Smacking debate proves both parties want to play nanny

Smacking debate proves both parties want to play nanny

By MICHAEL LAWS – Sunday Star Times

Last updated 09:47 30/08/2009

OPINION: Is John Key thick? Or does the prime minister think that we are?

These are the only two possible explanations, after a week in which the National Party leader exposed a hubris that has taken him only nine months to acquire. By contrast, Helen Clark took nine years.

The pro-smacking referendum result of nine days ago was the most significant defeat of Wellington liberalism since McDonald’s ended the reign of “nouvelle cuisine”. And yet Key keeps finding new ways to forestall and frustrate democracy.

His latest effort has been his unilateral declaration that National will not support Act MP John Boscawen’s private member’s bill that seeks to enact the public will on the smacking issue. Why? Because the law is working properly, replied the PM.

Which is a nonsense. Because it is not working at all.

Exhibit one: the 16 dead children – killed by their family/whanau since the passage of Sue Bradford’s anti- smacking bill. Those 16 children are a roll-call of shame and not one of them was saved by parliament’s good intentions.

They will, inevitably, be joined by more child fatalities. From the same predominant ethnic group, and the same appalling underclass. Toxic whanau who will never reference their behaviour by what parliament says or does.

Of the 16 kiddies killed since the passage of this hated legislation, 11 were of Maori background, two Asian, one of Arab extraction and two are unknown at the time of writing.

And yet this was an act of parliament intended to arrest the onward march of child cruelty. It was supposed to “change the culture” – although change it by stopping the majority of good parents from lightly disciplining their children.

Exhibit two: the law itself. And this is where the prime minister is not simply wrong but deliberately misleading the country.

The law is explicit. Section 59 of the Crimes Act (1961) states that “nothing justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction”. And if anyone is in doubt on that – and Section 59 delineates occasions when parental force might be warranted in protecting a child – the above imperative trumps those exceptions.

Indeed the law is so inadequately and poorly drafted that it now includes the Key/Clark amendment that the prime minister seems determined to protect.

“To avoid doubt,” it states, “it is affirmed that the police have the discretion not to prosecute.”

Frankly, this is no concession. Police always have that discretion. The section simply recognises existing police practice. That the police have created their own operating procedures with regard to Section 59 is accepted. But Child Youth and Family do not have that discretion. They simply applied the law as it was written. And who could blame them?

The best solution then is to change the law; not to retain a section that categorically states that, if I smack my child on the bottom or hand for corrective reasons, I am guilty of assault. This was always the intent of the Bradford bill – and remains the intent of the “Yes” lobby.

Little wonder that Key is being lauded by Bradford, Bagust, the Children’s Commission and the like. In fact, this in itself should cause the National caucus to pause. The anti- smacking zealots back the prime minister, the rest of the country does not.

In fact, it must be doubly embarrassing for Key that the best argument against his supine sophistry was advanced by himself in originally opposing the Bradford bill. Why, he asked parliament in 2007, would you allow a law that you have no intention of applying? Why indeed, prime minister.

Key attempted an answer last week by suggesting that he didn’t want to waste parliament’s time. Except private member’s bills are inherently not the prime minister’s to dismiss. They are the private bills of individual MPs and used to address outstanding moral issues or to remedy quirks of fate or law. In this case, both imperatives apply.

And what could be more important to any ordinary family than parliament interfering with a parent’s right to correct their child? Such is, surely, as important as parliament gets? Especially when your party ran its “anti-nanny state” line so vigorously at the last election.

Which leads one to the only possible conclusion. Key, secretly, thinks parents should be banned from lightly disciplining their children. Key is, we now discover, actually one the state’s nannies. A petty fascist.

This means this is the end of the honeymoon. As the anti-smacking legislation came to define all that was wrong with Labour, so it has worked its revelatory magic with National. It has proven there is no real difference between the parties: that they both think they know best and the public is stupid.

Tomorrow it will still be illegal to smack your child. The law states so. And it is also illegal for the prime minister to tell the police and CYF they can practically ignore this law. He simply does not have that authority as any number of public law precedents prove.

Meanwhile, kiddies are being killed. The culture of violence that produces those deaths continues to spiral out of control. And we refuse to target those groups that we know are the most abusive and the most feral.

No wonder US TV host David Letterman wants the prime minister on his late-night talk show. He could not have written a script so surreal.


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