14 May 2007
Right Honourable Helen Clark
John Key MP
Leader of the Opposition
Dear Helen and John
On Wednesday 16 May we have the final vote on Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill.
I write to ask you to allow your respective MPs a free vote in the same way all other parties have allowed their MPs to vote as their conscience determines.
The Bill is controversial with public polls reporting 83 percent of New Zealanders opposing it.
In Epsom 68 percent of voters are opposed; only 21 percent in favour.
John, when you opposed the Bill, you asked the Prime Minister the following question:
"If the Prime Minister thinks Sue Bradford's anti-smacking bill is such a good bill and that the 83 percent of New Zealanders who have consistently opposed it are so completely wrong, why will she not simply give her caucus a free vote?"
It's a good question. Of course, at the time the vote was tight. In fact, you suggested that Sue Bradford's Bill would not pass if Labour allowed their MPs a free vote. Presumably the vote is less tight as you and some of your caucus are now supporting it. Surely we are now in a better position to have a free vote and see what Parliament actually thinks.
John, you once thought it was a good idea for the Prime Minister to allow her caucus a free vote, why isn't it a good idea for you now to do the same? It would be good for our democracy and for political accountability if you would do so.
Prime Minister, you told Parliament last Wednesday:
"…But I do think that in the case of the Bill on Section 59, the overwhelming majority of our Parliament has come together, not only to send a very strong message about not wanting the violence that causes death and injury in our homes but also to send a strong message of support to good, decent parents, who should not be marched off to court for matters that are so inconsequential it would not be in the public interest to have them there..."
If it is truly the "overwhelming majority" of our Parliament that has come together then you should have no difficulty accepting a free vote. The problem is if you don't, it looks as if you and John Key are dictating how the majority of Parliament should vote. Not all of Parliament accepts this Bill just as much of the country does not. The only way to resolve it is to allow a free vote.
ACT is the only party which now opposes the Bill. We oppose it because it makes any mum or dad lightly smacking their toddler a criminal. That's ridiculous. The Bill's purpose makes this clear. It is to:
"Make better provision for children to live in a safe and secure environment free from violence by abolishing the use of parental force for the purpose of correction."
Clause 4 substitutes a new section 59(2) into the Crimes Act 1961 that drives the point home:
"(2) Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction."
Once the Bill passes it will be against the law to smack a child and a parent lightly smacking their toddler will be committing a criminal offence as defined in the Crimes Act.
New subsection (4) which you have both agreed to doesn't change this fact. That is why Sue Bradford has not withdrawn her bill as she said she would if it was watered down in any way. All your joint amendment does is to confirm that the police have discretion as to whether they prosecute or not, discretion they have always had and have always exercised.
The fact remains that a parent smacking their child will be committing a crime, whether or not they are prosecuted. Good parents will be criminalised should this bill pass into law. It's simply not right to criminalise parents in this way.
I once again ask you both to allow you respective caucus' a free vote to test truly the will of Parliament.
Rodney Hide MP for Epsom
Leader, ACT New Zealand
Parliament Buildings Wellington Telephone 04 470 6630 Fax 04 473 3532
Electorate Office: Unit A, 11-13 Clovernook Road, Newmarket, PO Box 9209 Newmarket AUCKLAND
Telephone 09 522 7464 Fax 09 523 0472