John Key thinks there’s no need to change the law in the wake of the smacking referendum, but he does think there’s a need for ‘increased safeguards’ to prevent parents who mete out ‘inconsequential’ smacks from being prosecuted. He’s also stated that he agrees with the result of the referendum, stating that it is ‘totally inappropriate for a New Zealand parent to be prosecuted for lightly smacking a child’.
I think we should be suspicious of this response for three reasons. First, when the referendum question was first posed, Key said he thought it was ambiguous and agreed with Phil Goff that the poorly worded question was a waste of taxpayer money. Why he is paying attention to the result now is a bit of a mystery.
Second, the question was, whether Key now admits it or not, ludicrous. It was loaded, leading and complex. It’s simply not a reliable measure of public opinion.
Third, why is Key so obviously kowtowing to the smacking lobby? The acceptability of even light smacking is clearly far from a consensus in New Zealand, and there’s good reason to think it’ll be pretty hard to draw a legal line between acceptable ‘light’ smacks and unlawful ‘too hard’ smacks. Key’s ‘safeguards’ won’t clarify that line, they’ll only invite argument as to where it should be drawn.
The repeal of s 59 was an opportunity for New Zealand to evolve a progressive attitude to parenting. It was an opportunity to give our children unconditional protection from physical violence.
It’s a shame the current government doesn’t appear to have the backbone to see it through.