Bob McCoskrie confuses correlation with causation

Written By: - Date published: 9:34 am, February 12th, 2016 - 49 comments
Categories: poverty, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags:

Pro smacking protest huh-7

Yesterday I did something that I almost immediately regretted.  I read Bob McCoskrie’s Family First’s report setting out how the anti smacking legislation was the cause of all that is wrong with Aotearoa New Zealand’s children.

In the report he lays out a series of statistics which have deteriorated since 2007.  Statistics involving such things as:

  1. A six fold increase in reports to CYF since 2001.
  2. Sexual offences have increased by 43% since the law was changed.
  3. Overall the rate of neglect and ill-treatment of children has increased since the law was changed.
  4. Emotional and behavioural problems including depression, anxiety disorder, and ADHD have increased by 132% since the law was changed.

My initial response while reading the report was to say that correlation is not causation.  Again and again and again.

My second response was that the report completely ignores increasing levels of poverty and the effects.  If you want to find the cause of worsening statistics for children then poverty and not the very occasional prosecution for assault.

My third response was “holy shifting goal posts”.  When was it promised that changing this law would resolve child misery and stop sexual offending?

The change to the law has had very limited effect on prosecution rates.  The Police’s two year report after the law was enacted determined that over that time there was one prosecution for smacking and 13 for minor acts of physical discipline and warnings given in a further 201 cases.  The smacking prosecution was withdrawn by leave.  The other prosecutions were dealt with by bottom of the range sanctions including diversion, discharge without conviction, being convicted and discharged and being ordered to come up for sentence if called upon.  The claim that innocent parents would be behind bars immediately after the law was passed did not occur.

The report has however had cheerleaders on the right spike up.  Paul Henry says that the report contains “rock solid statistics”.  He must have rocks in his head.  And Larry Williams decries the failure of the law change to solve child abuse then rants about “feral parents” and “mongrels”.  Don’t hold back Larry.

One of McCoskrie complaints is how the legislation is so difficult to understand.  He does have a point.  THE FAULT IS WOTH THE POLITICIANS WHO MADE A PIGS EAR OF THE DRAFTING AND DECIDED TO PUT ALL SORTS OF EXCEPTIONS INTO IT.  The original bill was much more streamlined and easy to understand.

Bob McCoskrie would have us believe that the law change is responsible for a significant increase in the plight of children and the undermining of families.  He has presented some statistics but completely ignores societal trends and blames change on a law change that had limited practical effect and no apparent causal relationship.  And he completely ignores the limited practical effect the law change has had.

If this was a research paper presented as part of coursework I suspect it would receive a grading of F.


49 comments on “Bob McCoskrie confuses correlation with causation”

  1. Family Fist’s McCroskie seems to have confused higher reporting rates with an increase in crime. One of the positives of no longer being able to beat our children is that we have all been empowered to intervene.

    Logically, reports to CYF’s, complaints to police etc. had to increase when a societal barrier around turning a blind eye to family violence was removed. Kiwis are less afraid to speak up about child and spousal abuse these days, which is wonderful.

    • mickysavage 1.1

      Agreed. I did not want to get into the further subtleties of how increasing awareness can result in increasing rates of reporting.

  2. Lanthanide 2


    Really? I thought they just removed the ‘reasonable force’ defense. How did they put exceptions into it?

    • mickysavage 2.1

      Originally section 59 was going to be repealed. The final version contained this text:

      (1)Every parent of a child and every person in the place of a parent of the child is justified in using force if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances and is for the purpose of—
      “(a)preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or
      “(b)preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or
      “(c)preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or
      “(d)performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.
      “(2)Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.
      “(3)Subsection (2) prevails over subsection (1).
      “(4)To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child or person in the place of a parent of a child in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child, where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.”

      A repeal would have been much cleaner. The public interest filter would still be there and prevent minor incidents from being prosecuted.

      • Lanthanide 2.1.1


        I think out of that, the only part that was really ‘necessary’ was subsection 4.

