Thursday, 22 March 2007

22 March 2007 - NZPA - Govt wants to fast-track smacking bill

Govt wants to fast-track smacking bill
By GRANT FLEMING - NZPA | Thursday, 22 March 2007

The Government is seeking support to fast-track legislation under urgency that would restrict parents' right to smack their children.

Leader of the House Michael Cullen today said the Government had not decided whether it would move urgency, which could see Green MP Sue Bradford's controversial bill passed into law next Wednesday.

But Ms Bradford said the Greens had already been approached by the Government and had indicated they would support an urgency motion.

Such a motion would require the support of a majority of MPs.

Ms Bradford's bill would remove the legal defence of "reasonable force" for parents who physically punish their children.

The bill appears to have the numbers to pass into law, but opponents, who say it will outlaw smacking, are mounting a final push against it.

National MPs have managed to delay the bill at its committee stage, meaning that under normal parliamentary processes it would not face its third reading until late April or even May.

Debate on the bill's committee stage, when MPs can attempt to insert amendments, recommences on Wednesday.

But National deputy leader Gerry Brownlee today said the Government appeared to be planning to move urgency so it could "railroad" the bill through Parliament.

Under urgency the bill could proceed to its third reading and be passed into law straight after its committee stage concluded.

Labour needed to make its plans clear.

"(Prime Minister) Helen Clark knows very well that the smacking ban is unpopular with the majority of New Zealanders, and that the public are frustrated that she has not allowed her MPs the opportunity to vote with their consciences," he said.

"To limit the damage it is clear that Labour wants to steamroll this legislation through the House as quickly as possible."

Using urgency would be an abuse of the process, Mr Brownlee said.

Dr Cullen would not directly answer Mr Brownlee's questions in Parliament and afterward a spokesman would not say if the Government was even considering urgency.

He said no decision had been taken.

But, in response to a question from New Zealand First deputy leader Peter Brown, Dr Cullen said he would consult with parties if an urgency motion was to be taken.

"This bill is, of course, a conscience matter for some caucuses, not operating a party vote, and that complicates procedural matters in this respect, but I'll certainly be consulting with either the leader of NZ First or the acting leader."

Opponents of the bill will march on Parliament next Wednesday.

Ms Bradford yesterday said she was concerned some of them were being influenced by hysteria whipped up around the bill, which she believed would not criminalise parents who lightly smacked their children.

"Any sensible reading of the police guidelines on prosecution will show that police will exercise their discretion on this matter."

The bill as it stands would allow parents to use reasonable force to protect their child, or others from harm, or to stop offensive or disruptive behaviour.

However, it would not allow parents to use force for punishment.

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