Posts Tagged referendum wording

The Press: Referendum vote a fiasco

August 25, 2009

The Christchurch Press‘s editorial yesterday discusses the referendum:

The question posed was flawed, the participation of voters low, the campaign unengaging, the cost of the exercise prohibitive and the results inconsequential. In short, the referendum was a fiasco…

Legal proceedings are costly and intrusive for a family; the cause of non-violent rearing is not advanced by a stream of parents being hauled into court.

The police realise this, and their administration of the legislation has been exemplary. They have initiated legal proceedings only for gross violations of the law and talked through other instances.

It is the fact that the law frowns on smacking that will encourage parents to rethink and change their behaviour towards their children such is the influence of formal sanctions in altering humans’ attitudes…

It is reform of the referendum legislation, rather than reform of the smacking law, that this latest referendum is likely to produce.

Read the full article.

Dr Seuss referendum question clearly confused some people

August 23, 2009

John Key said in June that the referendum question could have been written by Dr Seuss.

Now, we’re used to hate mail here at The Yes Vote headquarters – we’ve received plenty over the last few months, and it’s not unexpected given the nature of the question that there are a at least a few hateful people in the in the ranks of the pro-smackers.

What was our surprise then, when we received the following item yesterday:

Name: Richard
Email: [address removed]

It is a very sad week when a little 3 year old dies in our country from abuse that may have started with ‘a little tap’ and at the same time we have people like your group supporting the notion the violence towards our most vulnerable is ok.  I don’t think you understand what good parenting is and as for one of your representatives saying to his little girl ‘daddy loves you’ as he abuses her – how sick is that.  Shame on you

Time: Sunday August 23, 2009 at 4:04 am
IP Address: 125.237.176.[deleted]

Sent by an unverified visitor to your site.

This poor fellow obviously got the wrong end of the stick.  Some people are very confused about what YES and what NO meant on the referendum question.

We tried to be kind to this well-intentioned individual, and responded as follows.


You got it the wrong way around my friend … The YES Vote are the people who are against smacking!

Please take out your wrath on the VOTE NO people …

Undeterred, he responded:

Your response confirms for me that your organisation has got no idea about what you actually stand for and why the referendum was a waste of time.  By voting, anyone would have supported your contention that smaking is a part of good parenting – how sad.  By doing your homework and visiting hospitals etc, you’d see that the level of child abuse is appaling in this country and people who voted yes have been sucked into turning a blind eye to this and in effect supporting it’s continuation.  I’m pleased to say that I’m not one of these people!  I know heaps of people who are doing a great job of raising their kids without resorting to violence.

Thankfully, less than an hour later, he sent us the following apology:

Please accept my sincere apologies – I was so fired up I thought that I was emailing that lot wishing to over turn the current law – Baldock etc!!

I am sorry for directing my frustration at the wrong group.  I just can’t believe how naive people can be believing that smacking kids is ok.

I will do what you say.  All the best with your work – I wish you luck and again sincere apologies!!

Phew!  It just goes to show how devious and confusing the referendum wording was, and that good triumphs over evil in the end.  But we’re left wondering how many people were as confused as Richard when they voted.

Bad question, but it’s still important to vote!

June 19, 2009

The last few days have seen many public statements from journalists and MPs expressing disapproval of the referendum question and of the cost. The Prime Minister’s reassurance that he believes the law is working well and that he will not be changing the law is very welcome. Many people say that they are “over” the debate about child discipline.

So it may be tempting to ignore the referendum altogether. But there are some excellent reasons to vote in the referendum, and support A YES Vote.

  • To demonstrate that people are not fooled by the referendum’s tricky question.
  • To continue to demonstrate to politicians that there is support for the law.
  • To address attempts to undermining public confidence in the law.
  • To achieve some quiet time for the law to bed down peacefully and have a positive effect on the way children are disciplined in New Zealand.
  • To observe over time, and in an unbiased way, how it is working in practice.

If over time we find that there are cases where prosecutions would have been best avoided because they involve trivial assaults and the stress caused by prosecutions is counter-indicated lets look at measures outside law to ensure that these are handled in a compassionate way. We do not need to re-introduce a law that says some assaults on children are acceptable and that physical punishment is ok part of family discipline.

A YES Vote strengthens support for the law.

Others have commented on this as well; see The Standard’s Still Voting Yes, and Kiwipolitico’s fascinating Game Theory Analysis of Voting in the Referendum.

Sue Bradford launches bill to prevent future confusing referenda

June 17, 2009

Green Party MP Sue Bradford this morning launched a Member’s Bill aimed at ending the use of confused questions in Citizens Initiated Referenda.

“Many New Zealanders have been shocked this week to discover the actual wording of the referendum question proposed by opponents of the law change that helps keep children safe from violence,” said Ms Bradford.

“The Green Party believes it is high time we ended the practice of allowing referenda petitions containing ambiguous questions to be put forward.

