimination, impinge on the most basic human right of all – individual freedom. Under the Labour government, human rights arguments have been used to impose the political agendas of favoured minority groups onto the public at large to the extent that, for example, Maori cultural beliefs now dominate the New Zealand education curriculum1 and sexual orientation has ceased to be a private matter but – with a question on sexual orientation being planned for the census – one in which the state has a particular interest.2

According to the prevailing culture of political correctness that has developed during Labour’s regime, nothing is anyone’s fault anymore. If you are too lazy to work, the government will pay you to stay at home; if you are one of the 5,279 drunks and druggies drawing a benefit, the government will contribute $1 million a week to keep your habit going 3; if you are a teenage girl with little education and no career prospects, the government will pay you to bear and raise the next generation of children; if you are grossly obese, the government will pay $25,000 to have your stomach-stapled.4

Yet individuals make myriads of choices almost every moment of every day, and learning to live with the consequences of those choices is an important part of life. That’s how society operates. It is surely not the role of the state to interfere in the free choices that people make (so long as they do not harm others), nor to shield people from the consequences. To do so creates a ‘victim’ culture whereby the state rewards those who make poor choices with ever-more generous taxpayer-funded compassion.

As John Stuart Mill said so eloquently in defence of the freedom of individuals from the power of the state in On Liberty in 1859, “… the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise… In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute.”

Society’s primary role of moral teacher – instilling in children what is good or bad, right or wrong – has traditionally been the family. Children who are given strong boundaries of what is and is not appropriate behaviour, and are imbued with a clear understanding of the consequences of the moral choices they make, generally become responsible members of society. But when parents fail to properly bring up their children, the results can be disastrous.

Just last month the Christchurch Press told the story of a recovering drug addict: John’s drug use started at home with parents who smoked cannabis and took pills. By age nine he was drinking alcohol, and by age 11 smoking cannabis. At age 14 he started using intravenous opiate. It was all downhill after that.

John admitted that he had committed over 500 burglaries, robberies and dishonesty offences to fund his drug habit: “I committed a lot of crime. I committed crime I’ve never been caught for over the years. I’d go out and commit burglaries four, five or six burglaries a night. Every night. Every day. Even while I was at work I’d go away at lunch time and commit a crime to support my habit that night. I was using anywhere up to $2000 daily…”

John has five children, all girls; two of the older ones, aged 17 and 18, use drugs: “I definitely don’t want them to have the same life as I’ve had. I had a choice to say no. It’s not a sickness it’s a personal choice. For these younger generations I pray for them not to get into it.” 5

When the Labour Government introduced the anti-smacking law last year, the vast majority of New Zealanders opposed it. Not because they condoned violence against children – no-one condones that. They opposed the smacking ban because they understand that the dynamics of family life are delicately balanced. Anyone who has raised children knows that there is a fine line between good outcomes and the abyss. And the last thing that a family needs is the heavy hand of the state interfering in private matters.

By banning smacking, the state has now intruded deep into the heart of family life. A predictable wedge has been driven between parents and children. It has created a situation where many parents, now fearful of prosecution, are afraid to set proper boundaries for their children in case the children object and complain to the authorities. This is now inhibiting the way that parents raise their children to the point where, when the going gets tough, many parents are now throwing in the towel and passing the problem of their unruly children onto the wider community.

In his speech, David Cameron acknowledges that the social breakdown seen in Britain is caused by family breakdown, welfare dependency, debt, drugs, poverty, poor policing, inadequate housing, and failing schools, and he warns that society, “is in danger of losing its sense of personal responsibility, social responsibility, common decency and even public morality”.

The fractures that we now see in New Zealand families and communities have deepened over the last nine years. The bonds that link our society have become weaker. The people most at risk are the vulnerable – those without an education, without a good job, without strong family supports. These are the very people that a Labour Government should have been protecting through sweeping social reforms to ensure that every child succeeds at school, that no-one is left to languish on welfare, and that family life is encouraged and supported. By failing to make the necessary reforms, Labour has entrenched disadvantage for far too many New Zealanders.

David Cameron claims that in Britain there has been a relentless erosion of responsibility, social virtue, self-discipline, and a respect for others. He believes that the only way to turn it around is to encourage personal responsibility as a cornerstone social value.

Encouraging personal responsibility as a cornerstone social value – as well as throwing off the stultifying political correctness that has weighed this country down for far too long – would undoubtedly be a step in the right direction for New Zealand too.

This week’s poll asks: Do you think that a culture of “moral neutrality” has developed in New Zealand. ? Go to Poll >>>


1 Muriel Newman, Selling Our kids Short
Dominion, As you like it: A sexy census
3 Waikato Times, The benefit and the doubt
4 Dominion Post, Hundreds to get taxpayer-funded stomach stapling
Christchurch Press, P makes addicts human crime waves

If you would like to comment on this issue please click >>>

Your Comments:

Reader’s comments will be posted on the NZCPR Forum page click to view >>>.

