Thursday, May 17, 2007

Smacking: now work starts, says Bradford

From the New Zealand Herald 17/5/07

Sue Bradford's two-year battle to convince her fellow MPs to pass the anti-smacking bill came to an end last night but the Green MP said the work to persuade parents of the virtues of the law change was just beginning.

In the end, what was previously a highly contentious bill was approved with only a few murmurs of discontent. After a compromise hammered out between Prime Minister Helen Clark and National leader John Key two weeks ago, Ms Bradford's member's bill sailed through its third and final reading 113-8.

Act MPs Rodney Hide and Heather Roy, independent MPs Taito Phillip Field and Gordon Copeland, New Zealand First MPs Winston Peters, Ron Mark and Pita Paraone, and United Future MP Judy Turner opposed the bill.

The law change will not come into force for a month. Ms Bradford said those four weeks and the period after the bill's enactment should see an intensive education process for parents.

[Four weeks? You need something more like four years for this education process to work! ]

"This is very much the end of the beginning. There are a whole lot of things that need to happen in terms of public education in what this bill actually means. We also need to be monitoring what this legislation means for Child, Youth and Family and for the police."

Under the law change, the existing defence available to parents and caregivers charged with assaulting a child - that they were using reasonable force for the purposes of correction - will be removed.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia told Parliament that defence needed to be struck from the law books because of cases like Ngatikaura Ngati. The child's mother and her partner are awaiting sentence after being found guilty of manslaughter.

"The High Court in Auckland heard how a boy of 3 years old was subjected to regular beatings using a baseball bat, a vacuum cleaner pipe, rods and a wooden spoon, and punched repeatedly in the face," Mrs Turia said.

"The couple convicted of manslaughter used section 59 of the Crimes Act as their defense, claiming that they only ever used reasonable force. As long as we have people who are prepared to administer beatings so savage that a child's blood splatters on to the ceiling and who are then able to defend that callous brutality as a reasonable punishment, then this nation is in deep trouble."

[Maybe so, but their use of section 59 didn't work, did it. S59 served its purpose, this case was obviously NOT reasonable force.]

National Wanganui MP Chester Borrows, who for many months was at the vanguard of opposition to the bill, said a "pig's ear" of a bill had not quite been turned into a silk purse. "Those parents who were worried that this legislation would criminalise lightly smacking a child can rest assured that Parliament's intention is that that should not be the case," he said.

The law change will be reviewed after two years and Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove said that would ensure the bill was a process and not a destination.

"The signal that this house is sending today is that violence against our children is unacceptable. Having a sizeable majority of votes in favour of this bill ensures that a powerful and loud message is sent to our communities, loud and clear."

National MP Katherine Rich said if hitting children was the answer, many people had asked the wrong question.

Act leader Rodney Hide said the bill would make it a crime to smack a child and remove any defence under law for parents who lightly smacked their child.

"I don't think it is Parliament's role to say to a mum or a dad that if they lightly tap their toddler on the bottom, that they are committing a criminal offence and that they shouldn't do it. This is actually what this bill says: not only that they shouldn't do it but that they are committing a crime in so doing."

After the vote, Ms Bradford was elated but exhausted. "I'm still slightly disbelieving but thrilled we've made it," she said. "I never dreamed we would have 113 votes in favour."

Against The Bill:

Rodney Hide, Heather Roy, Taito Phillip Field, Gordon Copeland, Winston Peters, Ron Mark, Pita Paraone, Judy Turner

No comments: