An article just published in CANTA, the student magazine of the University of Canterbury Student’s Association.
We’ve all heard about it and we’re all sick to death with it. The smacking referendum. The Electoral Office will have posted us all a voting form on 31 July, and we’ll have 3 weeks to fill it out and post it back to them. The $10 million dollar question being asked is, “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand”, and not surprisingly there will be two cute little tick boxes next to the question: Yes or No.
Why are we going through this whole rigmarole of having a referendum about smacking? In 2004, Sue Bradford’s bill to amend Section 59 of the Crimes Act was drawn from the ballot. She referred to it as her “Anti-Smacking Bill”. Thing is, the law doesn’t just ban smacking – it bans any use of reasonable force when parents or caregivers need to correct their children. And yes, that includes placing your children in time-out when they’ve been naughty. However unsurprisingly, polling since 2005 has indicated with incredible consistency that 82% of Kiwis think that Bradford’s bill should never have been passed. (check out voteno.org.nz/polls.htm) Heck, I have personally spoken to several thousand Kiwis while I was collecting signatures on the petition for the referendum. A few people were absolutely disgusted at the concept of a “loving smack” – one anti-smacking advocate got so wound up that he “smacked” myself and an elderly woman who stood at the table signing the petition. The irony was lost on him.
An overwhelming majority of the people I spoke to told me that they would never beat up their children – but that an occasional smack to reinforce that they had disobeyed really seemed to work well. I was surprised at the number of children and teens who came up asking to sign, annoyed when they were told that only people 18yrs and older could put their name to the petition. For the most part, the mainstream media in New Zealand has ignored this groundswell of opposition to the law – preferring instead to espouse the same tired old drivel that we’re hearing from Parliament and branches of the bureaucracy.
The new law criminalises all parents who use a smack to correct their children from time to time. “Yes, but they won’t be prosecuted – all the new law does is to remove a defence under which parents were getting away with beating their children with blocks of wood and horse-whips to within an inch of their lives,” say Sue Bradford the Yes Vote lobby. It’s all smoke and mirrors. It is correct that at this stage few parents will be prosecuted for giving a corrective smack. However parents will still be criminalised for smacking – what are the kids going to think? Mummy’s giving me a smack for stealing money from her purse – but my school-teacher told me smacking is illegal. The law-change was purported to ensure that the defence of smacking was not able to be used when parents abused their children. However in the entire history of the law there were only 7 or 8 cases in which the jury reached a perhaps less than satisfactory decision.
But the question’s loaded – it’s a leading question! John Key and Phil Goff can’t understand it and so have said that they won’t bother voting. Over the past few weeks reporters have been churning out articles faster than you can read them, explaining why the referendum question is hopeless and completely destroys the credibility and effectiveness of the whole process. They have intentionally sought to shift the debate from the real issue – parental authority, to a side-issue: the wording of the referendum question. However when mother of two, Sheryl Savill submitted her petition question to the Clerk of Parliament it was put to the public for a month, to get feedback on the wording of the question. The question originally read “Should a smack within the context of positive parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”. The Ministry of Justice among others contacted the Clerk raising various issues with the question.
After this process, the Clerk – who has the reputation of being the most balanced and respectable clerk’s in the history of New Zealand Parliament, approved the final version of the question; “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”. When proponents of the new law claim that the question presupposes that smacking is, by definition, a part of good parenting, they are applying preschooler logic to the issue. I tell you what, the 390,000 Kiwis who signed the petition didn’t have any trouble reading the question. It is pathetic that I should have to explain this, but the correct way to understand the question is as follows. Should a corrective smack that is administered as a part of good parenting be illegal? And in other words, should decent parents who love their kids and want what’s best for them be criminalised for giving their child a smack for the purpose of correction?
“Save the country $10m, withdraw the referendum, give the money to victims of abuse” bleat the anti-smacking brigade. Of course the thing they conveniently forget is exactly who is responsible for this huge cost being imposed on the hardworking taxpayers. It is a convention of Parliament that when a petition has been successful, the referendum should take place within one year, and usually at the general election – estimated to cost around $2m. Helen Clark decided that the referendum would not be held at the election though, as it would be extremely detrimental to her party as well as making smacking a key election issue. Just recently, Savill made a statement in which she offered to withdraw her petition for a referendum if the Government would amend the anti-smacking law so that it better reflected the will of the people of New Zealand. This offer was not accepted.
Don’t be fooled. Voting yes will do nothing that will even remotely help lower New Zealand’s deplorably high child abuse statistics. Voting no will send John a clear message that we’re not going to stand for Nanny State. Let’s get this confounded referendum out of the way and then roll up our sleeves and put our effort into initiatives that will drive a stake into the heart of child abuse.
- by Andy Moore