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Why the smacking bill is meaningless

No-one truly knows what the Crimes (Substitution Section 59) Amendment Act is about.  Like actually, no-one.  You see, even its supporters don’t agree on its purpose.  Let alone its opponents.  Or the people in between.  How can we expect to rationally debate its consequences if we don’t know what it’s for?

It goes like this.  The Greens, or more specifically Sue Bradford, wanted to outlaw any provision for reasonable force for disciplinary purposes.  So she drafted a bill to make it happen.  Apart from its Title, Commencement, Principal Act, Purpose, and Consequential Amendments sections, it had a total of four words (i.e. four words that actually mean something):

Section 59 is repealed.

Now, all bills have an official purpose, which is the purpose written by the person who wrote the bill.  Bradford’s purpose was “to abolish the use of reasonable force by parents as a justification for disciplining children.”  She does not believe that any force is reasonable.  She said so herself.

So the Greens want to outlaw all force for correction because it’s wrong.  Labour also supports the bill, but Helen Clark’s sees it differently.  She would never outlaw smacking.  Wouldn’t even dream of it.  All she believes the bill does is stop people hiding behind section 59 to justify abusing their children with belts and the like. 

The Maori Party believes that the bill sends a message to its constituents that abuse is wrong.  The National Party, who opposes the bill, believes that the bill should want to stop people hiding behind section 59, but think the bill in it’s current form doesn’t do that.  The Act Party sees the bill as criminalising parents for smacking children.  New Zealand First is taking a conscience vote.

Therein lies the problem.  Seven parties.  Seven views.  Seven different ways of seeing the bill.  Some share principles—National and Labour seem to share the same ideals, for instance—but for this bill, no two parties are alike.  How this bill’s meant to be of any use to us whilst in this state is beyond me.

Of course, the Greens and Labour would never admit that they’re out of step with each other.  After Helen Clark’s comments that smacking should be allowed, Bradford was quick to say she felt the same.  She contradicts herself—another problem with this bill—but, umm, never mind that.  She says no force is reasonable, but she doesn’t want to outlaw smacking.  I could go ahead and explain why she is deceiving herself, but I will save that for another day.

As for what the bill actually does, well, if people don’t agree what it’s for, then they sure as hell won’t agree on what it does, so I won’t go ahead and explain that.  Instead, I’ll just reproduce section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 and let you judge for yourself.  Section 59, which would have been repealed outright in Bradford’s version of the bill, goes like this:

  1. Every parent of a child and, subject to subsection (3) of this section, every person in the place of the parent of a child is justified in using force by way of correction towards the child, if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.
  2. The reasonableness of the force used is a question of fact.
  3. Nothing in subsection (1) of this section justifies the use of force towards a child in contravention of section 139A of the Education Act 1989.

Now, what actually happened is that the Justice and Electoral Committee didn’t think repealing it outright was a very good idea, so they effectively rewrote the entire bill to replace rather that remove section 59.  The purpose is similar but more precise and the bill allows parents to use force in certain circumstances, for example, to prevent the child from engaging in disruptive behaviour, but not for correction.  Same idea, common-sense changes.  You decide for yourself whether the bill achieves its purpose—whatever its purpose may be—take your pick, or make up your own.  Enjoy.

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