Entries in politics (128)


public records of births, death, marriages

NZ's parliament is considering a clumsy proposal by Labour to severely limit access to public records of births, death, marriages despite the fact such registers exist is that they record matters of public interest

this morning's NZ Herald reports on the Salvation Army's objection to this proposal:

  • it would severely impact the Salvation Army's family tracing service
  • the Salvation Army occasionally buys birth certificates for those who are too poor to afford the fee, but need one for identification, eg for a job application


Is NZ a Christian Country?

There is a lot of debate in NZ at present about whether NZ is a christian country. For example:
* the Inter-Faith Forum in Waitangi;
* should our parliament continue it's daily christian prayer.

David Farrar has a well argued suggestion on a revised parliamentary prayer:

Almighty God, guide us in our duties, so that we lay aside all private and personal interests, conduct the affairs of this House and of our country to the benefit of all New Zealanders, ensure the maintenance of justice, and secure the public welfare, peace and tranquillity of New Zealand Amen.

This is a prayer I could pray as a christian if I were in parliament. It is a simple but direct and comprehensive prayer. Think of the debate the other way around -if there was no prayer to open parliament each day, would you be happy with them implementing this prayer? I would be very happy for our MPs to start each day's debate this way.

I have written previously on Christians & Politics, including:

We often hear of the convention of the separation of church and state. In the United States this convention is written explicitly into their constitution. Interestingly, there is no such convention in our direct constitutional lineage. In the United Kingdom the church and the state are deeply inter-twined. However, New Zealand’s constitutional conventions lean more towards separation than integration of church and state.

However, the convention is often mis-understood. The convention is that church and state should be separate – in the sense of being identifiable as not being the same. This does not mean that church and state should not engage with each other.

In this vein, I assert that NZ is not a christian country in the sense of christianity being our national religion.

However, in saying that, we should be careful to acknowledge that much of NZ culture is deeply rooted in judeo-christian thought and practice. For example:
* our criminal law is based on biblical law like the Ten Commandments;
* our social welfare system is deeply rooted in a biblical understanding of social justice that goes back to Old Testament times;
* our education and health systems are evolutions of the western health and education traditions initiated in earlier centuries by christian churches.

Christianity, as I understand and practice it, is deeply personal. Even the collective form of christianity, ie the church, is best thought of as individuals grouping together. The New Testament describes this as the individuals in the church together making up the 'body'.

Here in NZ the church does not have formal power, or informal influence, to decree that NZers be members, or even be christians. Only individuals have the right, in NZ, to choose whether or not to be a christian and belong to a church.

Given the issues caused in history by churches assuming political power, I do not support the current calls by some that NZ be designated a christian country.

Our public policy advocacy as christians is much more effective and enduring when we win, or even influence, public policy debates through the power of our arguments.

We would be much less effective and enduring if we relied, in public policy debates, on political power that might flow from NZ being designated a christian country.


around the web (current affairs)

New Zealand has been told to increase its overseas aid from 0.27% to the international target of 0.7% (NZ Herald)

the Labour Party is trying to push through state funding of political parties in New Zealand but is struggling to gain both parliamentary and public opinion support for this

David Cross, who used to go to my church, gives his perspective on the anti-smacking bill currently going through parliament

with the assistance of senior Labour Party members a visiting Chinese delegation managed to get a journalist thrown out of a parliamentary press conference for which he had full accreditation, but at least Margaret Wilson is using her influence as Speaker to ensure it doesn't happen again

the annual round up of MP's financial interests has been published

Steve Maharey, one of our most senior government ministers, was caught swearing during a heated question time in parliament

Parliament is being reviewed to determine if the way it is organised and funded should be restructured

David Russell has retired from Consumer

Bill English argues against compulsory superannuation in NZ

Bill English also explains why he is voting against the anti-smacking bill

Parliament will be webcasting all debates from July

Whale Oil points out that NZers give about $1.3 billion per year to charities

Corridor meetings and paper passing are on the rise in Wellington as politicians and civil servants grow increasingly wary of the risk of email hacking


around the web (current affairs)

Whale Oil claims he has evidence that Taito Philip Field is now also being prosecuted by his local city council for building alterations without consent (here)

David Farrar quotes a NZ Herald article citing that of all the government ministers that have resigned under Helen Clark's watch (9 of them), none have been for failings directly in their ministerial roles despite some glaring failings over the 9 years this government has been in power ... which is a substantial shift from the former doctrine of ministerial responsibility for what goes on in their departments/ministries ... previously generally understood to be "responsible, but not to blame"

