Wednesday, 21 March 2007

20 March 2007 - The Dominion Post - Flawed backing for a flawed bill

Dominion Post Editorial gets it right on the anti-smacking Bill.
Flawed backing for a flawed bill

The Dominion Post

Tuesday 20 March 2007

Richard Long


Social engineering. Labour likes it, but the words send a shudder through the electorate. Accordingly, having got civil union and prostitution law reform on to the books, Labour decided to clear the slate before this third term and not buy into any more of the troublesome stuff.

Georgina Beyer’s transgender equality plans were quietly sidelined before the election and never revived afterward. That move would have made it illegal to discriminate against employing transgender, including in the police and armed forces, which would have resulted in continuing ructions.

Even the move to allow public access to waterways across private land was quietly put on the back-burner pre-election. Labour initially thought it was on a winner on this one, expecting it to come down to a fight between the general public and farmers. But the move instead roused support for private property rights. The proposal has just emerged in greatly watered-down form.

On the election campaign Prime Minister Helen Clark saw the dangers in supporting anti-smacking plans in a radio interview, which has just resurfaced. She responded when asked if she wanted to see smacking banned: "Absolutely not. Well you’re trying to defy human nature."

Explaining her support now for Green MP Sue Bradford’s anti-smacking bill, Miss Clark says there has been no change of stance. "This is about people who thrash and beat children".

Ms Bradford similarly argues black is white about her quaintly named The Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification of Child Discipline) Amendment Bill. It is not an anti-smacking bill, she proclaims.

It is too. The repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act, which allows parents to use "reasonable force" to discipline children, in effect makes it a criminal offence to smack. The only exceptions are cases where children are likely to hurt themselves – or when they are bashing other kids or animals. But in the latter cases the corrective smack can be administered only if the child’s actions are likely to cause injury (to siblings or the family pet).

In another words, in the split second before a parent has the chance to deliver an admonishing, corrective smack, they have to make this calculation without consulting a lawyer or doctor. The wrong choice means breaking the law.

Ms Bradford’s supporters argue smacking would be against the law, but argue the police would never prosecute. That’s great. So our MPs are passing a law which they acknowledge will be ignored. And even if the police don’t prosecute, they will have to follow up complaints. The waste of their time and resources will be immense.

Children are pretty resourceful. Some of the little devils, miffed with parents, are quite likely to dial 111 to claim they have been beaten.

What happens after an investigation clears the parents? Will they then be charged with allowing their child to waste police time?

So how did we get into this mess, with Parliament and the country so polarised on legislation which everyone expects parents will ignore?

Labour’s backing for Ms Bradford’s bill was not part of the formal confidence and supply agreement with the Greens, but the belief among many MPs is that it was part of an unofficial understanding, made when Labour saw parliamentary majority problems down the track with the likely defection of Mangare MP Taito Phillip Field.

That also explains why Labour MPs earlier said they were expecting a free vote on the bill. Then came the caucus instruction for a bloc vote in favour.

And why not support the sensible compromise amendment from National MP and former policeman Chester Borrows, which would still repeal Section 59, but allow corrective smacks for the temper tantrum and hitting other children? The problem is the Greens would then lose their sovereignty. Ms Bradford would rather burn her bill. Labour will not back the amendment because it would lose the Greens and give kudos to National.

The bill’s supporters are being cynically manipulative when they claim this will cure our appalling record of child abuse. The Lilly-bings, Kahui twins and Craig Manukaus are totally different tragic social problems not cured with this piece of paper.

Richard Long is a former chief of staff for National leaders Bill English and Don Brash

No comments: