The below article appeared in The Herald Editorial, Sunday 25 November 07. All comments in bold are my own. I will just mention here that I am most impressed with The Herald's stand agains the Electoral Finance Bill.
The first conviction under the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 has probably realised the worst fear of those who opposed it: that, far from bringing an end to orderly family life as we know it, the law would be applied with wisdom and common sense and people would be stopped doing something they ought not do...
Incorrect. The recent case says nothing by itself. It is foolishness to look at one case and come to a conclusion on the workability of the new Anti-Smacking law. The Government, Police and CYFS have been very quiet in the months following the bill's passing into law. However let us give it one, or two years and we will begin to see the Nanny State horror of Sweden being imposed upon New Zealand families.
...The act, before it was passed in May, was better known as "Sue Bradford's Anti-smacking Bill". But its official name is a better one because it underlines the real intent: in changing section 59 of the Crimes Act,
Incorrect. The bill was labelled by Sue Bradford herself as an "Anti-Smacking bill".
...it removed the protection available to parents - and to no one else - against a charge of assault...
Incorrect. Section (1) of the original law read:
"Every parent of a child and, subject to subsection (3) of this section, every person in the place of the parent of a child is justified in using force by way of correction towards the child, if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances."
...Opponents of the law predicted many dire consequences: that busybodies would tell on their neighbours and police would have no choice but to prosecute; that CYFS would be swamped with notifications relating to loving parents who gave a toddler a tap; that decent Mums and Dads would find the wrathful state marching through their living rooms.
But what has come to pass is precisely what Bradford had hoped, intended and predicted: Ministry of Social Development figures show no increase in numbers of notifications that can be related back to the passage of the bill (by contrast, an increase in awareness prompted by the "It's Not OK" publicity about family violence has resulted in a rise in reporting). Meanwhile police, following up neighbour reports of parents smacking their children, have determined that no assault has occurred.
Whether or not parents are prosecuted for smacking their children is almost beside the point. The fact is that it is illegal for parents to smack their children for the purpose of correction. This places families at the mercy of the State. This new law gives more power to CYFS to intervene in cases where good parents have smacked their children - not beaten them.
In some cases, these neighbour reports may have been petty or spiteful, or even the actions of people trying (and failing) to highlight what they saw as bad law. But, as child protection groups cogently argue, no harm was done: the reported behaviour might have been the tip of an abuse iceberg. Those who speak of trauma and insecurity caused to good families might want to measure it against the trauma and insecurity experienced by James Whakaruru and Delcelia Witika, among others.
Bob McCoskrie of Family First wants the National Party to change the smacking law so that good parents are not "criminalised for lightly smacking their children". But the plain evidence is that this is not happening. Certainly it is not what happened in the case of the Masterton man convicted this week. He smacked his son three times on the backside for misbehaving at school, in the process manhandling the boy sufficiently to leave bruises on his shoulder. He himself admitted that he had over-reacted and lost his temper - and he has agreed to undergo anger-management counselling for which the state will pay.
It is hard to imagine a better outcome - or a plainer demonstration of the law working as it should. Those who see here the spectre of the state intruding into private lives cannot avoid admitting that they would rather see the state clean up after a child is killed. That is the logical extension of a social and legal environment in which it is all right for parents to beat children.
Even the New Zealand Herald falls into the trap of using emotive terms to push a point. No, it was not "all right for parents to beat children" under the old law. Reasonable force is not the same as a beating.
The man's partner has commented pointedly that the young boy concerned is "playing on" his father's conviction. It is hard to imagine such smugness surviving a couple of nights without television or something similar, but in any case, as the judge said, kids can be challenging and adults have to behave responsibly if they want their children to.
This law may have been unpopular but evidence of the widely predicted unintended consequences is pitifully thin. In less than a generation, we will look back and wonder why we waited so long to pass it.
"We" did not pass this law. Our Parliament passed it against the will of approximately 83% of us. The majority of New Zealanders are still unhappy with the new law.