A tale of two petitions

I’ve blogged on the leaked comments showing that Labour, Greens and the unions spent probably around $400,000 (mainly taxpayer funded) on gaining enough signatures for their petition.

I thought it would be useful to contrast that with the previous successful petition, on the issue.

I e-mailed the organiser, , on how they got enough signatures and they did it the old fashioned way. They didn’t use taxpayer money to hire people to collect signatures. Larry says:

My wife and I spent almost 16 months travelling around NZ almost 4 times, some of the time in a sign written camper van collecting signatures in towns and cities, at AMP shows, field days and any events like V8’s, home shows etc.  Many days on the beach at Mt Maunganui. Some elderly supporters, spent many days each week right through winter sitting at a table outside a Post shop and collected thousands of signatures.  There are many stories! 

Such a contrast to having 10 paid staff work on co-ordinating the petition and using taxpayer funding to pay people to collect signatures. What Larry and others did is what CIRs are meant to be about – the public petitioning Parliament. Not the losing parties in an election trying to over-ride the election result.

Now the smacking petition got their signatures and a referendum was held. The result was beyond over-whelming. In response to the question:

“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

87% voted no. Now one can quibble that the use of the term “good” is a bit loaded, but anyone who seriously thinks the result would have been vastly different with deletion of that word is deluded.

The referendum was held at the end of a two year high profile debate on the anti-smacking law. It is silly to suggest that NZers did not know exactly what they were voting for.  Maybe a slightly differently worded question would have got say 80% in favour instead of 87%. But that result was a massive landslide, You just can not credibly suggest that there was not a majority against the ban on correctional smacking.

Also polls every year since the referendum has shown a vast majority think that the law should allow correctional smacking that is reasonable (the old law allowed reasonable force). Family First have released the 2013 one which Curia did for them. I think the question is quite fair. In full it says:

In 2007 Parliament passed a law that removes a defence of reasonable force for parents who smack a child to correct their  behaviour, but states the Police have discretion not to prosecute if they consider the offence was inconsequential. 

Do you think the anti-smacking law should be changed to state explicitly that parents who give their children a smack that is reasonable and for the purpose of correction are not breaking the law?

So the question include what the law change was, specifically mentions the inclusion of the Police discretion and asks if they think correctional smacking should be legal, if reasonable. Now I am sure some can and will quibble over exact wording but considering the results were 77% said yes and only 18% no I am utterly confident that any alternate wording would produce much the same result, so long as it wasn’t totally slanted (such as should parents be able to assault their children).

There can be no doubt that the majority of New Zealanders want correctional smacking to be legal, and there was a referendum that said so by a massive 7:1 margin.

Now one can have the view that a party’s policy should triumph over a non binding referendum. I certainly hold that view.

But what is absolute hypocrisy is to be a party that ignored the results of this 2009 referendum, and then two years later to then demand that the Government should break its election policy on the basis of the referendum.

What many do not know is that a bill was selected for first reading in Parliament in 2010, just a couple of weeks after the referendum result. The bill would have implemented the referendum result by amending the law so that:

it is no longer a criminal offence for parents, and those in the place of parents, to use reasonable force for the purpose of correcting their children’s behaviour and there are clear statutory limits on what constitutes reasonable force

The law was basically identical to what the referendum called for. Now how did Labour and Greens vote on this bill, just three weeks after the referendum? The voted it down (along with every other party except ACT) at first reading.

Now I think National should have voted for the bill, but at least National is consistent that their party’s policy over-rides a referendum result. They have never ever said that referenda should trump elections.

But the actions of Labour and Greens in 2010 show that they are happy to ignore referendum results – unless it is a result they personally agree with.

Their asset sales referendum is nothing to do with democracy. It is mainly a device for them to use taxpayers money to get people onto their e-mail and direct mail lists.

So every time Russell Norman or David Shearer demands that the Government should not proceed with asset sales due to the proposed referendum, someone should ask them when will they be voting to amend the Crimes Act to allow correctional smacking. There is no response they can give which isn’t hypocritical.

And we should change the law to stop parliamentary parties from spending their parliamentary resources on promoting a referendum petition. CIRs are meant to be initiated by citizens, not by the losing parties in an election campaign.

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