Tuesday, 1 May 2007

1 May 2007 - SPCS - Call to Abandon Bradford’s Flawed Bill

The Society for Promotion of Community Standards Inc.

P.O. Box 13-683 Johnsonville

Press Release

1 May 2007

Call to Abandon Bradford’s Flawed Bill

A guilt-ridden Ms Katherine Rich MP, mother of two children and Education spokesperson for the National Party, candidly confessed to the nation in the weekend that she was "way out of control" and "totally lost it" when she lightly smacked her son Jonathan on a couple of occasions for some apparent minor misdemeanours. Rich, a National List MP, who is the only National MP continuing to support Green Party MP Sue Bradford’s unpopular ‘anti-smacking’ bill, stated:

"I smacked Jonathan a couple of times - but I'm deeply ashamed of that. I've thought about those situations and it was more to do with my tiredness and inability to cope than trying to find genuine ways of directing him.

"The time when I just totally lost it because ... sometimes you just lose all tolerance ... he turned around to me and said, 'Mummy, why did you do that, you're supposed to be happy'.

"I decided very early on it didn't serve any purpose. I recall seeing the fear on his face when I raised my hand. I realised I was the one out of control - he was just being a child." (NZ Herald 29 April).

The Society believes that very few thinking New Zealand parents will be persuaded by this sort of heart-felt confession, that they too need to do penance for with Rich by lending support to Bradford’s deeply flawed anti-family bill. Of course most loving parents, like Rich, would concede that they might have made the odd mistake (e.g. slight over-reaction) in dealing with disciplinary matters, when tired and struggling to cope with their kids bad behaviour. It is ludicrous and deeply insulting that the promoters of Bradford’s bill continue to suggest that genuine loving parents, who might occasionally smack their kids for correction, "abuse" their kids using physical "violence". Like Rich they appear ideologically-driven by the misguided belief that nothing justifies the use of any kind of force for the purpose of the correction of children and appear to actually believe that light smacking actually constitutes "child abuse".

Many parents actually think that Rich has "totally lost it" by supporting Bradford’s pointless bill for the reasons she has stated. Over 80% of New Zealanders polled have consistently opposed the bill which Rich is hailing as the answer to New Zealand’s child abuse problem. Most see the bill and her support of it as a direct attack on the family. They’re sick and tired of the dishonest rhetoric coming from the bill’s sponsor Ms Bradford. As the Dominion Post editorial stated today "…opponents of her legislation are entitled to take at face value the provision that states nothing in the exemptions of the legislation ‘justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction’. That, however, much she [Bradford] may deny it, is a ban on what most people would regard as smacking.’ (May 1, B4).

Most parents of young children will appreciate the circumstances that may have led to Ms Rich’s ‘disciplinary’ actions involving light smacks. However, without knowing the specifics it is hard to comment on whether her actions qualified as a genuine and justified case for corrective physical discipline where reasonable force was required, or not. The fact that Jonathan did not know what the smack was for and had to ask the reason why it was applied, suggests that Ms Rich failed in the basics of corrective discipline. A smack must be judiciously applied only after adequate reasons have been given to the child and the child complies to receiving the corrective. It must be appropriate in the circumstances and never be administered in anger or merely to release the frustrations of an exasperated parent or person in the place of a parent. The fact that Rich was at her wits’ end when she says she smacked Jonathan could suggest that he had repeatedly disobeyed and/or ignored her instructions. However, the fact that his aggravating behaviour is described as arising from him "just being a child" suggests that it may not have been appropriate "in the circumstances" to apply a smack.

Whatever the circumstances were, most New Zealand parents would understand the type of situation Rich might have faced with her son Jonathan and would sympathise with her frustrations. Most parents cringe from their actions when, upon reflection, they realise that they reacted inappropriately in seeking to correct their child for wrongdoing. A good parent would always seek to promptly correct and modify his/her behavioural responses in the light of their mistakes, perhaps requesting advice from his or her spouse or wider family. However, a smack using reasonable force, does not constitute "child abuse", as Rich seems to imply it does. It is hard to understand why she continues to support Bradford’s seriously flawed and pointless private member’s bill that has as its stated purpose to:

"… make better provision for children to live in a safe and secure environment free from violence by abolishing the use of parental force for the purpose of correction". [Emphasis added].

The bill’s original purpose prior to its amendment during the select committee stages stated, to:

"… abolish the use of reasonable force by parents as a justification for disciplining children".

Both opponents and supporters of the bill do share common ground in genuinely wanting a reduction in child abuse and both agree that this bill will NOT achieve this goal. In the light of these facts it is farcical that MP’s supporting Bradford’s bill have amended the original bill in such a way that as to actually assert something they do not actually believe: that "violence" against children (child abuse) will be reduced once "parental force for the purpose of correction" is abolished: a clear case of either self-delusion, or contradiction and dishonesty on the part of the bill’s supporters. Furthermore, it is ludicrous that the bill uses the verb to abolish ("abolishing the use of parental force") and yet Bradford and the Prime Minister, Miss Helen Clark have repeatedly told the public that the bill is not about banning smacking and is only about removing the defence of reasonable force from s. 59.

It’s time to be honest in this messy, time-wasting debate! Light smacking for correction constitutes force used for correction. "Abolishing" means getting rid of. Therefore, the intention of the bill must include getting rid of the use of light smacking for correction! To say otherwise is to be dishonest. Reinforcing this conclusion is the fact that the bill only allows the defence of "reasonable force" for acts of force used against children in four specific circumstances (section 1 [a] to [d]) – four exemptions - but removes this defence from the Principal Act where it is applied specifically to acts involving "correction" (involving "domestic discipline").

Bradford’s bill, in its current form, including the amendments, contains nothing to back up the bill’s supporters’ claims that its purpose is: [1] NOT to ban smacking, but [2] rather is focused just on removing the defence of "reasonable force" against prosecution of an adult (parent) for an assault against a child, in cases involving correction. As shown above a reasonable and logical interpretation of the wording of the bill (see Dominion Post quote above) must lead one to draw the conclusion that the bill, once put into law, will make it a criminal offence to lightly smack a child for the purpose of "correction". If that was not the intention of the bill as Helen Clark and Sue Bradford claim, then it must be stated in the bill as Nation Party MP Chester Borrows and his Party leader John Key have cogently argued, by introducing their respective amendments to the bill, both of which have been flatly rejected by Bradford.


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