        • weizguy

          ss4 wasn’t necessary either. It’s an avoidance of doubt provision. The Police always had the ability to do so and regularly exercise it.

          • Lanthanide

            My point is that any person concerned about the change, should be happy with only SS4 being included, because it covers the other SS already.

            Yes, the police already have the power and routinely use it, but the point is to assuage people that the sky isn’t going to fall in.

            • weizguy

              Fair, but it would be nice if people like McCoskrie didn’t lie, which would remove the need for redundant avoidance of doubt provisions.

  3. savenz 3

    Disgusting. Every pycho, religoid nut and Paul Henry supporter will be on this one, lowering the tone even further in MSM.

    Boo to Bob McCrosky and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Natz were behind it as a distraction technique.

    What more favourite topic of the rabid right that child abuse and how abusing children cures it!!

    Keeps us off thinking about their billion dollars of debt piling up and TPPA signed in a Casino.

    • Macro 3.1

      I’m sad to say that I now live in a very sick country. Not because we enacted a necessary piece of legislation to to improve the safety of our children, but because we now have a government bereft of any humanity. A government that exists purely for the benefit of business over the benefit of people. The effect of this laissez-faire, callous approach to governance, is that more and more people are left to fall through the ever widening crevices in society. And of course, with little power of their own – children are the first to suffer.

      • Detrie 3.1.1

        Where goes the US (and other majors) go, there follows wee NZ and banker John Key. We don’t lead, we follow. Govt is there only to help business. Voters and non-voters like our children, largely ignored. All talk, no action.

    • lurgee 3.2

      Disgusting. Every pycho, religoid nut and Paul Henry supporter will be on this one, lowering the tone even further in MSM.

      Don’t worry, we can chuck a toy knob at a cabinet minister, that’ll help raise it.

  4. Sacha 4

    These twisted guys just don’t want to stop thrashing their kids, do they.

    • Wensleydale 4.1

      “My old man would beat me senseless with a table leg wrapped in barbed wire, and it never did me any harm! It taught me respect… and quite a lot about being a sado-masochist and a bully. So there.”

      In other news, I liked Bob McCroskie more when all he did was piss and moan about Hell Pizza’s billboards being “offensive and inappropriate”. I think it just encouraged Hell to up the ante every time.

  5. Jay 5

    Some kids, particularly boys, require a firm hand. Most men reading this should agree that when young they got a clip around the ear, and that this made them wake their ideas up. While the statute still allows physical force most parents don’t realise this, and I know of instances where extreme bad behaviour goes unpunished because parents fear prosecution. I’m talking about boys attacking their parents, destroying property etc. Consequently the first time these kids might receive physical discipline is in prison. From another prisoner.

    I’m not suprised there hasn’t been a significant increase in prosecutions for minor uses of force, that’s because use of force across the board will be far less now than it was ten years ago. In my opinion that’s not a good thing though. I know of an instance where step-dad belted his step-son for stealing money. Police were called, and step-dad was arrested for a minor assault. Step-son was later kicked out due to extreme bad behaviour, and is now a car-thief and burglar. A firm hand was possibly our best chance of turning him around, instead he’s now headed for prison or possibly a fatal car-crash in a pursuit, and all because we don’t want to “hurt” him.

    Conversely, the true abusers of children have always ignored the law anyway. It was always against the law to use excessive force. That’s why this amendment has in my opinion had zero effect on child abuse figures, and has created a generation of ill-disciplined youngsters who threaten to call police even if parents are using force to defend themselves.

    • Sacha 5.1

      “It was always against the law to use excessive force. ”

      Yet parents successfully used this defence in court to get away with thrashing their children with horse whips, piping and chunks of 4×2 timber. Glad it’s gone.

    • Molly 5.2

      IIRC there was a case from the Coromandel where the caregiver tied the child to a stake with barbed wire, poured petrol on him and threatened to set him alight.

      The accused was found “Not guilty”.

      Along with a stepfather who used his belt to administer punishment to a six year old child.