Matt McCarten has written on the recent specific instance of this surrounding the parole/release of Graham Burton despite the known dangers to the community (NZ Herald via Whale Oil)

Stephen Franks (lawyer, and former ACT MP) has a scathing review of the reports reviewing the role of the Parole Board and the Corrections Department in releasing Graham Barton

Mike Brantley, my brother-in-law, gives his well written opinion of the undue and hypocritical influence of the christian right on American politics

the NZ Herald also writes on this with an article "Mood swings against the Christian right"

Al Gore has done a lot to mainstream the conservation cause around the western world, and I applaud him for that, but as Ian Wishart and David Farrar point out it seems he has his own 'inconvenient truth' with the amount of energy he personally consumes

Whale Oil has an interesting analysis (here) suggesting that more US people die (per capita) from guns in Washington DC than do US soldiers in Iraq, so maybe "The U.S. should pull out of Washington"

Helen Clark has won a keenly sought visit to see George W Bush in the White House (NZ Herald here)

United Future has obtained a legal opinion that Sue Bradford's proposed anti-smacking bill goes far beyond banning violence against children and would even make 'time out' illegal (NZ Herald via David Farrar)

the NZ Herald is getting sick of being "spun a line" by the Auckland City Council - see the way they finish this article ... "SISTER CITIES How much do they cost to run? * Wednesday: $120,000 a year. * Yesterday: $270,000 a year. Source: Auckland City Council (both days)" (via David Farrar)

the NZ Herald admires John Key as a political leader who is getting things done, even from opposition (via David Farrar)

scathing reviews by David Farrar and Whale Oil (in the style of a Nigerian inheritance scam LOL) of Dick Hubbard, Auckland Mayor, trying to justify an expensive 'sister city' visit to Hamburg (Germany) by claiming it will lead to an increase in trade of up to $500 million

I've noted the above links to make them easier for me to re-find in the future ... but I'm happy to share them with you if you find them useful


around the web (current affairs)

links to 'current affairs' articles I've noted recently in Google Reader ... this will make them easier for me to re-find in the future (as Google Reader doesn't have a search feature but I can Google search this blog)

very good response from Russell Brown to the not guilty pleas for the three police charged with rape ... and two well articulated responses from Ian Wishart (here and here)

debate in Parliament during question time about the extent to which the Police will actually investigate and prosecute parents who physically discipline their children if the "anti-smacking" bill becomes law as seems likely (NZ Herald report here and Parliament transcript here - see question 11) ... but as David Farrar postulates it is more likely that the relevant question is the extent to which CYFS will use the new law particularly given the recent debate about how aggressive and anti-family they seem to be (here and here) ... I intend writing my view of this proposed law so watch this space

brilliant piece from Jim Hopkins in the NZ Herald on the anti-smacking law "Worst Violence is Abortion" (via Whale Oil here) ... best satirical line "it’s been reported the Government is whipping its members to support Ms Bradford’s bill, which seems an odd thing to do when its aim is to abolish smacking" ... most thought provoking line "if it’s not okay to beat or smack a baby then it cannot be okay to abort it"

"Top Ten Messages on Britney Spears' Answering Machine" (David Letterman on YouTube via David Farrar)

the National Party is producing it's own video and audio which it is publishing on NTV ... video also on YouTube ... audio also on Odeo ... this is a smart move --- like many in my generation and younger (particularly those younger!) (and the geeks amongst us!) I'm getting more and more of my news and current affairs from the internet rather than traditional media (eg I very rarely buy let alone read a newspaper these days)

"Praise Be", a long standing Sunday Morning TV broadcast of church services from around NZ, has had its funding cut meaning it can only run 35 episodes per year instead of 45 ... all so they can divert funding to an inter-faith programme called "My God" which will feature not only non-christian faiths but also atheists (who don't believe there is a God, so how can they talk about 'my god'?) ... Whale Oil and Stuff

my brother-in-law Mike Brantley was invited to appear on CBS Evening News to "talk to about doing a spot on New Orleans, us moving back and some of the positive things we see taking place" (not sure if he actually got on screen though - Mike?) because "they ran a negative spot - it seemed out of focus, so I wrote a calm, but plain email saying I thought they should show the positive side of post-Katrina life here and how there are lots of up sides too"

last week Auckland experienced an earthquake and the wimps up there over-reacted ... great humorous responses all over the place but particularly on Stuff "how to rattle a box of jaffas" (via Rowan Simpson) - best line "one woman, who had been reclining on her couch, spilt sauvignon blanc on her pants"

compulsory savings is back on the radar after being thrown out in a referendum about a decade ago ... but it now seems to be gaining in popularity ... I might write on this further later as I'm one who opposed it last time, but am swinging towards favouring it now (David Farrar)

