The Government’s response

John Key announced yesterday three initiatives in response to the referendum. Taking each in turn:

The Police and Ministry of Social Development chief executive lead a review of Police and Child, Youth & Family policies and procedures, including the referral process between the two agencies, to identify any changes that are necessary or desirable to ensure good parents are treated as Parliament intended.  The Commissioner of Police and Ministry of Social Development chief executive will seek an independent person to assist in the conduct of the review and will report back by 1 December 2009.

I think this is useful and desirable. I’d guess that more parents are worried about over-zealous action by CYFS, than they are about actually being prosecuted and convicted for a light smack.

Bring forward the delivery of the report from the Ministry of Social Development chief executive on data and trends and the effect of the law change from the end of the year to late September/early October. The Minister of Social Development will table the report in the House.

As MSD are doing the review, I will be amazed if it amounts to much. But yes useful to have it done earlier.

Invite Police to continue to report on a six-monthly or annual basis for the next three years on the operation of the law, and invite Police to include data on cases where parents or caregivers say the force used on the child was reasonable in the circumstances.

This is useful, as it may lead to a situation where a conclusion can be reached on whether the law is working or not. Now that I think that is the correct test, but it is the test laid down by the PM.

“Cabinet has agreed that if future Police data indicates a worrying trend, the law will be changed to ensure that good New Zealand parents are not criminalised for lightly smacking,” says Mr Key.

I regard “criminalised” as meaning are in breach of the law, not merely that they are not charged or convicted. And the law is very specific that smacking for correctional purposes is absolutely illegal.

The problem we have is that the Government’s test of “Is the law working” is not the test, that many others have. Their test is “Is this a good law”.

So why is the Government, or more specifically the PM, applying the “Is the law working” test? Why doesn’t he just agree to change the law?

Well the simple answer is he does not want to break his word, and that is not a bad thing. Since the compromise the test he promised was “Is the law working” and while I think that is the wrong test, that is what he promised.

So the PM has to balance up keeping his word, with responding to a clear public vote they do not like the law.

If the public are unhappy with no law change, there are a number of ways this could show itself. National could lose support to ACT who want the law changed. This is not a concern to National. Most of the smart people in National want ACT to be higher in the polls than 1%. Losing support to ACT doesn’t change the Government.

It is hard to see Labour picking up support from National on this issue. Labour are still blamed by most for the law, and Labour have little relevance at the moment for most people.

The nightmare scenario is Winston. His caucus had a conscience vote on this issue and Peters voted against. Could Winston use this to campaign in 2011 that National and Labour are the same, and if he gets back in he will force whomever is in Government to scrap the law. In those circumstances Phil Goff would scrap the law to have Winston make him PM.

Colin Espiner blogs on this issue, and he implores John Key to “hold the line”. I suspect Colin’s view is that of almost the entire gallery. I really do wish someone from the gallery could tell me what the problem is with the Borrows amendment. After all Colin says:

I’ve smacked my child, and I don’t want to be prosecuted for it. But I like the law, because it stops child beaters who bash their kids with lengths of hose pipe from getting away with it.

The Borrows amendment would mean Colin is not breaking the law when he smacked his child (assuming it was for correctional purposes) and it would also stop someone hitting their kid with a length of hose pipe.

Is Colin aware that the current law does not explicitly forbid hitting your kid with a length of hose pipe? If done for non-correctional purposes, it may be found to be reasonable force. While the Borrows amendment would rule that out in all circumstances.

It seems to me (and I admit I have a position on this subject) that what most Kiwis are telling the Government is that they don’t want to be told how to discipline their kids.

Yet they are. The Bradford law is explicit. It says you can not use any force at all for correctional purposes. It says you can use undefined reasonable force for good parenting, for preventing disruptive behaviour but not for correction. And that is exactly telling parents how to discipline their kids.

David Beatson blogs at Pundit and concludes:

Third, he should be prepared to consider an amendment to section 59 that might satisfy all parties – one stating clearly that legal parental correction does not include the use of force that results in a child suffering any form of physical injury or sustained distress.

That is basically the Borrows amendment. But despite it giving children greater protection in most areas, it is not acceptable to the 12%. You can not get a compromise that everyone will accept – there is too much gulf between the 88% and the 12%.

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