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Referendum asks an irrelevant question

If you asked me, “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”, I would say no, of course.

And of New Zealand’s 4,268,206 people, I figure approximately 4,268,205 people would say the same; the lone exception being a certain Sue Bradford, for whom “smacking” and “assault” are synonyms.  That’s 4,268,205, I say, not 4,268,093.  The other 112 politicians who voted for the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill last year are not exceptions.  I bet you anything they would say no too.

This was reiterated by every speaker, by every party that supported that bill in its third reading (except Ms Bradford).  Smacking would not be a crime.  Smacking should not be a crime.  The bill is not about smacking.  It is about the sheer abuse of children that goes on in some places, hidden behind the old Section 59.  This quote of National’s Chester Borrows is not an isolated example:

Those parents who are worried that this legislation will criminalise lightly smacking a child can rest assured that Parliament’s intention is that this should not be the case, and if at some future time they find themselves on such a charge, they should advise counsel to research Hansard and cite these comments in their defence.

Why on earth, then, do Family First and more than 300,000 voters want a referendum that asks about smacking?  A negative response to that question, which is an almost-certainty, would have no effect on the status quo.  It would merely reaffirm the stance of virtually every member of the Parliament that enacted the law.

Family First and its petition’s supporters have yet to realise this.  Perhaps they are in denial: who could have thought a bill that was originally so absurd could end up being an Act of Parliament that actually means something?  I wrote once in this blog in strong opposition to Ms Bradford’s bill, but much changed between then and its final reading.  The amendment I once opposed had four words, not four sections.

A read of Family First’s case studies might feel emotionally provoking at first, but upon closer study they have little substance.  Not one of the cases resulted even in prosecution, let alone conviction; the single case that even touched the courts was dismissed as soon as it got there.  The cases are largely isolated and the only evidence that they might not have happened under previous legislation is that they are largely the result of people’s misconceptions of the law, which were probably gained through media campaigns by Family First themselves, and which will probably be corrected as the new law settles in properly.

I wonder, if the question began, “Should beating violently with whips, belts or sticks…”, if the matter would be so controversial.  It is this question that the legislation, designed to let go of matters “so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution” (read: smacking), was addressing.  That’s why, if you ask me now, “Should the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 be part of New Zealand law?”, I would say yes, even when my answer to that pointless smacking question remains a clear no.

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