Category Archives: Rights and Responsibility

Political Correctness in Coroners’ Courts

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Filed under New Zealand, Random Grumps & Raves, Rights and Responsibility, The Demise of Democracy and Freedom
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The NZ Herald reports here that a coroner has recommended that a licence should be needed to hire nail guns – a move labeled an overreaction by DIYers.

William McLay, 56, was found dead in his Kapiti Coast home by police in March 2009.  He had hired a Ramset nail gun from Hire Equip two days before his death.

In July 2012, Coroner Ian Smith concluded that Mr McLay, who was unemployed and had a history of anxiety and depression, committed suicide.  The coroner has recommended to the Government that people who want to a hire nail guns be required to produce a licence to operate such equipment.

He noted that he had dealt with other cases involving the tools.

Now, Coroners inquests in New Zealand are inquisitorial; they are fact-finding exercises.  They establish cause of death, and if the coroner finds that there is something we could change that would significantly reduce the likelihood of similar occurrences without other undesirable consequences, he or she may make a recommendation.  In this case, Mr McLay killed himself with the nail gun.  A gun, eh?!  Guns are deadly, says Ian Smith. All guns should be licensed and heavily restricted.  After all, just look at what happened here.  Nail guns can be hired freely, and William McLay took advantage of that, hired a nail gun and committed suicide with it.  Obviously the only remedy is to introduce yet another restriction, yet another control, yet another compliance cost, to the nanny/school-marm state!  It is the only politically correct thing to do.  Right?

If we followed Ian Smith’s recommendation and  legislated to require licensing of all nail gun users, what consequences would we expect?

  • Well, it would inconvenience DIYers, who would either face the compliance cost of obtaining a licence, or would no longer have the option of hiring a nail gun for their larger projects.
  • For some, lacking the nail gun option might prevent them altogether from doing all but the smallest DIY projects.
  • It would increase the work-load of the licensing examiners and bureaucrats, thus increasing their numbers, inflating the compliance  costs and possibly forcing increases in taxes and rates.

What consequence should we not expect?

Any reduction in our suicide rates.  It might, just might, reduce the likelihood of the  choice  of a  nail gun as  a suicide method, but would  not prevent the seriously depressed from ending it all.  There  were other avenues open to McLay.

In fact, if the coroner  recommended restricting access to ropes, cutlery, power tools of all sorts, streams, rivers, oceans, all bridges more than one metre above the surface, gas heaters, razor  blades, rat poison, motor vehicles,  ladders, petrol, LPG, pool chlorine  and anything remotely capable of causing death, it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to the suicide rate.

It would merely make our lives even more difficult and costly than the nanny and school-marm state zealots  have so far succeeded in achieving.

 

“Proportional Representation” is actually Disproportionate

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Filed under Politics, Random Grumps & Raves, Rights and Responsibility, The Demise of Democracy and Freedom
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In the traditional FPP (First-past-the-Post) system, the candidate receiving the most votes is elected.  And even though most electorate candidates are chosen by the party heirarchy, at least the voters in the electorate can chose between them.  Poorly performing MPs can be voted right out of parliament, and they face the vote every three years.

Unlike NZ, Britain retains the traditional system.  A recent referendum overwhelmingly rejected a form of proportional representation called the Alternative Vote, which is similar to the STV (Single Transferable Vote) system used in Australia.  Both systems require voters to rank candidates in order of preference, and if no candidate scores more than 50% of the vote, a formula is applied counting up all the preferential votes.  The result can be the election of candidate who was the first choice of very few voters, but the most popular second choice.  In other words, nobody gets what they wanted.

NZ’s MMP system at least does not have that drawback.  Each voter votes twice – one vote for the member for his or her electorate, and one party vote.  The elected members representing each constituency are still chosen by FPP according to the electorate votes, so the one with the most votes wins.  “Proportional” representation is supposedly achieved by having list MPs.  A party that wins no electorate seats must achieve at least 5% of the overall party vote before it has any MPs in parliament.  The total number of  MPs for each party in parliament (electoral plus list MPs) is proportional to the party’s share of the overall “party vote”.  So MMP has another advantage – it is not vulnerable to gerrymandering.

But it does have other drawbacks.

Any party with 5% or more of the overall party vote will have 5% or more of the MPs in parliament.  Thus, small parties that may possibly never gain an electoral seat in parliament can be represented there by one or more list MPs.  Gee, that sounds fair.  Bingo – proportional representation!

