Staying the course on abortion in New Zealand


Abortion. The very word in a medical context or a religious context is enough to provoke a very emotive, not necessarily properly informed, and sometimes deliberately misleading debate. And yet, at the same time, there is no doubt regardless of which side of the debate one is on, it cuts right to that most fundamental, most inalienable right – to that of life. I deliberately sit on the fence here. Not because I have no empathy or heart, but because to make an accurate assessment of the issue without being partial to one aspect or another, one needs to be remote.

It has been commented many times over that very often the people making the moral calls about abortion in places of authority such as Government ministries or in churches are men with no understanding of the biological changes a woman must experience in the course of pregnancy. It is possibly the most profound thing a woman will have happen to their body. They have no understanding of the medical hazards a woman who is pregnant must navigate through successfully to give birth. Or they DO have the understanding, but either their individual principles or – if they are working for a Government ministry – political ideology or other indoctrination.

In New Zealand abortion is legal in cases where the physical or mental health of the woman is in danger, or the fetus could be handicapped. Cases of sexual violation are considered, but are not grounds in themselves for abortion.

There have been some unfortunate cases where women have died in countries where abortions are totally outlawed because they could not have a procedure that would have saved their lives and perhaps allowed them to have a healthy child at a later point. Unfortunately countries such as Ireland, El Salvador, to name a couple have prohibitive laws that completely fail the women of those countries. In Ireland the procedure is illegal unless it is performed to save the life of the mother. In El Salvador it is completely illegal, despite heavy campaigning by human rights activists in 2014.

The abortion issue at large could be reduced substantially if old notions of abstinence were put aside in favour of good neutral education. As high school social studies courses examine issues such as narcotics and alcohol, and as this is the time when some students (illegally if under the age of 16)start to become sexually active, this would be an appropriate stage to introduce it. I do think that the numbers of abortions could be reduced. However making it illegal, frowning on those who need it, frowning on contraceptive measures as governments, religious institutions and – for lack of a better word – commentators are prone to doing achieves nothing other than pushing underground abortions. It would simply see back street abortions and misleading information being given out by non-qualified personnel.

In New Zealand the likelihood of abortion laws being changed to make abortion illegal as happened in El Salvador is low. So is the militancy that exists in other countries such as the United States, where abortion clinics have been bombed in an attempt to make a statement against abortion. An act of this nature is just about medical terrorism.

On the whole I see little problem with the current law, though cases of sexual violation since the woman did not ask for the sexual connection that started the pregnancy, should be grounds for abortion as well.

 

Restoring Department of Conservation to health


Department of Conservation is the Government (D.o.C.) agency that has the task of protecting, promoting and enhancing New Zealand’s bird, reptile, insect and marine life.

Since National took office in 2008, the department has like every other Government ministry or agency, been subject to cost cutting as the Government sought to stabilize the financial books. As a result Department of Conservation has been forced to look elsewhere for funding to carry out essential projects such as the Kiwi protection programme. Although funding from private sources is welcome, it means to a degree the Department of Conservation which is supposed to work for all New Zealanders may be asked for favours from the private sector.

If one is flexible about funding the Department, why not introduce user pays charges at National Parks – upon entry to the National Park, an entry fee of a few dollars should be paid. It could be collected by the driver of tourist buses, or paid by credit/EFTPOS/cash at a barrier arm controlled point. For somewhere such as Milford Sound where space is at a premium already and further expansion involves either prohibitive land reclamation or diverting a river off its floodplain, this would be a good way to make sure that tourism usage of the township is sustainable.

I will be fair. There is no doubt some good things have happened for New Zealand’s wildlife in that time. The endangered Katipo spider, which is famous for being the only poisonous native species in New Zealand, was granted protection by the first Minister of Conservation Kate Wilkinson in 2010. Whilst good for the Katipo it is a potentially hollow decision as its detractor, the False Katipo, which is an invasive South African spider that looks like a real Katipo but lacks the distinctive red mark, and is very widespread (check your wood pile) is well established. When Ms Wilkinson was demoted in 2011, her replacement Dr Nick Smith who has a Ph.D. in civil engineering was quick to agree to a long and often delayed Marine Sanctuary being formalized for Akaroa Harbour. Dr Smith has also declined resource consent for the Fiordland monorail to connect the Milford Sound road with Queenstown, which was a notable victory for common sense since it proposed to build a quite intrusive project that would have had significant detrimental effects to the ecosystem, have been built across known fault lines and would have had possibly prohibitive conditions attached had it been granted.

