Anti-smacking bill opponents doing it more good than harm
by John Roughan, New Zealand Herald, March 17, 2007

I was looking forward to waking on Thursday to news that Parliament had brought to a close a particularly distasteful debate. I have no stomach for the subject of smacking children and no memory of smacking mine, though memory may be kind.

Memory is very kind when your children grow up. I can remember thinking that parenting was the hardest work I'd ever done but I can't now remember why.

Sadly the news on Thursday was not the predicted passage of Sue Bradford's bill. The inveterate smackers had managed to delay it. The consolation is that they are certain to lose in the end and that their last ditch stand is actually all to the good.

In their own way, the smackers are doing the bill an important service, better service in fact than the Prime Minister did it this week with her attempt to wriggle out of her pre-election position by proclaiming the Bradford bill, which Labour supports, will not actually ban smacking.

The legislation removes a legal defence for adults who thrash children to the point that somebody is moved to call the police. It will not result in prosecutions of the ordinary parental slap unless you believe the police have not enough to do. But it is helpful that opponents argue otherwise.

The more they say so, the more the message might permeate those dismal corners of New Zealand where children are born to incompetent parents who know only the brutality and neglect they probably suffered themselves.

A message to those people has to be blunt. The last thing they should hear is that the bill has been amended by a select committee to allow parents to use "reasonable force" for preventing, though not "correcting", misbehaviour.

The distinction will be difficult for lawyers to draw, it would be disastrous if incompetents get to hear of it. The impression that needs to have settled in their subconscious by the time the bill is passed is that it will criminalise good firm parents, which they probably imagine they are.

It would be wonderful if conservative "Christians" believed their own rhetoric about the bill too.

If these God-fearing folk really practise what they've preached in this debate, their children are to be pitied.

Legislation might not stop the brutes of both breeds but hopefully they will cease to believe the law permits their methods. It is the best that law can do.

Why is it so hard to make a little progress in civilisation sometimes? I doubt that most people belt their children these days. The baby boom was raised on corporal punishment in homes and schools but rebelled against many conventions, particularly the violent ones, when they got the chance.

I cannot believe that smacking is as important to the bill's opponents as they say. Many of their admissions in Parliament on Wednesday night sounded more like confession than conviction.

Maurice Williamson: "I brought up three kids and I'm happy to say those kids had to learn some boundaries. And they tried me and I'm happy to say they got a smack. It wasn't a hard smack. It didn't leave any marks."

Rodney Hide: "I certainly smacked my son when he was a toddler ... in a loving way, in a responsible way."

Even Bill English said he couldn't have raised his six children without smacking them. I simply don't believe it.

I don't believe any of these men raised a hand to their children more than rarely and if it happened, I bet it left them feeling bereft of parental dignity and self-respect. Violence is deeply contemptible.

Much of the opposition to the Bradford bill is nothing more than political opportunism. National senses the electorate is weary of left liberal moralism and here is Helen hectoring us again.

Labour has always wanted to remove the parental licence to assault but backed off an attempt in its first term. Now it is block-voting for the bill.

How sad that newly independent Taito Phillip Field opposes it. The nadir of this debate came the day that a caller to radio cited New Zealand's child abuse statistics and the talk-host retorted that they were not so bad if you take Polynesians out.

It reminded me of a tale told by Australian rugby player Nick Farr-Jones about South Africa in the apartheid era. Arriving in Pretoria he was surprised at the size of the city and even more surprised when the taxi driver gave him a population figure.

"There looks to be far more than that," Farr-Jones said.

"Oh there is," said the cabbie, "if you count the blacks."

The whole disgusting subject is nearly done. Once the bill is passed we probably will not give it another thought, except to wonder that so many said they needed to hit children.



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