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Q + A: Panel response to Sheryl Savill and Bob McCoskrie interview

Published: 2:40PM Sunday July 26, 2009 Source: Q + A

PAUL Yes it's a difficult issue this whole smacking thing that is back before us.  Who's going to win Therese?

THERESE Hard to tell, the poll that appeared in the Herald, from what I can tell it only polled 200 people which is a very small sample and it's only of parents with four year old children, so you'd have to be very cautious before you extrapolate out from that that it's 85% of the whole population, but the other thing to remember though is they did manage to get over three hundred thousand signatures on this, and that should not be scoffed at because you know if you look at the smaller parties in parliament at the moment all together in the last election combined they got three hundred and forty thousand votes, I mean let's put this in perspective, that's actually a high barrier to get that many signatures.

PAUL The very strange thing here is that while most people according to that poll seem to be going to agree with the question.  At the same time there's a great reduction in the number of people who are hitting, they seem just to want the right to do a smack on the hand.

JEANETTE  I think the really exciting news is that the culture of parenting is changing and that since the bill was passed two years ago a lot fewer parents are smacking than used to smack and that is the first step towards a less violent society.

PAUL Well is it?

JEANETTE  Yes I believe it is because a lot of the serious violence against children in the past, the sort of thing that was always prosecuted started as 'well I was just giving him a hiding for being naughty' it was just a good smacking and then it escalates and escalates.

PAUL And often is done in anger.

JEANETTE  Absolutely.

SIMON I tend to agree with Jeanette there, there was a lot more violence in the name of smacking than could ever have been justified, and if you had to change the culture then this law change seems to have assisted, but as with the old law being too loose in one direction, the question is, is it now too tight in the other direction.  Now John Key I think has it right, if it's not working we should do something, if the public say through a referendum it's not working then of course it will be handed back to the politicians.  So it's not going to solve anything having the referendum, I think the Prime Minister was always going to look at it anyhow, it'll come down to the facts.

THERESE  And governments are notorious for ignoring these citizens' initiated referenda.

JEANETTE  It's the question.

PAUL Well talk about the question.  Is it a dodgy question.

THERESE Well the simple rules for a good referendum question is that it should be clear, it should be neutral, and it should be easily answered with a yes or no, and I do think there are problems with this question, I think the question was locked in back in February 2007, so before the final version of the law was actually matted out...

PAUL The question is comprehensible when you read it, but when you go away from the print you can't remember which way to vote.

JEANETTE That's right, and I've come across a number of people who say oh no I'm going to vote no, I think the law's working well and we don't need to change it so I'm going to vote no, well that's the wrong way to vote if you think the law's working well.  What is a smack?  That's the first question about the wording.  The law doesn't talk about smacking, it talks about assault.  The second question is, it expects you to accept as a given that a smack is part of good parenting, and then it says should good parents be criminalised.  I mean it is a terribly confusing and misleading question.

PAUL Is there real dispute about whether a smack is a good parental tool?

JEANETTE  Yes I think there is.  I think there is dispute.  I think a lot of people are saying here, it's not a good tool because it doesn't work, it's not a good tool because it teaches children that the way to respond to irritation and annoyance with other people is to hit them.

PAUL Cheryl Savill seemed very rational about here smacks.

THERESE I think what the debate comes down to is that one smack that's she's talking about, that she agrees that if it's multiply smacks it is assault, and I guess what you hear from their side is that they don't take great comfort in the fact that the Police - you know the compromise that came from National that the Police will have discretion when it comes down to that one smack, it's highly unlikely that any parent is going to be criminalised for one smack, but the problem is that parents don't like that that one smack is considered criminal.

PAUL Exactly so.  Alright looking ahead the House is sitting next week so there could be - well a riot like South Korea but probably not, what do you think the big political stories of the week are going to be.

JEANETTE  Well the Greens have got two bills before the House on Members' Day on Wednesday so that's our big political week, we've got one setting sustainability criteria for biofuels which is a very important worldwide problem.

PAUL That's the one that caused the riot?

JEANETTE  That's the one the government is supporting so far, and I'm pleased about that, and the second one is about protection of marine mammals, and we don't know where the government sits on that in the fishing industry.

SIMON  I'd like to think they'd be leading off your news but I don't think they will be.  There's two conferences this week, one at the beginning of the week, one at the end.  At the beginning of the week Local Government Association, John Key is addressing one day, Rodney Hide the next, the contrast between the two will be interesting and watched by people like Therese I'm sure.  At the end of the week it's the National Party Conference where there is a big contest for the presidency that may be of interest to some people.  Offshore the big issue going on for me, and there is a world out there beyond New Zealand, what's happening to Obama in the lead up to his health reforms, this is critical for America in all sorts of ways and his presidency.

PAUL Just quickly the National Party presidency who are you picking?

SIMON  Oh Paul I haven't been to a National Party - I'm going to this one because they've asked me to speak about the environment.  I haven't been to a conference for years, I haven't a clue.

THERESE I agree with Simon, I'm going to be watching that Local Government Conference, we had Rodney Hide and the Prime Minister on the show last week, they seem to disagree about what the definition of a core service is for local government and considering that Rodney Hide is the Minister for Local Government, he speaks for the government, to hear that the Prime Minister disagrees with his own minister on local government, I'm hoping they're gonna resolve that at the conference.

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