However there has also been some very negative treatment of the Conservation estate by National. Minister of Energy and Resource Simon Bridges shares none Dr Smiths pragmatism over environmental issues. Like his predecessor Gerry Brownlee, who proposed to to open National Parks to mining, Mr Bridges has dismissed on a regular basis concerns about the potential impact of drilling and exploration in the marine habitats of some of New Zealand’s most endangered creatures. The resulting outcry, mainly led by the Greens and conservation groups also has the support of New Zealand First and to a lesser extent Labour.

Due to the threat of potential further development, I believe a discussion about reclassifying land and educating the public on the process needs to be had. Few will understand the implication of Schedule 4 of the Resource Management Act, which deals with the protection of the conservation estate. Whilst reclassifying the land, it would be a good opportunity to discuss additional measures for covering D.o.C’s  costs.

Lest We Forget


A person walking around the former battlefield of Gallipoli will see much evidence of the campaign that started 100 years ago today, when New Zealanders and Australians landed on the beaches of Gallipoli to begin an operation to take a small narrow strip of land that overlooked the key waterway between Russia and the Mediterranean. They will see trenches and dugouts from which these troops fought their Turkish foes. They might see unexploded ordnance left behind from the battle or spent cartridges.

And they might see the bones of people or mules who were not able to be recovered and had to be left on the battlefield to die a grisly death under a blazing sun. They might see the bones of British, French, Indian, Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died in brave but often futile charges into Turkish lines defended by men who were fighting for their country. Or of some of the 250,000 Turks who gave their lives for the Ottoman Empire and ultimately the modern nation of Turkey.

And as the descendants or the tourists from these countries wander this World War One battlefield, marvelling at the terrain over which such ferocious fighting took place, they might wonder as I am sure many will about the circumstances that brought these nations face to face with Turkey on Turkish soil. They might wonder about the folly of a campaign dreamt up by Winston Churchill as a way to help the Russians fight the Germans on the eastern front. And they might as I am sure the commemorative services of the next day or so will make sure, they remember the magnificent words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which I have put below:

Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well. (A tribute to thoseANZACs who died in Gallipoli.)

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

And so, when The Last Post sounds on 25 April 2015, it sounds not just for Australia and New Zealand. It sounds for Turkey as well. I just hope that if it were the other way around, we would have had the same graces as those of Turkey and Ataturk. Likewise, those famous lines from Laurence Binyon are for Turkey as well as well Australia and New Zealand:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon

Lest we forget

Remembering another war (in New Zealand)


When “The Last Post” rings out on Saturday at scores of commemorative services across the world for the thousands of New Zealanders who have died in conflict – 30,000 in all – people will stop and reflect on the sacrifices made. They will stop to reflect on how two world wars and a host of smaller ones have impacted on New Zealand as a nation, where we have come from and where we are going. But what about New Zealand’s own past, with its settler conflicts in the 1800’s, whose shadow still permeates the nation today despite attempts at redress through the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal?

Specifically they might also remember another conflict, closer to home, in which British settlers in Taranaki tried to crush a peaceful Maori protest movement that originated in the west Taranaki locality of Parihaka. Here after the Second Taranaki War in about 1866, a Maori chief named Te Whiti established a settlement that was home to those seeking isolation from European settlers and war-like Maori groups. At its peak, just before being destroyed by a brutal raid in 1881, Parihaka was home to several hundred people.

As Parihaka grew, it became self sufficient, and developed internal infrastructure. Road ways were clean. The Government Medical Officer at the time reported a good state of hygiene with no disease. It was also visited by Europeans on a regular basis, who reported being greeted with dignity and hospitality. The community grew sufficiently organized as to hold meetings in the largest whare (meeting house).