      ” Consequently the first time these kids might receive physical discipline is in prison. From another prisoner.”

      There is no doubt that there are children who require a higher level of care, and much more time than is available in most households and schools. But the administration of physical punishment doesn’t address those issues and help that child to overcome them, it just reinforces for a time that those who have the care of that child are in control and by inference, have dealt with the problem.

      But the problems still exist, and will manifest in varying ways when they reach adulthood. Many of those ways will be self-destructive, and harmful to society.

      In the end, it is harmful to society to think that an adult using physical force as a “correction” tool against a child, is the most effective and long-term solution available. It had to be off the table, to create space for best practice.

    • “Some kids, particularly boys, require a firm hand.”


      You don’t know what you are talking about.

    • Korero Pono 5.4

      @ Jay, nothing like a little bit of violence to keep smaller weaker humans in line, is there? If an adult hit an adult, is that okay? The law says it isn’t. Jay if you were out of line, misbehaving, would it be okay to hit you? When women get bashed is that okay? Even if they have misbehaved?

    • The Fairy Godmother 5.5

      One of the things physical punishment does is desensitize people to violence. This leads to people thinking there is nothing wrong with hitting children battoning protesters and a range of animal cruelty such as rodeos. A hard thing to deal with but I think explains a lot that is wrong with our country. Incidentally as an Ece teacher I look after children without hitting them and I have more than one child in my care. I find that relationships respect and explaining why the child should do something or not do it goes a long way.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 5.6

      Jay’s violent fantasies are quite revealing.

  6. Lindsey 6

    Glad to see the repeal of S59. I was a juror once on a case against a chap who liked to handcuff young boy’s wrists to their ankles and trash them with a bamboo cane. He obtained access to these children by befriending solo mothers through a religious youth organisation. At his trial he tried to run the S59 defence that he was in loco parentis and that this was reasonable force and used to correct these naughty boys. I know a pervert when I see one, but some of the jury were a bit confused with the S59 matters. Fortunately wiser heads prevailed and he was convicted.

  7. Clean Green 7

    McCoskrie never said the ‘anti-smacking’ legislation was “the cause of all that is wrong with Aotearoa New Zealand’s children.” What he claims is that the legislation has not achieved what it’s proponents claimed it would, which was to reduce child abuse. He’s correct.

    • mickysavage 7.1

      Who said the Act would solve child abuse? How do you know child abuse levels would be even worse if the changes had not been made? And why did McCoskrie link increases of negative indicators with the Act?

      • Gosman 7.1.1

        Since you believe that increased levels of poverty is more likely to be the cause how about you provide evidence showing how this has moved since the Act was changed.

    • Sacha 7.2

      How does he determine what the rate of abuse would be now if the law had not been changed?

    • dv 7.3

      And I thought the repeal was to remove the reasonable punishment defence for beating a kid with a 4×2.

    • framu 7.4

      “What he claims is that the legislation has not achieved what it’s proponents claimed it would, which was to reduce child abuse.”

      bollocks – repealing s59 is only about repealing s59 – nothing else

      family fist simply dont have a clue what they are on about, and i suspect you dont either

    • millsy 7.5

      No, this law was to stop parents tying their children up to a clothes line and belting with with a vaccum cleaner hose before stuffing hot sauce down their mouth and then saying to the judge that it was ‘reasonable force’.

      Stopping child abuse would mean facing up to the overly tolerant attitude we have to violence in this country, and no one I see is overly keen on doing such a thing.

  8. riffer 8

    Yet another example of confirmation bias. Gosh we’re seeing this a lot. McCroskie’s report needs to be added to this site:

  9. Gosman 9

    Except poverty rates since the law change have hardly moved so your hypothesis looks to be as flawed as McCroskie’s if not more so.

    • Macro 9.1

      You would never understand Gossy – so its not worth trying to explain.

      • Gosman 9.1.1

        This is all about corelation versus causation and how statistics can be misused to try and make a particular value laden point. I understand that very well.

        How about someone provides the statistics for the counter argument that the increased negative indicators mentioned by Mr McCroskie are the result of increased levels of poverty?

