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No point in making smacking an election issue

An assertion that debate on the anti-smacking law “has moved on” can’t really be expected to sit well with all.  It seems to me that moral conservatives are still outraged about the issue.

Indeed, Family First was quick to assert in a letter to the NZ Herald that polls show move than 70 per cent of New Zealanders continue to oppose the anti-smacking laws of last year.  The question, though, does not refer to the law change that actually happened, but the question “Should smacking be a crime?”  They seemed to forget that the laws that were passed were not the same as the laws that were initially proposed.

It is convenient for conservative opposition to the Labour Government to forget this.  It is a primary vehicle for anti-Labour sentiment that they are invading our homes or dictating our lives.  What they don’t mention is that the National Party voted for the anti-smacking legislation.  They fail—and I hate to think all this might be deliberate—to understand the effect of the compromise clause.

The initial bill by Sue Bradford was every bit as outrageous as such opposition claims it to be, but the law that was passed with overwhelming cross-party support by 113–8 was not that bill.  The law not only allows parents to use force for “good care and parenting” (but not correction), but includes a clause affirming that police should not prosecute where there is no public interest in doing so.  Paraphrased, the law lets smacking slip through a loophole.

It is difficult, with this in mind, to use smacking laws as a significant factor in supporting National rather than Labour.  Labour and the Greens alone were not enough to pass the bill; they had a majority only when combined with the conscience vote of centrist parties.  After the compromise, for which Helen Clark must take an equal amount of credit as John Key, the two main parties were effectively aligned on the issue.  After all, it was always Labour’s position that smacking was not to be criminalised—the only disagreement in the first place was on whether the bill would actually do that.

The petitions organised by Family First may have enough signatures to force a citizens’ initiated referendum, but there is little to be gained from the move.  The proposed questions would have no effect on the anti-smacking law as passed.  The fact is that the debate all happened last year and the compromise was reached.  It has become an old and stale issue, and parties will be keen to focus on newer, fresher policies.  With this backdrop, there is little to gain from continuing to campaign on smacking this year.  Critics must accept the facts—that the law has helped to address the issue without criminalising good parents—and move on.


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