For your common sense and principle on the smacking issue.

It does seem inappropriate to be stampeded by a referendum in which the potential victims (and by that I mean the children, not the parents!) have no say.

The best analysis I’ve seen of the post-referendum situation comes from Gordon Campbell, former Listener journalist, writing for Scoop.co.nz. Says Campbell, in part:

“Legitimising violence against children – even the so called ‘loving’ kind of violence that supposedly does them so much good – is a serious thing. However, it seems bizarre that New Zealand should be spending more energy on whether children can be properly disciplined than on whether they get enough food to eat, or can read properly, Reason being, this dispute has little to do with the wellbeing of children. It is all about parents, and their freedom to do as they see fit and proper. Hitting your kids is seen by many as a basic property right.

… Along the way, the referendum deliberately begged the question it was purporting to test – in that under no current law, and under no current police practice, are good parents being criminalized for the reasons we have just spent $9 million to denounce.

… How can the government basically do nothing, while still placating a large number of the voting public? Well, last time it did very well indeed out of focusing on Police guidelines. It could try that route again. It could tell the Police to exercise Extra Super Duper Size Discretion in future about smacking complaints, rather than just the Family Size Discretion they’ve shown so far. That might be enough.”

And for all practical purposes, this is the route PM Key is taking on what Campbell calls “the science fiction scenario of good parents getting hauled off to court for a tap on the arm.” Key is saying: show me a real problem and then I’ll fashion a relevant solution.

Soon Mr Key will need to contend with another issue associated with violence … Kiwis’ abuse of alcohol. When he ultimately is called upon to embrace the kind of strong measures recommended by the Law Commission and other experts, I hope he and his party will show the same resolve.

Tom Belford

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5 Comments

  1. Tom, you are missing two vital fundamental points.

    Firstly let us consider the consequences of the current law which John Key is defending. Last year there were 33 complaints of 'smacking' – yet only 1 prosecution, which was ultimately dropped. So, John Key honestly thinks that it is 'inconsequential' that 34 good families have been through the trauma and intrustion of a Police and/or CYF investgation and consequent interview. Although I have no experience of a visit to my home by the Police/CYF, what I can imagine is that it would not be like 'Interflora' or "Avon' calling. When these 34 good parents were 'visited' I pray that the children were not present – and this is supposed to be 'inconsequential'? So yes, in the above instance, the law as it stands does have the potential to permanently damage the children and the family unit it sets out to protect.

    Secondly, the total lack of democracy behind this whole issue.

    Bay Buzz is usually first out of the block when an issue appears to lack a democratic process. Unfortunately, like John Key, it seems that you are now also able to sacrifice democracy to suit your own personal view.

  2. Re: changes to the law on drinking.

    Something has to be done, when 31% of reported crime and 30% of the total road toll, 30% of fatal road crashes are all alcohol related. HB hospital reports that 25% of emergency admissions are alcohol related, with the figure going ups to 67% between midnight and 6 am. 1,000 NZers die every year from alcohol-related causes – half of them accidents and half cancers. ACC claims in which alcohol was a contributing factor cost $650 million a year. And so on.

    We can't afford such carnage and costs!

    The government will not change the law without public pressure.

    The liquor industry is very powerful here – after all, NZers spent $85 million a week on alcohol – so they are likely to resist legislation that will reduce their profits.

    It is up to us, not the government, to push for changes, and the NZ law Commission's discussion paper "Alcohol in our Lives" provides an opportunity for us to have our say.

    It's at http://www.lawcom.govt.nz and makes a sobering read.

    I hope BayBuzz will encourage readers to discuss this issue and make submissions to the Law Commission. The deadline is the end of October.

  3. Jan Daffern, you are missing two vital fundamental points.

    First, according to everything I have read or heard about, New Zealand seems to have one of the highest rates of violence against children in the developed world. If all children, or even most of them, were happy and healthy here, then there would be a good argument for maintaining the status quo. The whole reason our nanny state government felt impelled to intervene in the first place was precisely because of all the bashing going on in those 'spare the rod spoil the child' Family First families. If the prospect of prosecution curtails some of this, that can hardly be a bad thing. Perhaps the lack of prosecutions is an indication that the law is working.

    Second, as Tom summarizes, democracy is not ownership. The right of parents to discipline their children stops at the right of children not to live in terror of abuse. Sure, a mild smack won't physically damage the child. It will merely teach the child that hitting someone smaller than you is a good way to get what you want. Unfortunately, that's one lesson many seem to be learning and carrying into adult life.

  4. Jan,

    I just have to disagree on both counts.

    First, if the law contributes to saving one child from serious abuse, I'll happily weigh that up against a number of inconvenienced adults. If the latter number does indeed reach some level that suggests a systemic problem with over-zealous enforcement, then I'll accept that the situation should be looked into.

    As for democracy. We actually have representative government, and wisely so. Recognising that many public policy issues are pretty complex, and most of us as citizens have zero inclination to become informed about them, we hand the responsibility to our elected representatives. If we don't like how they handle that responsibility, we have the opportunity to boot them out.

    I do believe that when elected officials make decisions where they seem to be at odds with some evidenced expression of public attitudes, they bear a special responsibility to explain and defend their actions.

    So, for example, while I personally would be happy to support a Hastings Council (i.e., ratepayer) contribution to the HB Museum & Art Gallery, majority of the public responding to the Council's own survey on the matter said no thanks. I do think Councillors should explain why they discounted that sentiment. And if ratepayers don't buy the explanation, they can file that away for election time.

    In the smacking matter, John Key has explained very clearly his decision not to change the law. I accept his explanation and I suspect that most voters do as well. He stands ready to accept the consequences as far as re-election is concerned.

    I also view our MPs as also representing those with no voice at all in the matter … the children being protected.

    Cheers, Tom

  5. The law and smacking referendum were pointless political grandstanding.

    The issue that needed urgent attendance were these… creatures… we shall call them, who attack / abuse their children or young relatives with their closed fists, blunt objects and household appliances. Those without the mental or emotional faculties to figure out that if hitting an adult is both criminal and stupid, then attacking a helpless child is sub-human and plain evil.

    The law has changed nothing. Children are still being murdered.

    The referendum merely wasted $9 million that could have been better spent on prevention of child abuse and allowed more soap-boxes to be shined by the feet of those who are the loudest, yet most ineffectual.

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