The Forum on the Family Conference

I attended most of the Forum on the Family Conference on Friday, in Auckland, as I was speaking in the afternoon on blogging and social media.

A few amusing anecdotes from the conference. Chatting to an MP at morning tea with Madeleine Flannagan, who introduced herself as the author of the No 1 Christian Blog in New Zealand. I quipped that must make me the author of the No 1 hedonistic blog 🙂

There were speeches from both the Children’s Commissioner, and one of the Families Commissioners. Both were well received – better so than a year ago I suspect!

The afternoon session I found the most interesting as you had Phil Goff speaking, then another speaker, and then John Key. It was the first time I had seen Goff and Key speak in the same place.

I have to say I think Phil Goff spoke very well. It was not the most naturally friendly audience, and he generally handled himself skilfully. I’d partly forgotten how competent he is, due to a couple of errors of judgement since becoming Opposition Leader. He was a very safe pair of hands as Foreign and Trade Minister, and was also a pretty good Minister in the 1980s.

In fact the thought that came to mind, watching him, was that if he does become Prime Minister one day (which I think is unlikely) he will be a fairly competent one. I don’t mean I’ll at all like his policies, but he would be up to the job (something Lange sadly was not).

Goff handled the numerous questions on the anti-smacking law quite well, and also got quite ballsy with a couple of questions. He said he wished people would get as worked up about child abuse as they do about how to spell Wanganui. But most ballsy was in response to a request to have an independent appeal board against CYFS decisions. Goff said CYFS, while not perfect, is not the problem in New Zealand. It is the families who abuse and kill their kids, or allow it to happen.

So overall a good performance from Goff, and he gets kudos for accepting the invite. But, and there is always a but, the rating would be even higher if he had not been followed by John Key.

While Goff delivered a prepared speech well, Key spoke pretty much off the cuff and managed to engage the audience very effectively. And he got even more vigorous questioning over the anti-smacking law, but really interacted with the questioners. He gave examples, didn’t use sound bites, and I thought really connected. That is not to say people agreed with his answers, but it was a impressive performance. The example he gave was captured by the Herald:

Responding to another question from Mary Paki of Otara, he quoted a school principal in his electorate who told the parents of a Samoan boy in his school report that the boy needed to behave better.

He said the boy’s father went to the principal’s office the next morning and told her: “You don’t tell me how to discipline my child.”

To reinforce the point, the father brought the boy back later and asked him to lift his shirt to show “welt marks and blood running down the kid’s back”.

“That has got absolutely nothing to do with section 59 [the parental discipline law] except to say that we have to send a message through some communities that actually there is a big, big difference between a light smack and violence,” Mr Key said.

“That is why the Maori Party got on the phone [after the referendum] and begged me not to change the law.”

I’m not a fan of the law, and support the Boscawen Bill. But I’ve been waiting a couple of years for someone to make the argument that Key did – that some people or communities do not know the difference between an acceptable light smack and violence. This is one of the few arguments for the Section 59 repeal that I think had merit. It had to be balanced against the greater uncertainty it would give good parents under the law.

Ironically though that argument worked best for Bradford’s original bill – to simply repeal Section 59. That would have had the virtue of simplicity and would have meant a clear message could be sent. But the version of the law that got passed is far from simple. It in fact still allows an undefined level of reasonable force in numerous circumstances.

A couple of other people I spoke to said much the same as what I thought. They were impressed with Goff’s speech, but then were slightly less impressed after Key’s speech.

I’ve seen Key speak a few times now, and then do Q&A. He has a rare ability to really engage with the questioner, and basically comes over as someone who talks with you, not at you.

My own presentation seemed to go down well. In a fit of good timing, I was able to talk about the ACORN scandal in the US as a great example of how the Internet has empowered individuals to make a difference. 20 year old Hannah Giles, and one other, managed to basically destroy ACORN by capturing on video the widespread condoning of illegal activities such as under-age prostitution.

The Washington Times editorial made a good point:

Do you think your tax dollars should be used to help those who want to open a house of prostitution and illegally bring underage girls into the United States as “sex workers”? As you may have seen on television over the last few days, the taxpayer-funded ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has been doing just that.

Who exposed this latest bit of corruption at ACORN? — The FBI? The local police? A congressional investigating committee? The mainstream media? No, no, no, no. It was a 20-year-old-girl named Hannah Giles and a 25-year-old law student and investigative journalist named James O’Keefe.

The results of their expose has been ACORN has been dumped by the Census Bureau and the Senate voted 83-7 to stop funding them and the House voted 345-75 to do the same.

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