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Heather Roy's Diary

Posted on 22 Aug 2009

Time To Listen To The People
Last night an overwhelming majority - over 1.4million of the 1.6 million who voted in the Anti-Smacking Referendum - sent a strong message to Government. Most parents made it crystal clear that light smacking for the purpose of correction should not be a criminal offence. We all know there is a huge difference between disciplining children and brutal abuse, and Kiwi parents are tired of being told how to discipline and raise their children.

ACT is the only Party that has opposed this legislation since its inception and is the only Party now willing to listen to what the people are saying. ACT MP John Boscawen has a Bill already drafted that specifically sets out the conditions under which a light smack for the purpose of correction can be used, stating that the use of force is defined as unreasonable:

'if it should cause the child to suffer injury that is no more than transitional or trifling; or it is inflicted with any weapon, tool or other implement; or it is inflicted in any means that is cruel or degrading.'

ACT believes this Bill should be immediately introduced to Parliament and moved quickly through the process so that good parents are no longer in danger of being criminalised. Prime Minister John Key and his Caucus could make this happen now - after all, it would just take them back to the position they held when the debate started.

It is time for the National Party to re-examine its principles and do the right thing.

Voluntary Student Membership Bill Pulled From The Ballot
This week a milestone was achieved in the battle to liberate students from Compulsory Student Membership (CSM) when - having languished there for three long years - ACT's Education (Freedom of Association) Members Bill was drawn from the Ballot.

Also known as the VSM - Voluntary Student Membership - Bill, the legislation was originally drafted and lodged as a Private Member's Bill under my name in 2006, and transferred to Sir Roger Douglas when I became a Minister and was no longer able to submit a Bill as a Private Member.

CSM has been in place since the Education Act 1989 gave university councils the power to impose and collect student association membership fees from their students. For 20 years students enrolling in tertiary institutions have had to join their association, whether they like it or not, and association fees are built into the wider institution fees structure.

In 1997, in a bid to make students association membership voluntary, National proposed the Voluntary Student Membership amendment to the Education Act - but required support from NZ First to pass it. Preferring to let students make the voluntary/compulsory decision, NZ First added a compromise to the amendment that allowed for a 'compulsory/voluntary' referendum to be held at every public tertiary provider. Referendums could only occur two years after a previous one, and only if 10 percent of the relevant student body signed a petition in support.

The first referendums were held in 1999. Auckland University became voluntary and - following referendums in 2001, 2003 and 2005 - still has VSM.

Unfortunately, these referendums are notoriously poorly run - turnout often barely reaches double figures. Student associations are also known to schedule them during holidays and times students are off-campus, and then - aided by parent organisation New Zealand University Students' Association - then spend tens of thousands of dollars campaigning for CSM, while Student Choice and other VSM groups have as little as $100 to campaign.

Today, student associations are one of only a few organisations in the country that can compel membership - and by doing so are in breach of Section 17 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, which guarantees the right to freedom of association.

Another problem we have seen is in the area of representation - or, in the case of some associations, mis-representation. Student associations purport to represent the views and desires of the wider student body but, in most cases, they reflect only those of a small minority - usually those involved in the senior management of the organisation.

An example of this was seen earlier this year when the Victoria University Students' Association (VUWSA) declined a Wellington City Council invitation from the to lay a wreath at ANZAC Day celebrations. While VUWSA's president claimed the association had no "official mandate from students" to recognise ANZAC Day, student magazine 'Salient' revealed that some members of the VUWSA executive opposed laying a wreath because they believed it would condone war - resulting in backlash from VUW students outraged about the attitude of an organisation that supposedly represented their views. VUW students were clearly not getting value for the money they are being forced to pay.

Another disturbing problem with CSM is around the guaranteed stream of income it provides. With students having no choice as to whether or not they pay student association fees, the associations themselves have little incentive to ensure accountability around the management of those funds. An organisation based on voluntary membership would soon lose members and funding - or cease to exist - where the executive was found to be spending inappropriately spending against the wishes, or without the knowledge, of the wider membership. Under CSM, student associations have no such constraints - the results of which can be seen in numerous cases of fraud and financial mis-management that have occurred at many student associations around the country.

It is for these reasons that the drawing of Sir Roger's Bill this week is so important - it is the first step on the road toward setting students free from a flawed and out-dated law. Students have the right to choose what university or polytechnic they attend, and what papers they take; the Education (Freedom of Association) Members Bill will give them the freedom to choose what groups they join and pay for.

Students must get behind this initiative - unless they're happy to hand money over for nothing. It is National's turn now also to 'do its bit' and support Sir Roger's Bill. While ACT has stood up for students' right to freedom of association, National has shown no commitment to doing so. The time has come for the Prime Minister and his Caucus to re-examine their principles and do the right thing.

Lest We Forget - James Stellin Gives Life For French Village (August 19 1944)
On August 19 1944, as his damaged Hawker Typhoon fighter-bomber rapidly lost height, New Zealand Pilot Officer James Stellin struggled to avoid crashing into the French village of Saint-Maclou-la-Briere. The 22-year-old succeeded, but at the cost of his own life.

Wellingtonian James 'Joe' Stellin was one of several thousand Kiwis who flew with the RAF over Europe in support of the 1944 D-Day landings. Part of the RAF 609 Squadron, Stellin flew numerous missions targeting German radar stations, tanks and transport. On August 19 1944, while returning to base, Stellin asked permission to break formation and attack a vehicle. He did not return and it is thought he was hit by flak near Bernay.

At 10am Saint-Maclou-la-Briere villagers heard Stellin's aircraft in difficulty, reporting that it was rapidly losing height. Realising the destruction the plane would cause if it were to hit the village Stellin straightened, made a half-climb, turned sharp left, fell rapidly, and crashed.

Stellin was killed and 1,200 people from the surrounding area attended his funeral in Saint-Maclou-la-Briere. To this day his grave there is decorated with flowers and in 1947 he was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palme. The people of Saint-Maclou-la-Briere later engraved his name on the war memorial and, in 1964, erected a black marble memorial stone to him outside their church. In 2001 the area in front of the St Maclou church was named 'Place Stellin'.


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