Whale Oil writes from close personal experience how a change in government policy and employment law making handicapped work experience subject to full labour laws like minimum wage has actually deprived many handicapped of meaningful vocations and relegated them to a life of trivial activities ... and, irrespective of the handicap, their families have to go through annual reviews to see if there's been any significant change in circumstances, when many handicaps are permanent eg downs syndrome


has Labour lost it?

Parliament isn't even sitting yet and here's what we have already:

[1] Helen Clark's strategy has seen John Key dominating the agenda for the past month, particularly with his under-class and breakfasts in schools ideas ... David Farrar has an insightful discussion of why this is an astoundingly bad judgement call on the part of Helen Clark who is usually so good at dominating the NZ political agenda

[2] Michael Cullen is suggesting a tax on fixed rate mortgages ... seems his solution to every problem is to tax it ... he is correct in that the high incidence of fixed rate mortgages (apparently 80% of all mortgages in NZ) blunts the use of interest rates to control inflation (because 80% of mortgages don't feel changes in interest rates until the fixed term expires) ... but the solution is not to turn them into variable rate mortgages by having a variable levy (tax) on top to make them respond to inflation cutting interest rate changes ... it is political suicide to be having a go at middle NZ like this

[3] seems Trevor Mallard was lying when he said during the Auckland Waterfront Stadium debate that all his advice was that it was achievable in time for the 2011 rugby world cup (and he spent at least NZ$0.5 million on that advice)

[4] seems Steve Maharey may also have been lying when he stated that teacher vacancies had declined this year to 315 when last year he had said they were only 370 (that's actually an increase, not a decline) ... and what's more seems his numbers were of the number of advertisements when the actual number of vacancies was higher as some ads were for more than one vacancy ... and his statement was in response to a specific question asking how many vacancies there were

there's probably more, but that's enough for now

it's going to be an interesting year, and a fascinating election next year

hat tip: NZ Herald, Stuff, David Farrar, Whale Oil, Rodney Hide


The Year Ahead for NZ Politics

useful article from Audrey Young in the NZ Herald on the year ahead for NZ politics

the article starts with some commentary on the pending contest between John Key and Clark, Cullen, et al

further down there is a well written summary of the state and prospects of each party


Christians and Politics

originally written by me for publication in 2004 by the War Cry magazine

Have you observed Parliament, perhaps on the TV News, and despaired for our nation? Daily Question Time, in particular, seems to bring out the worst in our politicians. Are you concerned at the vitriolic turn politics has taken over recent months? Does the poor behaviour of our politicians cause you to write politics off as having little in common with Christianity?

Throughout the bible politicians were involved in achieving God’s will. Moses challenged the political leaders to free the Israeli nation from slavery. Nehemiah tackled the political leaders of his day so as to achieve the change that God had placed on his heart – the rebuilding of Jerusalem so as to restore the morale and influence of the Jewish nation.

Likewise, we should tackle the political world of our day to achieve God’s desires for our nation, and our world. Many of the issues we are concerned about are public policy issues. In our society public policy is in large part driven by those in politics.

One of the themes of scripture is of God’s people being involved in the public affairs of their day. In the Old Testament the scriptures themselves were public policy. The leaders of the New Testament, notably Jesus and Paul, regularly challenged the political leaders of their day.

Major Campbell Roberts is Director of the Salvation Army’s recently launched Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit. He says “The real powerful moments of church history are when the people of God move beyond being satisfied with a personal relationship with God to engagement of God with the principalities and powers, the national and community life of the nation.”

In just the past year our parliament has included debate on our society’s response to the sick, the mentally ill, the injured, victims of sexual abuse, racism, housing needs, violence, the use of alcohol, care of the elderly, punishment of children, educational standards, the unemployed, censorship, euthanasia, the environment, prostitution, sex among teenagers, teenage abortions, the rights and obligations of children and parents, and our society’s definition of family and parenthood.

And, these are largely the domestic issues. I haven’t even started to list our country’s role in international issues.

In my own city of Wellington, debate is underway about how our city by-laws and city services cater for the homeless.

God and the church have long had a role in defining public policy so that it effectively encourages the behaviours we as a society value, effectively discourages those behaviours we as a society abhor, and defines the grey area between the two.

