The Herald reports that organisers of the recent referendum on the smacking law confronted the leaders of both major parties yesterday – but failed to win a single concession to review the law. Furthermore, questions from smacking supporters actually pushed Mr Key into a stronger defence of the law than he has given before, saying the 2007 ban on any use of force against children for “correction” was important to “send a message” that violence against children was unacceptable.
The New Zealand Herald’s Political Editor Claire Trevett reports on how MPs will be voting in the referendum. The overwhelming majority of MPs will either vote YES or abstain, and only five said they would be voting no.
Of particular interest is Chester Borrows, who “had supported the petition to force the referendum before the compromise law was passed in 2007 – said he would not vote and did not believe the law should be changed.”
Labour: Steve Chadwick, Charles Chauvel, Kelvin Davis, Darien Fenton, Parekura Horomia, Moana Mackey, Su’a William Sio, Maryan Street. Progressives: Jim Anderton.
United Future: Peter Dunne.
Green Party: Sue Bradford, Keith Locke, Kennedy Graham, Metiria Turei, Russel Norman, Jeanette Fitzsimons, Sue Kedgley, Kevin Hague, Catherine Delahunty.
NOT/ PROBABLY NOT VOTING
National: David Bennett, Jackie Blue, Chester Borrows, David Carter, Judith Collins, Chris Finlayson, Tim Groser, Nathan Guy, Tau Henare, Steven Joyce, Nikki Kaye, John Key, Todd McClay, Tony Ryall, Katrina Shanks, Nick Smith, Anne Tolley, Chris Tremain, Louise Upston, Michael Woodhouse.
Maori Party: Tariana Turia.
Labour: Phil Goff, Annette King, Trevor Mallard, Damien O’Connor.
The value of the referendum is undermined by having a loaded and ambiguous question. It implies that a “yes” vote supports criminal sanctions being applied against good parents who lightly smack their children. I do not believe that should happen or is happening.
By voting “no” the implication is that the law should be changed. I believe the law as it is is working well and does not need to be changed. Parents who beat their children can no longer hide behind the legal defence of “reasonable force” and will, where the circumstances justify it, face charges.
Since the law has passed however, good parents have not been criminalised for giving their children a light smack, despite fears whipped up by the law’s opponents.
Key went further to say the government would be unlikely to change the law no matter what the outcome of the referendum.
Phil Goff agrees: “The question implies that if you vote ‘yes’ that you’re in favour of criminal sanctions being taken against reasonable parents actually nobody believes that.”
True enough, but that’s only one way to read the question. Tariana Turia and Russel Norman agree with us that a YES vote is the only way to indicate your clear support for the law. There is near universal agreement that the referendum is a waste of money, as the Child Discipline Law is working as intended.
We have received a letter from Phil Goff, which was released from his office for publication on our web site. In it, he clearly states:
Labour is opposed to reversing the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act. We believe that the law is working as intended and has not resulted in any criminal sanctions against good parents who do not harm their children.
We look forward to the other parties stating their position with such clarity.
Radio New Zealand’s Parliamentary Chief Reporter Jane Patterson covered the controversy surrounding Christine Rankin’s appointment as a Family Commissioner on Morning Report today, available for your listening pleasure below:
The report includes comments from Phil Goff, Tariana Turia, Peter Dunne, and Jan Pryor.
We think that the responsible minister, Paula Bennett sums it up best in her own words: “Hey, that’s politics!”
Over the weekend we saw the issue of child discipline in the media again, this time with headlines suggesting that Labour had done a u-turn on the “anti-smacking” bill. But it turns out that this was not the case. Mr Goff caused some confusion yesterday when he said that a smack shouldn’t be a criminal offence. But he amended this by saying that parents should not be followed up and prosecuted for a smack. He later told NZPA that neither his position nor Labour’s policy had changed. He said “I don’t think the law needs to be changed”. Mr Goff said the bill was working.