“My Citizens Initiated Referenda (Wording of Question) Amendment Bill will be placed in the parliamentary member’s ballot this Thursday 18 June, if one is held.

“The Bill requires the Clerk of the House to only allow referendum questions which are not ambiguous, complex, leading or misleading.

“If a person proposing a referendum question has their wording turned down, they will still have the option of reformulating their question until it meets the new criteria.

“Given comments by Prime Minister John Key yesterday that he thinks stricter rules around referenda questions should be introduced, I am also hopeful that even if my Bill is not drawn from the ballot this week, the Government may pick it up,” said Ms Bradford.

“I believe there would be cross party support for such an amendment.

“There are people who will be confused by the referendum and choose not to vote. There are also people who support the current law but don’t want to engage in a badly-worded and misleading referendum.

“However, I still believe the strongest statement we can make to demonstrate our commitment to protecting our children from violence is to vote ‘yes’ in the postal referendum.”

* The Bill is available at:

Referendum question is questionable

April 16, 2009

Thought should be given to challenging, by way of judicial review, the wording of the question to be put to New Zealanders in a referendum later this year, according to Wellington consultant and child rights expert Robert Ludbrook.

The referendum question is:
Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

“It will be immediately obvious that the question is questionable,” Robert Ludbrook says.

“The words ‘a smack as part of good parental correction’ are objectionable for several reasons. These are:

  • The word ‘good’ before ‘parental correction’ makes a value judgment which predetermines the answer. People answering the question will be drawn to answer ‘no’ on the basis that what is ‘good’ cannot be ‘bad’ (that is, criminal). It would be absurd to answer ‘yes’ because it would saying that an action which is good should be a criminal offence.
  • The question as framed is tautologous (OED: a statement that is true of necessity or by its logical form).
  • The word ‘good’ in terms of physical punishment is often used to mean ‘severe’: for example, ‘a good hiding’ or ‘six of the best’.
  • The term ‘parental correction’ is confusing in the context of the question. Because ‘force by way of correction’ was used in the old s59, it is often used as meaning ‘correction by the use of force’ or physical punishment. To speak of a ‘smack as part of parental correction’ is repetitious and circular.

“How is it that an estimated $10 million of government funds will be spent on a one-off referendum asking a question that is badly drafted and heavily weighted towards a particular answer?

“The answer lies in the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993. Under the act, the wording for the question is determined by the Clerk of the House before signatures are collected for the petition. Section 10(1) sets the criteria for the question posed in the referendum. These criteria require that:

(1) The wording of the precise question to be put to the voters, as determined under s11 of this act by the Clerk of the House of Representatives, (a) Shall be such as to convey clearly the purpose and effect of the indicative referendum; and (b) Shall be such as to ensure that only one of two answers may be given to the question.

“It will be noted that there is no obligation placed on the Clerk of the House to ensure that the question put is balanced or framed in a neutral way.

“It is arguable that the question to be put fails to convey clearly the purpose and effect of the indicative referendum and thought perhaps should be given to challenging the wording by means of judicial review,” Robert Ludbrook says.

“Groups promoting the referendum want politicians to revisit the law and reintroduce a statutory defence.

“The new s59 already provides for a review by Parliament after the amendment has been in force for two years. After 2 July 2009, the chief executive of Child, Youth and Family must provide a report on the effects of the amendment to the Minister of Social Development and this report must be presented to Parliament as soon as practicable [see s59(7)]. As the law change is to be reviewed anyway later this year the referendum seems pointless.

“While citizen’s initiated referenda may be promoted as giving ordinary people a say on important public issues, two points need to be made.

“The first is that although the referendum is about children and their right to be protected from physical assaults, children do not get to vote on the question.

“The second is that it is impossible to condense a complex issue such the acceptability of smacking and hitting children into a question containing 17 words. The question should more correctly have been posed differently.”

Two possible examples of wordings, both having the advantage of clarity and neutrality, would be:

  • Should children be entitled to the same protection from physical assaults as everyone else enjoys?
  • Should the law allow parents and carers to hit or smack children when they misbehave?

“The law is an important symbol and the new s59 sends a clear message that assaulting children is unlawful.

“The referendum is an opportunity for those who believe that children deserve special protection from parental assaults to express their views by answering ‘yes’ to the question.

“A ‘yes’ vote is a vote for the current law,” Robert Ludbrook says.

Recognised internationally as a child rights expert, Robert Ludbrook is a consultant, former lawyer and contributing author of Unreasonable Force: New Zealand’s journey towards banning the physical punishment of children, published by Save the Children NZ (2008).

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

Popular Subjects on this site

Legal compliance

If you are going to use or distribute material from our campaign in any way, eg remixed or mashed up, please ensure that your actions are compliant with the relevant legislation, as the Yes Vote Coalition cannot take responsibility for actions beyond our control or knowledge.

The bottom line is that we want to play by the rules. We appreciate your support, but please act ethically, thoughtfully, and within the law.

Please see our Legal Disclaimer for more information.