Except that it is not really proportional.  The result of MMP is a much higher likelihood of coalition government, in which no major party gains a clear majority and so must go into coalition with one or more other parties in order to form a government.  Because they wish to maintain public perception of their points of difference, the major mainstream parties do not form coalitions with each other.  Inevitably, the coalitions are formed with one main party and one or more minor ones.  And that is why the representation of the minor party is in fact disproportionate.  A minor party in coalition with a major one has a proportional share of the total seats, but much more that a proportional voice in parliament – it has real power.  Because the price it demands for of going into coalition is the promise of the major partner to promote and vote for an agreed set of its policies or private member’s bills.  It is, remember, a minor party.  If  only 5% of voters have given it their party vote, there is no assurance that the 95% of those who did not do so actually accept its policies.  Yet with this arrangement, some of them will become law.  The tail ends up wagging the dog – a recipe for bad law and bad government.

It has another major drawback.  List MPs are never directly elected by the voters – the public has no opportunity to chose who is in an who is out.  Each party creates its own list of potential list MPs, in order of party preference.  When all the party votes are counted and the numbers allocated to each successful party, the seats are allocated strictly in party list order.   And naturally the parties tend to stack the top order of the list with MPs they want to retain, even if the public rejects them.  The top of the order is usually occupied by senior electorate MPs, to keep their positions safe regardless of what the voters might prefer.  In effect, MPs at the top of the list can almost never be voted out.  That can hardly be called democracy.  MMP should be scrapped – it is neither truly proportional nor truly democratic.

The NZ Herald thinks otherwise.  After the British result, and in anticipation of the forthcoming NZ referendum on the future of MMP, the Herald has published an editorial (see Appendix) calling for the survival of MMP.  The Herald firmly believes it is a Good Thing, giving the voters of NZ the government they want.  The Herald article even says that “tails have not wagged dogs”.  I disagree, firmly.

Were it not for MMP, NZ First, the Greens, the Maori Party and ACT either would never have been represented in parliament or would have had only a couple of seats.  Under the cosy coalition arrangements with MMP, this is the reality:

  • In coalition with Labour, NZ First’s Winston Peters scored the plum role of Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Hardly the choice of the NZ voter!
  • In coalition with Labour, the Green’s Sue Bradford rammed through the most hated legislation in NZ history, the unnecessary and totally ineffective anti-smacking bill that has had zero effect on child abuse.
  • In coalition with National and against the wishes of almost everybody, the Maori Party has overturned the Foreshore and Seabed act

God knows what will happen if ACT under Brash forms a coalition with National after the forthcoming elections.

Appendix – the Herald Editorial:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10724716

Why is Cycling so dangerous in New Zealand?

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Filed under Netherlands, Random Grumps & Raves, Rights and Responsibility
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There are some unbelievable comments in made in the “New Zealand Herald” about the recent tragic spate of fatal accidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles.  Some suggest licensing and WOFs for bicycles, as if that would make cycling less hazardous!   Another comment says there is  “no space for cyclists on the road – they need their own lane they are the biggest hazard, they put themselves in a lot of danger by being on the road.”  The cyclists didn’t die on motorways that are restricted to motorised traffic – they were killed on ordinary roads.

Sadly, the comments above were representative of the tone of a significant proportion of the comments about the Herlad reports.  Comments that illustrate what is wrong with the attitude of too many NZ motorists.

One comment from a man named Rhys has it right – NZ should use the Dutch approach.

The Dutch approach is twofold – it addresses the safety of the roads, and it addresses the attitudes and behaviour of motorists.   The Netherlands invests heavily in bike lanes to reduce the likelihood of accidents.  Real bike lanes – not a half-share of a footpath.  These run parallel to all major roads, and cross the countryside.

But of course, even in the Netherlands, not all roads have bike lanes.  Dutch road laws and behaviours are based on the premise that roads are for all users – pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles.  The only roads on which motor vehicles “rule” are motorways.  On all other roads, cyclists and pedestrians rule.  Motor vehicles use them as a convenience, not as an unfettered right.  The legal onus is on the motorist to avoid collisions with people and cyclists, without exception.

That does not mean that there are no road rules for cyclists.  Of course there are.  Cyclists can be prosecuted for dangerous behaviour or for failing to give way, and police will act when cyclists break the rules.  But being in the right does not prevent prosecution of a motorist who collides with a bicycle.  It is extremely rare for a motorist to be cleared after a collision with a bicycle.  If the motorist does not have incontrovertible proof that he/she could not have possibly avoided the accident, even when the cyclist was flagrantly in the wrong, the motorist will be found guilty, and the punishment is severe.  The same goes for accidents with pedestrians.  The result is that motorists are very careful of cyclists and pedestrians, very patient when cyclists are on the road (even two or three abreast), and very courteous toward pedestrians.

The Netherlands is the safest place in the world for a cyclist or pedestrian.  And traffic still flows, quite happily.