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The smacking argument continues...


By Q+A producer Tim Watkin

Published: 3:22PM Friday July 31, 2009 Source: Q+A

What has three million voters, costs $9 million and has a one million percent chance of achieving sod all? The pro-smacking referendum, which will start arriving in our letterboxes from Friday. (It's going to be a profitable week for New Zealand Post).

Short of a huge turnout and a massive vote in favour of smacking, the referendum is doomed to fizzle for lack of a political driver. No-one in the House - at least no-one with any power - wants to lead the charge for change for fear of being caught in a political quagmire and ending up on the wrong side of history.

John Key and Helen Clark showed rare political courage in building a cross-party consensus; no-one wants to undermine their effort.

What's more, it's such a poor, leading question that no-one on either side can credibly claim a political mandate from it.

Nevertheless both the anti-smacking and pro-smacking brigades have strong campaigns underway, including websites. Their passion is high, but while New Zealanders are still intrigued by the pros and cons of the debate and - more importantly, the big picture of what it takes to raise their children well - I don't expect many will be desperate to cast their ballot.

The pro-smacking crowd, led by Family First's Bob McCoskrie is hoping for a 70% turnout. I'd be very surprised.

Many New Zealanders are perplexed by the new law, and McCoskrie has been using that has an argument for change. But it's not all that complex. You can smack a child to prevent harm, but not for "correction". In other words, don't smack just to "teach them a lesson". Simple as that.

If little Johnny or Jane is about to hit another child over the head with a plank, is about to run into the road or is about to stick a fork in the electric socket, you can smack them to re-inforce the danger of what they were contemplating. You can argue whether the child will learn anything more from that than they would from a stern telling off, but that's the law. If your child does stick a fork in a socket (and survives), then it's not ok to bend them over and give them a spanking.

Sheryl Savill, the woman who put her name to the referendum , is a mother of two and works for conservative Christian organisation Focus on the Family. It was interesting to hear on Q+A this past Sunday that she only smacked her children while they were aged between two and nine and she only ever gave a light smack on the hand or bottom.

Deborah Morris-Travers, one of the women leading the Yes Vote campaign, wrote to Q+A after the show fascinated by Savill's claim that she thinks it's wrong for parents to smack a child in anger. Morris-Travers quotes research showing that most smacking occurs when parents are angry and wanting to release their own stress; and for what little it's worth, the anecdotes I hear most often back that up.

If Savill is going to regain the right for New Zealand parents to smack their children, she's going to have to learn to sleep at night knowing that many of those parents will use a change in the law to justify a smack in anger. That's inevitable.

Morris-Travers goes on to ask: "If it's not okay to hit an adult, how can it possibly be okay to hit a child?" I tend to think that's one of the weakest arguments in the Yes Vote's basket. Parents can do all sorts of things to children that one adult couldn't do to another adult, such as send them to time out or order them to tidy their room. As Savill said, "It's quite a different relationship between a parent and their child than between adults."

The arguments go on and on. Sadly, so will this debate.

The pro-smacking lobby say that if they lose the vote over the next few weeks they will pack up their toys and go home. But if they win, even if the majority is miniscule or the turnout tiny, they will continue the fight. Although many New Zealanders have moved on, I don't think this referendum, will be the last word.

Current affairs and culture website Pundit 

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  • Obey Democracy said on 2009-08-28 @ 16:17 NZDT: Report abusive post

    Time to exercise some democracy and tear this illegitimate Law Down. Spread the word gather at parliament on 09/09/09 at 9am. It is time to make a stand for democracy that these creeps can't defy. It will be an asset to New Zealand for generations to come. Never again should any Political party be able to show such contempt and corruptibility to obey tiny minorities, UN dictates or whatever is operating Key. 09/09/09@9am/9pm Parliament/MPS Office or CYFS Carry signs saying "OBEY"

  • Nomanor said on 2009-08-27 @ 14:53 NZDT: Report abusive post

    1 Leading: the wording of the referendum was bias. Which I believe led people to vote against the bill. 2 Abuse: parents who actually beat their children before the bill were able to get off the assault charges on reason of "Discipline". Misinterpretation makes parents believe that actual disciplinary measures will put them in prison. 3 Resolution: Key refuses to repeal the bill and give child abusers a GOJF card and protects against innocent people getting in trouble. Key has my vote.

  • samuelpike10 said on 2009-08-26 @ 22:44 NZDT: Report abusive post

    What type country has Aotearoa become? We have elected members to parliament who do as they will and not as the people ask. I FEEL THAT WE SHOULD BILL THE COST OF THE REFERENDUM TO THE MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT. If they acted appropriately in the first place we would not be in this situation. We have lost our position as a best practice leader.

  • mcarky said on 2009-08-26 @ 21:13 NZDT: Report abusive post

    Paul Henry challenges the PM on folic acid in bread and in about a week the legislation is dropped. 88% Kiwis voice there disapproval for Sue Bradfords smacking bill, but yet it remains. I would really love to hear Paul Henry challenge the PM on this one. Why the about face? Whats the agenda?

  • klemon said on 2009-08-26 @ 20:06 NZDT: Report abusive post

    So where do we turn? Labour stank, National won't listen, all the other parties are nuts. There is pretty much no one left to vote for. I think I've just lost faith in the only country I've ever been in.

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