Finding a way to give children equal protection in law from assault as adults, setting a standard in law that does not endorse any form of violence to children and at the same time avoiding prosecution of parents for minor assaults has been one of the challenges law drafters and supporters of change have faced. Prosecutions for minor assaults are obviously not in the child or the parents’ interests because of the stress and disruption prosecution would cause. The Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 contained a provision reminding Police that they have discretion not to prosecute when it would not be in the public interest to do so. Regular reports on Police activity since law change indicate that parents are not being prosecuted for a simple smack. This provision and guidelines for the Police about its application are sensible solutions to the challenge.
However, the “risk of criminalisation” cry has sometimes been a mask to disguise the more vexing issue, the fact that some adults think they have a right to smack and hit children, perhaps because they believe it’s a good thing to do, but often because they regard them as “theirs”, human beings that they own.
Mr Cullen summed up the fallacy of this argument succinctly when he told media recently that the law change did not impact on personal freedom. He said “Freedom is the right to be who you are, providing it doesn’t impinge upon the right of people to be who they are. That’s not the right to beat up kids.”
Children are people too with human rights. In the case of child discipline this means the right to live in a country where politicians and other leaders do not endorse outmoded laws and practices. I find it reassuring that when I talk to people about the law change and the upcoming referendum they often say “Come on New Zealand, get over it, and move on”.
Wellington, April 12 NZPA – Labour leader Phil Goff says the anti-smacking law does not need to be amended or revoked.
Mr Goff caused confusion this morning when he was asked on TV One’s Q and A programme whether he thought a smack should be allowed as part of good parental correction.
“Well my answer to that is no it shouldn’t be a criminal offence or we should not have people following up and prosecuting parents for a smack in that context, but remember 110 out of 122 MPs voted for that legislation including every member of the National Party.”
That response sparked Family First who oppose the law to put out a statement welcoming the apparent U-turn.
ACT MP John Boscawen has drafted a member’s bill to allow parents to use a light smack to correct their children and Family First director Bob McCoskrie said Labour should now back the ACT MP’s bill.
But Mr Goff told NZPA this evening neither his position nor Labour’s policy had changed.
Labour supported Green MP Sue Bradford’s bill to remove from the Crimes Act the statutory defence of “reasonable force” to correct a child, meaning there would be no justification for the use of force for that purpose.
The “reasonable force” defence had been used by parents who had beaten their children with whips and pieces of wood but opponents said the change would make criminals out of parents who lightly smacked their children and removed their right to discipline them.
The bill was hugely controversial and even though it passed in May 2007 by 113 votes to eight, Labour took the flak for it. National backed the bill after a last-minute compromise to add a proviso stating police had discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent if they considered the offence to be inconsequential.
Mr Goff this evening said the law was working.
“We voted in favour of the legislation but there was an understanding all the way through that good parents would not be prosecuted for lightly smacking their child… and there has been no prosecutions of parents in those circumstances.”
Mr Goff said Labour had never supported parents being prosecuted for a light smack.
“That’s not a U-turn, that’s the policy we talked about at the time.”
Mr Goff did not accept his comment was confusing and said he was happy with what he said.
“Technically it is a criminal offence… the point we are making is there should be no criminal prosecutions of parents in those circumstances.
“I don’t think the law needs to be changed.”
He rejected backing Mr Boscawen’s bill.
“There’s not a question of backing John Boscawen’s bill if good parents are not being prosecuted for lightly smacking their children then the law is working as intended.”
Former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen also commented on the issue today in the Sunday Star Times. He said Labour had had to support the bill as it fitted with the party’s own policy.
Opposing the bill would have made Labour look unprincipled.
“That was the kind of issue where you’re hung for a sheep or a lamb whatever way you go,” Dr Cullen said.
He told the newspaper the law change did not impact on personal freedom.
“Freedom is the right to be who you are, providing it doesn’t impinge upon the right of people to be who they are. That’s not the right to beat up kids.”
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