Wednesday, 7 March 2007

22 February 2007 - Maxim Institute - Two votes down, one to go

Maxim Institute

Real Issues

No. 241 | 22 February 2007

Two votes down, one to go

After heated debate last night, Parliament advanced the so-called "anti-smacking" Bill another stage. The Bill passed its second reading by 70-51, with Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party all voting in favour of the Bill. They were joined by United Future Leader Peter Dunne, three New Zealand First MPs and six National MPs.

The Bill will now be set down for what is known as the "Committee of the whole House" stage, where any MP can suggest an amendment to it as a precursor to the third and final reading. During this stage, National MP Chester Borrows will propose an amendment which aims to define reasonable force, while allowing parents to use physical force for the purposes of correction.

This amendment is a sensible solution to a complicated and technical issue and if the amendment has the support of 61 or more MPs it will replace the original Bill. However, sponsor of the original Bill, Green MP Sue Bradford, has threatened to abandon her Bill altogether if the amendment passes, because retaining a right of physical discipline "cuts across the intent of the Bill", and she has committed to fighting the amendment "tooth and nail".

Both supporters and opponents of the Bill agree that child abuse is patently abhorrent. New Zealand has a tragically high rate of child abuse and something must be done to reduce it. However, it is doubtful whether the Bill would make a difference in this regard, and it would have significant negative consequences, including the criminalising of ordinary parents for using mild physical discipline such as a light smack.

In the debate last night, Ms Bradford insisted that her Bill would not criminalise parents. While this might be her intention, there can be no doubt that the Bill would result in mild discipline falling within the definition of "assault", thus exposing parents to the risk of criminal prosecution. This is not something good and loving parents should ever have to fear. A great majority of Kiwi parents are decent and competent and should be entrusted with the authority and the responsibility to raise, and discipline, their children.

With the third reading expected as early as three weeks from now, Parliament will have to decide whether to enact an unworkable law that criminalises parents, or whether to accept a reasonable compromise. Hopefully, commonsense will win the day.

See how your MP voted at the second reading:

Read an Issue Snapshot on the repeal of section 59:,

Read Chester Borrows' proposed amendment:

Write to the editor:

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