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Top 10 Debates

Today the New Zealand Herald had a story which listed the 10 biggest debates in New Zealand over the last 10 years. I think they chose fairly well and the results might tell us something about ourselves so I will comment here.

Here are the 10 issues: the seabed and foreshore legislation, genetically engineered food, what went wrong at the Rugby World Cup (1999, 2007, 2003), the Civil Union Bill, anti-smacking legislation, smoking bans in restaurants and bars, NCEA introduction, Auckland’s Waterfront Stadium proposal, incarceration of Ahmed Zaoui, and the Urewera Terror Raids in 2007.

So one issue was related to science, one to education, one to health, one to policing issues, 1 to race relations, 2 to local politics, 1 to global politics, and 2 to sport. I know that analysis is open to interpretation but I think its accurate enough for a rough analysis of the situation.

Not surprisingly the sporting items were the most frivolous, especially the Auckland Stadium debate. I mean, who really cares? Maybe that more properly belonged in the category of local politics because of the opposition to unnecessary spending by local councils which seemed to be a bigger national theme.

Several of the items were motivated by ignorance and ideology: the anti-smacking bill and the genetic engineering issue in particular. I’ve talked about genetic engineering in the past and emphasised how important it is that its allowed to develop without opposition by ignorant individuals and groups. The anti-smacking legislation was similar: almost all the people I met who opposed it were older without young children and none could point to a single incident where their lives had been adversely affected by it.

A common criticism of the previous New Zealand government was its perceived tendency to produce laws which limited individual freedom. Anti-smacking and smoking bans were obvious examples. Again, these were more theoretical than real restrictions and I think a lot of the debate centered around ideology more than the practical and real effects.

I said above that the 10 issues chosen were fair but on consideration I’m not sure if they were. The debates I most remember from the last few years at least were more global and significant: global warming for example (how could they have left that one out), the merits of the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is another obvious area of debate not mentioned, and the American election provided some debate as well, although Obama did enjoy a lot of support here.

I have some fairly strong opinions on most of the original 10 plus the extra 3 items I have listed but I don’t have time to go into detail here and now. In general I’ll just say the following…

The seabed and foreshore legislation. I think its very dangerous giving one group extra privileges based on their race so I basically disagree with this law. The National Party opposed a lot of it but now that its the government seems to be allowing the laws to pass anyway so I guess we’ll just have to put up with it. But it is divisive and wrong in my opinion.

Genetically engineered food. I’ve commented on this before. I believe all science should be allowed to proceed with as little interference as possible. GE is too important to allow ignorant, ideologically driven groups to oppose it.

What went wrong at the Rugby World Cup (1999, 2007, 2003). Sport is a funny thing. We all know New Zealand has the best rugby team and OK, so that isn’t reflected in World Cup results. That’s just too bad!

The Civil Union Bill. People must have opposed this based on their own personal bigotry. How did it disadvantage anyone at all? In no way I can see. So what was the harm, except from an ideologically driven point of view again.

The anti-smacking legislation. Like all laws it could be misused but it hasn’t been. Many of the people opposing it could have no personal interest because they had no young children. Most younger parents, who might be affected, seemed to be more relaxed about it. Again I’m forced to conclude ideology and ignorance were the main forces behind the debate.

Smoking bans in restaurants and bars. The question is do people need to be protected from themselves? We are in so many ways already: we have to wear seat belts in our cars for example. Smoking does affect others more than some other self-harm behaviours, although I agree that the dangers of second hand smoke have been exaggerated. I generally want less laws not more, but as a non-smoker I wasn’t really opposed to this one.

The NCEA introduction. the ideas behind the NCEA have some merit but the implementation is a mess. Try to understand your kid’s report. Its a nightmare! And how a year 12 level 2 unit standard with excellence compares with a year 11 level 3 achievement standard with merit I have no idea! I still think percentage marks are fairest.

Auckland’s Waterfront Stadium proposal. Its Auckland. I don’t care.

Incarceration of Ahmed Zaoui. I generally didn’t support his continued detention but because some of the background to the issue was secret it has hard to reach firm conclusions. I don’t think secrets about such political issues should be allowed unless there’s a really good reason. I don’t think there was in this case.

The Urewera Terror Raids in 2007. I’m not quite so sure about this one but I am uncomfortable with the police’s actions. I don’t want terrorists running amok in the country but I don’t want the country turned into a police state either. Also, how much did race play in this story? Its hard to get a good balance but that incident could have been handled a lot better I think.

So those are the issues and my opinions on them. As I said, I heard very little reasoned, unbiased and fact-based debate on any of the topics but I suppose based on other debates I have heard of and participated in from other countries that isn’t unusual.

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