The Herald reports:
Options for changing New Zealand’s approach to smacking children will go to the Cabinet on Monday after New Zealanders voted by 88 per cent that a smack should not be a criminal offence.
Well it is good to see that the voices of 1.4 million New Zealanders won’t just be ignored.
It was muffled by a low turnout of 54 per cent, including 0.3 per cent who spoiled their votes, so even the huge “no” vote fell just short of half of the enrolled electors.
That is not a low turnout for a referendum not held with an election. The referendum that chose MMP for the run-off with FPP had only a 55% turnout. So it was only 1% less than the choice of electoral system.
Prime Minister John Key said in Australia – where he is on an official visit – that voters had said strongly that “they don’t want good parents to be criminalised for a light smack”.
Yes, but that is not just saying they do not want to be prosecuted and convicted. It is saying they do not want it to be a criminal offence.
His own view was that the law was “working as it is now”.
But on Monday, he would take to the Cabinet “options which fall short of changing the law but will provide comfort for parents about this issue”.
There will be a lot of interest in these. However I believe that the law should be changed. The reason is quite simple.
The criminal code is there to reflect the views of the public on what is and is not acceptable behaviour. And almost every provision in the criminal code would have 99% of adult New Zealanders say this should be a criminal offence. 99% say it is wrong to murder, it is wrong to rape, it is wrong to beat someone senseless, it is wrong to steal etc etc.
But here we have 88% of adult New Zealanders (who voted) saying this should not be a criminal offence. If Parliament does not heed the views of voters on this issue, then we have an awful precedent where Parliament is sits as rulers rather than servants of the people, imposing their private criminal code, rather than society’s.
I’m not an advocate that Parliament in every circumstance should do what public opinion wants. The referendum on the number of firefighters was a classic case. Economic issues can be similiar as the public can vote for cutting taxes and increasing spending without the responsibility of having to balance the budget.
But when it comes to our criminal code, I find it hard to offer up a reason why Parliament would insist on criminalising something that not only lacks majority support for being a criminal act, but in fact has massive and sustained opposition.
The public understand this issue. Hell, it has been debated for two to three years. They know exactly what they voted for. The percentage who spoilt their ballot papers was a miniscule 0.3%.
There is a simple solution to all of this. The Borrows/Boscawen amendment/bill. It will in fact provide greater protection to children (as it significantly lowers the level of acceptable force for non-correctional situations) but remove the insulting differentiation between smacking for preventing disruption and for correction.