Vote unlikely to bring law change

The Press 16 June 2009

The Government is unlikely to change the child-discipline law regardless of the result of the $9 million referendum, Prime Minister John Key says. The Chief Electoral Office yesterday began the citizens-initiated referendum on Green Party MP Sue Bradford’s child-discipline law, which removed the defence of “reasonable force” for parents or guardians who hit their children. The referendum was forced last year when organisers collected more than 300,000 signatures on the question, “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” The referendum will be held by postal ballot from July 31 to August 21. Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden said the campaign and voting process would cost $8.9m.

Both sides of the debate are lining up for a rehash of arguments expressed when the law was passed two years ago. Child advocates have begun the call for a “yes” vote on the referendum, saying the new law is working as intended and parents are not being criminalised for smacking their children. Family First national director Bob McCoskrie, who helped organise the petition, said the law was “confusing” and the confusion was “causing huge harm”.