The Yes Vote – NZ Referendum on Child Discipline 2009

how the referendum came about

During the voting period, the Yes Vote campaigners were frequently asked, “How did this referendum come about?”, and “Why was such a leading question allowed?”

The correct legal processes were followed, which are set out in the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993.

“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

This is the question on a postal ballot that was sent to all registered electors at the end of July to be returned by mid-August 2009. The Citizens Initiated Referendum came about because ten percent of registered voters signed a petition calling for the referendum. The aim of the supporters of the petition that led to the referendum was for the “No” votes to be in the majority so that politicians could be pressured to revisit the 2007 child discipline law.

The petition question was both misleading and leading:

  • A single smack is unlikely to lead to criminalisation of a parent under the 2007 law (See The Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 and police activity since the law change).
  • Smacking children is not part of good parental correction.
  • The word “good” before “parental correction” makes a value judgment which predetermines the answer. People answering the question may have been drawn to answer “no” on the basis that what is “good” cannot be “bad” (ie criminal).
  • Many people have reported that they found it difficult to respond with a “yes” vote, even when they supported the current law, because they do not want to suggest that good parents be made criminals. Others have reported that they spoilt their vote or expressed their disgust with the question by writing on the ballot form. Many have said they abstained from voting because of the nature of the question.

It should be noted that signatures for the petition that led to the referendum began being collected well before the final form of the law was drafted in Parliament and well before those who signed it had time to observe how the law was being implemented. (See Police Activity Since the Law Change)

The final form of the new legislation contained a provision (affirmation of police discretion in cases of inconsequential assault) to reassure parents that police did not have to prosecute where assaults were very minor. The police discretion provision and makes the petition question redundant.

There has been no government led campaign to inform the public about the provisions of the 2007 law. Responses to the referendum may have been influenced by the lack of information.

As it turns out, the No vote has emerged with a majority, but the outcome of the referendum is be non-binding on the government.

New Zealand’s child discipline law is a good one.
The law supports positive parenting.
The law increases children’s protection from assault.
Please email your MP and ask them to support retention of the current law.

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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