Wednesday, 18 April 2007

17 April 2007 - Stuff - Greens happy to talk to Nats over smacking

17 April 2007 - Stuff - Greens happy to talk to Nats over smacking

Greens happy to talk to Nats over smacking
by MAGGIE TAIT - NZPA | Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Green Party MP Sue Bradford has welcomed National leader John Key's call to get together to talk about her bill to change the law around smacking.

However the Government response was cooler.

In a speech today Mr Key said he would like to talk to Prime Minister Helen Clark and Ms Bradford about her controversial member's bill.

The bill changes the Crimes Act and removes the statutory defence of "reasonable force" against assault on a child.

Opponents say it will turn parents into criminals for smacking children but supporters say the aim it will only stop people using the defence for serious assaults against children.

Mr Key said most MPs wanted:

**To prevent violence against children being protected by the defence of reasonable force;

**not to criminalise good parents who occasionally gave their children a light smack;

**to lower the threshold for what was considered acceptable physical discipline.
Ms Bradford said she was "absolutely delighted" Mr Key saw the issue as important.

"I welcome very much his offer to play a constructive role in the debate," she said.

She made her own offers – to talk to National's caucus and to organise a meeting for Mr Key, herself and a few groups like Plunket, Barnardos, Save the children and Unicef.

"I'd like to do both those things, I'd like to make that offer back to Mr Key," she said.

Ms Bradford said she was willing to move on her position "if there's anywhere to move" but would not accept defining a level of violence against children.

National MP Chester Borrows previously proposed an amendment to allow parents to use limited force to correct their children.

Ms Bradford said she could not see why there needed to be any defence in the law for assaults against children.

"I want to remove the defence of reasonable force which allows people a defence when they assault their children that is not available when they assault other adults. That is different from creating a new offence of smacking which is what my opponents have painted this as."

Social Development Minister David Benson-Pope said Mr Key's comments about where he stood on the issue were confusing and vague; "but do appear to show that his position now mirrors that of the Government".

Mr Benson-Pope said Mr Key and National had scaremongered about the bill rather than properly debate it.

"I want to assure John Key that the Government would not support any measure that would criminalise good parents," he said.

"It's now up to John Key to put his money where his mouth is and prove to the country that he and his party are serious about addressing child abuse in New Zealand, and that it's not just another case of him shifting his position to suit the audience and trying to get back into the news."

United Future leader Peter Dunne said Mr Key's call for multi-party talks was sensible.

"A common ground discussion between parties might just be able to bring together a package that can gain the support of the vast majority of Parliament and I, for one, would be keen to be involved in such a process," he said.

Mr Dunne said the talks should be for parties, not lobby groups, and the bill put off until they were held.

Debate on the bill is to be held on May 2. At this point it has the numbers to pass.

Mr Key later said that he would take Ms Bradford up on both her offers.

"If there's some common ground that would be a very positive step forward."

Mr Benson-Pope said he was willing to meet and Mr Key said he would contact him to arrange a meeting.

Mr Key did not accept the criticism that his comments were confusing.

"I think they were extremely clear – we spelled out the three points," he said.

"I think it's an indisputable fact that the law will make criminals of parents that lightly smack their children for the purposes of correction – something that both Labour and the Greens publicly say they don't want to happen."

Mr Key said the bill had to change and National was happy to work with Labour and the Greens on that.

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