Social justice issues are very dear to the heart of God and form the underlying theme of much of scripture. They have always been at the heart of The Salvation Army. Public policy has a direct impact on how our society values and treats the poor.

Campbell Roberts also says “We believe in winning the world for Jesus. We echo this in our mission statement, history and writings but of late perhaps not so much in our practice. We, along with our Christian sisters and brothers have struggled to relate the themes of redemption, salvation, justice and love to the political, business, media and educational structures of New Zealand society.”

For God’s view to be heard Christians must be involved in the development of public policy. One of the most impactful ways of doing this is to be actively involved in the political process. There are a number of different ways we can do this.

In a country like New Zealand, all Christians should at least exercise their democratic privilege to vote. But, we should do so intelligently. It is no secret that politicians form policy partially in response to the changing public mood. So, we should keep ourselves informed of the public policy debates of the day, of what is being proposed, and assess how this lines up with the values inherent in Christianity. We should then vote accordingly. My father is a classic example of this – he is a regular watcher of the news and reader of newspapers.

Then, God needs some Christians to take a current issues advocacy role within the church. Every circle of Christians needs someone who can keep them informed of the issues of the day, and encourage discussion in a scriptural context. Even our sermons should consider the topical issues of the day. It is in this sphere that my personal interest in politics has taken me.

God also needs some Christians to argue his values more vigorously than simply through the ballot box. These Christians should be actively engaging in public debate – for example writing to the newspapers, writing to politicians, joining activist organisations, attending political events, becoming active in a political party, forming influential relationships with politicians, being active in the media. I have a number of Christian friends who are involved like this, and have considered it myself.

And then, God has called a few Christians to put their name on the line and seek election to public office. There is a range options here – from school boards of trustees, to city and district councils, to parliament. Elsewhere in this issue you can read of my father-in-law’s experiences of this.

Then, there is the role of Christians acting collectively through the church in the affairs of our country. The Salvation Army has a long history of being public policy advocates. Some of our finest stories, particularly in our formative years, are of directly influencing public policy. Our history contains inspirational war stories of improving the laws protecting children from prostitution, and workers rights.

To effectively minister to the poor we must also lobby on their behalf so that their needs are less. Working directly with the poor gives us access to information and stories that must be shared with those in power if they are to change how our society values and treats the poor.

We often hear of the convention of the separation of church and state. In the United States this convention is written explicitly into their constitution. Interestingly, there is no such convention in our direct constitutional lineage. In the United Kingdom the church and the state are deeply inter-twined. However, New Zealand’s constitutional conventions lean more towards separation than integration of church and state.

However, the convention is often mis-understood. The convention is that church and state should be separate – in the sense of being identifiable as not being the same. This does not mean that church and state should not engage with each other.

We should not be surprised that the Prime Minister makes a political speech when invited to speak in a Cathedral. The church needs to listen to politicians.

Equally, politicians should not be surprised when the theological microscope is applied to public policy. Politicians need to listen to the churches.

I recently spent an evening discussing these issues with Campbell Roberts. He describes his new role as “to engage in that scary mission call and try to bring Christian and biblical thinking to bear on the issues that are vital in the affairs of our country. The role of the Social Policy & Parliamentary Unit will be to engage with the opinion makers of New Zealand society in business, media, parliament, education and government.”

Also, we should pray. Scripture implores us to ‘pray for those in authority’. Prayer can change our world. God can change our world.

I still remember hearing Cyril Bradwell talk in the late 1980s of his decades long prayer quest for the people of Germany. He started praying when he fought against Germans in the Second World War. He continued praying through the long years of the ‘cold war’. Finally, he saw his prayers answered. In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. The very symbol of the oppression of a people collapsed, just as the oppression itself collapsed. Hearing this experience of the power of prayer was inspirational for me.

So, what role is God asking you to play in the political life of our nation?

Will you vote armed with an understanding of how your vote will impact our nation?

Will you read and listen widely so you can discuss political issues with other Christians, and consider what scripture would say about those issues?

Will you become involved in politics – writing to the newspapers, writing to politicians, joining activist organisations, attending political events, becoming active in a political party, forming influential relationships with politicians, being active in the media?

Will you seek public office?

Will you pray for our nation, and its leaders?

UPDATE: after the above article was published a friend of mine who works as a policy analyst in the central government public service reminded me that his job provides a way for him to influence public policy using his God-given skills and professionalism within his Christian world-view

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