        • McFlock

          see, the thing is that most people know that you are perfectly capable of looking up the statistics if you felt you could bullshit them into supporting your position.

          For example, increased poverty: up to 60,000 more kids in “relative” poverty since 2007.

          Hospitalisations from assault, neglect or maltreatment: too early to tell, but maybe decreasing since 2007.

          Relationship between child assault, neglect or maltreatment and socioeconomic deprivation: children in the most deprived quintile are 6-12 times more likely to be sent to hospital with diagnosed assault/neglect/maltreatment than children in the most well-off quintile. The differences within ethnicity and gender are much less pronounced.

          McCroskie’s a cock and so are you.

          • Gosman

            That first link you posted supports my point. Poverty rates have hardly moved since 2005. If you look at that graph I believe they have fluctuated from 28 down to about 25 and then up to around 30, A 2 point change over 10 years is not indicative of a massive increase and it certainly doesn’t explain the rise in the statistics that McCroskie has highlighted.

            • Korero Pono

              @ Gosman

              Your reliance on the assumptions in the McCroskie article borders on stupidity.

              An increase in reports since 2001 are attributed to a number of factors – public health campaigns, expectation on professionals working with children and better awareness of what abuse is. If anything the repeal of S59 helped bring abuse out of the closet. Given that substantiated incidents of abuse and neglect increased, means that the higher reporting has been effective in interventions for children who would otherwise have been ignored.

              The repeal of S59 means that parents/abusers can no longer use it to justify abuse (as has occurred in the past).

              “Former Green Party MP Sue Bradford, the architect of the anti-smacking law, dismissed the Family First report as “totally ridiculous and illogical” for suggesting the law change should have solved child abuse.

              “Amending a law to protect children from physical violence was never going to solve the problem of child violence … just as any law cannot solve a problem – a law against murder for example doesn’t stop people from committing murder.”

              Bradford said the law change had provided children with legal protection against “the excesses of physical discipline”, and had helped to shift the culture of violence towards children since it was passed.

              “The rates of reporting going up, that is one result of the law change, people are more conscious of reporting violence against children – that’s a good thing, not a bad thing, and yet they [Family First] use that as an example of the law not working.”

              The report itself showed that there had been a fall in some child abuse indicators in the last few years, while data from police after the law was passed showed they had been careful with their prosecutions.

              “I’ve had so much feedback from people in various forums … in the past they almost felt obligated to physically discipline their children, but that’s no longer the case,” Bradford said.”


              • Macro

                Your reliance on the assumptions in the McCroskie article borders on stupidity.

                Which is why I seldom respond to the twit. You only get idiocy back.

            • McFlock

              ok, to avoid getting into a debate about poverty levels that distracts from the point of the post, I will concede every point you made.

              But here’s the thing: even if everything you said were correct, even if we ignore the fact that you don’t know the difference between a graph and a table, even if we ignore that your 2005 point isn’t even displayed on either the graph or the table, even if we ignore all the datapoints between “2005” and 2014 when assessing changes made over that time (remember the GFC? It was key’s excuse for afew years after “Labour left us with no net debt” wore thin), and especially if we ignore the fact that a change of only a couple of percentage points affects tens of thousands of children… the s59 amendment was passed in 2007, not your 2005 starting point.

              McCroskie doesn’t understand the difference between correlation and causation, but Gosman doesn’t understand the meaning of “correlation”. Especially when it comes to non-linear relationships in a multivariate environment.

  10. Rosemary McDonald 10

    For anyone interested in a bit of background to the s59 Bill, the debate, and the lost opportunity to address the real factors behind NZ rates of child abuse….

  11. millsy 11

    I dont think I am being unreasonable to suggest that McCroskie’s (and others) definition of ‘smacking’ would encompass methods that would not be out of place in Guantanamo Bay.

  12. millsy 12

    Probably unrelated, but McCroskie has refused to deny that he wants homosexuality recriminalised in numerous email conversations I have had with him.

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