Sydney Morning Herald, October 26, 2000
Law to limit punishment by parents facing defeat
BY DAVID HUMPHRIES AND JULIA BAIRD
A ban on parents using the strap still faces an uphill battle in the NSW Parliament, despite endorsement yesterday from an investigation by MPs and support from child-protection experts.
The Government and the Opposition yesterday said only that they would consider Parliament's Law and Justice Committee recommendation to proceed.
Behind the scenes, however, there is little enthusiasm for the Crimes Amendment (Child Protection - Excessive Punishment) Bill, which was headed for defeat in the Upper House when it was referred instead to the committee in June for investigation.
A key opponent is understood to be the Education Minister, Mr Aquilina, who, sources say, promised Christian school communities in 1995 that the Carr Government would do nothing more to limit corporal punishment of children.
Mr Aquilina's assurances, sources said, followed legislation prohibiting the use of the cane in schools. That is now at the centre of its own controversy, with the NSW Board of Studies threatening to shut Christian schools at Nambucca Heads and Sutherland which have refused to implement discipline codes explicitly excluding corporal punishment.
Mr Aquilina refused to comment yesterday.
The proposed new law would make it an offence for parents to use a stick, belt or other object to hit their children, to hit their children about the neck or head, or to use such force that the pain is more than brief.
It is the work of Mr Alan Corbett, an Upper House MP under the party banner A Better Future For Our Children.
"This is not an anti-smacking bill, as nothing in this bill prevents a parent giving a child a smack provided an open hand is used, the force is reasonable and moderate in all circumstances, the child is not hit across the head or neck and harm is not caused for more than a short time," Mr Corbett said yesterday.
Further delay would mean "more children may be harmed and possibly die", he said.
But the Christian Democratic MP the Rev Fred Nile said enactment of the proposal would effectively ban smacking because parents would be confused about the limits and too frightened to take disciplinary action. "It will put a dangerous legal weapon in the hands of zealous teachers, social workers and even police to harass decent, caring parents who infrequently give loving discipline to their children as responsible parents."
The MPs' committee said opposition came mostly from religious groups and parents' organisations.
The committee took evidence from doctors who said children arrived at hospitals because of "punishment going wrong". Professor Patrick Parkinson, of the University of Sydney, co-author of the State's child protection laws, said the proposal's strength was as an educational message. The Commissioner for Children and Young People, Ms Gillian Calvert, said: "All children need guidance and discipline. This bill respects the rights of parents to guide and discipline their children and draws a reasonable line to protect children and young people from physical abuse."
The head of the NSW Parents' Council, Mr Duncan McInnes, who yesterday visited Nambucca Valley Christian Community School and spoke with the principal, has backed schools that refuse to ban caning.
"It's a moral issue and schools should have the right to decide for themselves," he said. "There are enough safeguards in the child protection legislation to ensure they are not being abused physically, but it is inappropriate to have them in school regulation requirements."
It is understood the Nambucca Valley school is refusing to budge on the matter, which could force the Board of Studies to recommend its deregistration.
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