Muriel Newman: Rich Country – Poor Families

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

1 April 06
Rich Country – Poor Families

In a sense, New Zealand is one of the richest countries on earth. We have a great climate, beautiful countryside, and a more leisurely pace of life. Our people are friendly, hard working and caring. We are close to each other in a way that comes from being a small country remote from the rest of the world.

On top of that, we have a wealth of natural resources, we are great innovators and entrepreneurs, and we have established international recognition for our creativity and achievement in a multitude of fields of endeavour.

So why is it that so many New Zealanders have a deep-seated sense of foreboding about the future? Sure, it could be the negative growth (no economic growth recorded in the second half of last year) or the rapidly falling dollar (the Minister of Finance sent officials to Japan last year to talk the dollar down). Maybe it’s the burgeoning balance of payments deficit (foreign debt grows as the dollar falls), or the rising price of petrol (adding in today’s 1c petrol tax increase, 91 octane is expected to rise to $1.62 a litre). But I suspect that the issues that are driving that sense of gloom are much more personal.

At the heart of the problem appears to be a growing sense of despair about the state of the New Zealand family. As a country with a strong tradition of two-parent married families, many New Zealanders feel that Labour’s interference in family matters has been detrimental. In particular, law changes introduced as part of their social engineering agenda are manifesting themselves in negative ways.

There is a new reticence for young people to commit themselves to marriage – why bother, when de-facto relationships have the same legal privilege as marriage? Yet common sense tells us that marriage signals a commitment for life, giving young women, in particular, the promise of stability and security they need in order to begin thinking about starting a family.

There is also a new tendency for relationships to break up just before the three-year joint property claim thresh-hold is reached. Couples who are not quite sure whether things will work out between them, are not prepared to take the risk of staying together if it means signing over half of their assets.

With the Domestic Purposes Benefit already incentivising the massive breakdown of the family, these more recent changes are making the situation worse by giving rise to more unstable, transient relationships. It is therefore little wonder we are seeing an escalation in child abuse and domestic violence as well as the fall-out from the breakdown of stable families – marginalized fathers, alienated children, and excluded grandparents.

Just this week, New Zealand’s top Family Court judge said that violence in the home is blighting the country’s image as a good place to raise children. Yet I do not hear the Judge – or any of the other professionals who work in this field – calling for a change to the policies that are driving this social collapse.

And, with Labour’s new family welfare package coming into effect today, resulting in 350,000 families receiving income support, we urgently need to review the wisdom of massive government interference in the family, before more lives are damaged or lost.

A new publication released by the British think tank Civitas this week, examines the wisdom of state interference in the family from an international perspective. In her book Family Policy, Family Changes, Patricia Morgan compares the state of the family in Sweden, Italy and Britain, and concludes that families thrive in countries where there is less government interference.

In Britain, where an anti-marriage agenda is being strongly promoted by the public service, universities and government funded social agencies, family problems are rife, with Britain topping the league tables in several of the most worrying indicators of breakdown, including divorce and teenage pregnancy. In Sweden, where a comprehensive social engineering programme has transferred many family responsibilities to the state – to a degree unseen outside of the Soviet bloc – thereare even higher rates of out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation than Britain.

Italy, however, has effectively had no government intervention into the family, and is still the home of the traditional family unit. Divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births, including teenage pregnancies, are extremely low. Cohabitation is so rare as to be difficult to measure. Young people live with their parents until they get married, and, for most women, marriage will represent their first living-together relationship.

While government interference in the family is a cause of major concern, there are many other matters that are driving that feeling of despondency felt by many New Zealanders. In particular, there is an overbearing sense that things could be so much better, especially in those important areas that the government is responsible for.

With 12,000 hospital beds and 12,000 hospital managers and administrators is the growth in New Zealand’s hospital waiting lists being caused by too much bureaucracy? Are we confident that our welfare system is working properly when we all know fit and healthy young men and women who are languishing on benefits? Would primary and secondary school education improve if vouchers were introduced in order to give parents the same choice that they currently have at pre-school and tertiary level?

And why don’t we take a common sense approach to the small business sector – the engine room of our economy – by freeing them up from the mountains of unnecessary cost and red tape that inhibits their growth and productivity? Why not lower taxes across the board not only to boost the economy and create a competitive advantage for Kiwi businesses, but also to establish New Zealand as an attractive destination for international business?

There is so much that can be done to solve those problems that are holding us back – as a nation that responds quickly to positive incentives, with good leadership and sensible ideas, we could really fly!

The NZCPD guest comment this week comes from Sir Roger Douglas who outlined to the ACT Party conference last week, the importance of creating a vision for a better New Zealand (View >>>).

Printer friendly version (PDF) View >>>

This weeks poll. The poll this week asks do you think that the family related policies that Labour has introduced are good for the country? To take part in our online poll >>>