Scathing attacks on Family First

Scathing attacks on Family First
by John McNeil

Family First is bewildered by scathing attacks which have been mounted against it in the past week by two newspapers. The Press in Christchurch printed a vitriolic cartoon which portrayed the organisers of a petition against the anti-smacking legislation as really wanting the wording to read: “Should beating your horse with whips, pipes and timber studded with nails be legal in New Zealand?”

A Sunday Star Times editorial claimed the referendum was a heavy club by “the religious extremists of Family First” to beat the government with. “It is as though the Brethren had found a cause that appealed to the mainstream. The political and social effects are likely to be large and wholly malign.” Family First’s national director, Bob McCoskrie, said he has no idea why the newspapers launched these attacks, although it appeared to have been inspired by full-page advertisements run by the organisation in the papers, pointing out the effects of the anti-smacking legislation.

“You’d think when you have such a strong public reaction to a petition, they would say ‘the people have a concern here, and it sounds legitimate’. But they’re trying to paint the huge majority of Kiwis as ‘religious extremists’ and ‘motley fanatics’. “They’re saying – and Sue Bradford has said the same – that Family First is out of step with reality. I think it might be the opposite, considering that 275,000 people have now signed the petition. It seems they have an agenda that they don’t want the law revisited.”

Mr McCoskrie said the Sunday Star Times editorial was factually incorrect on several counts. It claimed that Family First had an influence on the last election, when the organisation did not even exist then. The petitions have been launched by two individual people, Larry Baldock and Sheryl Savill, not Family First.

“Family First can’t initiate any referendum. We’re just one of many organisations that got behind them,” he said. Mr McCoskrie said far from being right-wing extremists, Family First has had Labour Party stalwarts tell it they totally oppose the anti-smacking legislation. “In fact, they tried within the Labour Party to get it changed, but to no avail. There was a very strong drive in the Labour Party, particularly from the Pacific sector, for change. I think the drop in Labour support in the polls reflects that, and I think both parties desperately want the issue to go away.”

MP Sue Bradford has suggested the full-page advertisements be monitored to see whether they contravene the new Electoral Finance Act. However, Mr McCoskrie said the advertisements did not come within the Act’s scope as they were simply an attack on bad legislation and the effect it is having, not promoting or denigrating any particular party.


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