Smacking referendum campaign kicks off 22 June 2009

Opponents of the so-called “anti-smacking” law say the Government would ignore a non-binding referendum on the legislation at its peril. Proponents of the upcoming referendum, which asks “should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand” today launched a campaign to promote a “no” vote. They want the 2007 law sponsored by Green MP Sue Bradford, which removed the defence of reasonable force in child abuse cases, to be repealed. The referendum has been labelled as a $9 million waste of time as Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff both say their parties won’t change the current law, and that there is little evidence it was not working. But campaigners for a “no” vote, who included Family First director Bob McCoskrie, Family and Child Trust advocate Bev Adair and referendum sponsor Sheryl Savill, said a strong vote in their favour would send a powerful signal to the Government.

“I think when 300,000-plus people sign a petition and a huge proportion of the country wants a law change, I think politicians don’t listen to that at their peril,” Mr McCoskrie said. He disputed Mr Key’s claim that the bill was working. At the end of last week we sent through evidence of six prosecutions of good parents who had been prosecuted through the courts for smacks – an open hand smack on the leg, on the arm, on the bottom. I think the evidence is there. We’ve sent evidence of families being referred to Child Youth and Family and children being removed while investigations are taking place just for smacks. In fact, there’s a case today in the Lower Hutt District Court of a father trying to get his son on to the rugby field and giving him a few shoves and he’s being prosecuted for common assault.”

Mr McCoskrie agreed the referendum was a waste of money, but not for the reasons put forward by most critics. Proponents of the referendum would prefer to see the member’s bill of ACT MP John Boscawen adopted, which Mr McCoskrie said made clear exactly what was unacceptable while still allowing light smacking. “If the Government adopted that, Sheryl would withdraw the referendum today and we would save the country $9m,” Mr McCoskrie said. “They could fix it today and avoid the need for this referendum.”

….But criticism of the wording as confusing “is just an insult to 300,000 people plus who knew quite well what they were signing, and who are simply saying the anti-smacking law is misdirected”, Mr McCoskrie said. He reaffirmed his view that the law was targeting good parents rather than child abuse. “A smack can become child abuse just as ‘time out’ can become neglect, the same as withdrawal of privileges can become bribery, the same as a telling off can become degrading and shameful verbal abuse. “It’s not the technique that’s the problem, it’s the person, it’s the parent and we need to target rotten parents.” Among those campaigning for a “no” vote are radio and television personality Simon Barnett and former What Now presenter Anthony Samuels.