And yet Parihaka had to be destroyed according to Native Minister John Bryce, whose condemnation of Maori and Maoridom was as strident as National Front rhetoric against immigrants is today. It was a threat to European superiority, a threat to British colonialism and an unjust use of colonial land. If it could not be dealt with peacefully through coerced land sales, it would be simply destroyed by Government forces.

But there was a problem. Te Whiti was not buying into the attempts to sell the land to the settlers. Despite bribes of money, alcohol and food stuffs that his community did not have, Te Whiti refused to be coerced and instead eventually led a campaign of resistance. Attempts at building roads to connect the British settlements such as Stratford were not so much stopped with armed force, as the surveyor pegs were stolen; furrows were ploughed through settler farms. The Government began arresting the men under Te Whiti’s command, but more kept appearing. The British settlers did not understand that if one of the Maori got arrested, another several would be lining up to take his place. But they were most incensed by the non armed resistance tactics which also included mass sit ins, refusal to answer questions and peaceful defiance in response to threats of violence.

Eventually after legislation was passed to criminalize resistance, followed by further attempts to seize the land and subsequent bouts of resistance, Government forces moved on Parihaka. They looted the stores, destroyed the town and made mass arrests. Similar violence broke out in Maori communities all over western Taranaki. Upwards of 1500 people were arrested. Some women were allegedly raped.

130 years after the raid that destroyed Parihaka, and nearly 170 years since the New Zealand Wars started, is it perhaps not time to remember that the early years of New Zealand history were not exactly peaceful either? That for nearly 30 years between 1845 and 1872 a combination of intermittent skirmishes and larger conflicts, many involving atrocities ravaged the North Island?

To understand where we go as a nation in the future, we must first understand our past. That is the same regardless of whether one talks about New Zealand’s involvement in foreign wars, or our own blood splattered development as a nation all those years ago.

Flagging a political diversion


I will be honest: I support changing the flag. I think the New Zealand flag is out of date and that our ties with Britain are not so strong now that the Union Jack should remain on it.

You might therefore think I am delighted that the Prime Minister of New Zealand is talking about changing it. Under other circumstances you would be right. But not at the moment. Not whilst it is glaringly obvious that the motive for the Prime Minister talking about changing the flag is anything about seriously dealing with the most important official national symbol of this country.

The truth is that the flag debate is nothing more than a political diversion. Whilst political diversions are as old as politics, and are intended to divert the public’s attention away from something more serious – in this case very likely the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement – every time one is detected it raises due (and undue) suspicions about what the true agenda of the Government of the day is. The evidence for saying so is the suddenness with which this whole issue just reared out of nowhere because the Prime Minister suddenly decided that it was necessary to talk about a change. Suddenly National could find millions of dollars to fund this when $30,000 to keep open the Christchurch Rape Crisis centre could not be found. A smoke screen in other words.

If for example this had occurred in the middle of the previous Parliamentary term when New Zealand was having the debate about whether or not to adopt a new constitution, it would not have been out of place at all. Many people would have been considering national symbols, the legal framework on which this country is founded and so forth.

Before the flag can be changed a strict procedure needs to be applied. One cannot just change a flag and expect everyone to go with the new design, especially if there people who have died for that flag as there are in New Zealand. One cannot change a flag with consulting the indigenous peoples of that country – it would be quite an affront to Maori to not be given any consultative time on this issue. Whilst I cannot imagine, despite liking the design the Tino Rangitiratanga flag of Maori sovereignty being the winning design an all inclusive design would need to acknowledge their heritage.

And here is where resistance is likely. The 30,000 New Zealanders who have died under this flag, which would have been draped over the coffins of those whose remains were found, did not die just so the democratic principles on which this country and the national symbols that represent us overseas could be ruthlessly trampled on for the sake of a few. There are good reasons for the Returned Services Association being up in arms about this, not least with so many of its members who fought for the flag still being alive, despite their age and dwindling numbers – and who will march on Saturday and stand at attention under that flag one more time.

One day the time for a true debate minus the shenanigans will come. But that date is not now.

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