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Agenda Transcript 17/3/07: Bradford on Smacking.

Posted by watchingcyfswatchnewzealand on March 18, 2007


As posted on CYFSWATCH NZ

Agenda Transcript 17/3/07: Bradford on Smacking.
Sunday, 18.03.2007, 08:30pm (GMT12)


Presented by Lisa Owen




Part 1 

LISA                Green MP Sue Bradford’s anti smacking bill is expected to pass into law, but last minute stalling tactics by her opponents this week succeeded in delaying the vote.  The controversial bill would make it illegal for parents to use any kind of physical force against their child unless the child is in danger of hurting themselves or other.  Critics say it will criminalise good parents as well as bad.  Sue Bradford and National MP Chester Burrows who has proposed an amendment to the bill join me now.


                        Sue if I can come to you first how are you gonna hold together your support in the next few weeks seeing as you have this hiatus as such?



                        In fact I never expected the bill to be finished this week, it’s a bit of a misapprehension because on controversial bills like this it’s almost inevitable that the committee stages of the bill are gonna take at least two or three sessions.


LISA                So how are you going to hold your support over that time?


SUE                Well so far we’re doing fine, I think the MPs that have made up their mind to support this bill are pretty staunch in that support now and of course I’m hoping we might win one or two more over over the next couple of weeks.


LISA                But there has been talk in the media about some Labour MPs who aren’t exactly 100% behind it, who might waver within Labour, who do you need to keep an eye on and keep talking to?


SUE                I think you’d be best placed to ask a Labour MP that question but I’m also aware of the other side of the coin is that there are National Party MPs who strongly support what I’m trying to do and who are as concerned as the Green Party is about the level of violence against children in our community, so I think it goes both ways and in fact I’d love to see the National Party MPs who support my bill freed up to give their vote as well, so it works both ways.


LISA                Should this be a conscience vote do you think?


SUE                I think that it’s up to each party to decide.


LISA                You don’t think that it’s such a personal issue that people should be able to cast their vote as their conscience directs them?


SUE                Well I think it is up to each party, in our party it’s a party vote because our party has such a clear policy of non violence and belief in what we’re trying to do here, so I think it’s up to each party to make that decision.


LISA                Okay let’s bring Chester Burrows in here.  Any particular Labour Party MPs that you’re gonna be chipping away at over this time


CHESTER      Well I’m not gonna name them here because that would be contrary to my purpose, but if you look at the voting history of about eight or ten of their conservative MPs you’ll know they’re unhappy and when they’ve been asked on television they’ve been obviously unhappy.


LISA                So what discussions are you having with those people?


CHESTER      Just restating the position and I think that the moves from the Prime Minister this week has sort of changed all that, well the revelation of the pre 2005 election comment shows that it’s a whole new game as far as the Labour Party caucus goes.


LISA                So in your mind that comment you are talking about is some people would suggest that Helen Clark has flipped in her support.


CHESTER      Well it’s quite obvious that she has, she’s said she wouldn’t vote for a piece of legislation that prohibited smacking all the way through this debate, Sue has agreed that her bill does prohibit smacking.


SUE                Can I just make a point on that, but it’s actually illegal now to smack your child.  This point seems to have been missed throughout the debate that under Section 194 of the Crimes Act an assault on a child under 14 is actually a crime and what my bill is attempting to do is to get rid of the defence of reasonable force for the purposes of correction which provides a defence under law for people who assault children under 14.  I’m not creating some new offence of smacking which seems to be the implication of some of my opponents.


LISA                Look obviously there’s much debate over this so arguably you could say that neither side has a clear mandate, this is so hotly debated by the public, so why legislate why not just educate?


CHESTER      Well the fact is the legislation is there, at the moment you’re looking at removing it, so that’s part of it.  I believe the mandate is there and if you look at public opinion the way that that’s been gauged nearly 20 times over the last two years it’s about 80% of New Zealanders think that parents shouldn’t be liable for prosecution for smacking their kids, that’s the way it is.


LISA                So do you think you’re still in realistically with a chance when it comes to the vote?


CHESTER      Very strongly, you know there’s a few people in the middle, we know there’s more than enough people who are unhappy.  If this was a conscience vote right across the parliament I’m absolutely convinced that my amendment would win.


LISA                Why isn’t it a conscience vote for National then?


CHESTER      Well we’re in exactly the same boat as the Green party here funnily enough.  I put up my proposal, 48 people in the caucus agreed with it, not a single dissenting vote as far as my amendment goes, so that’s why it’s a party vote.


LISA                But you’re still gonna have MPs if your amendment’s not successful who are gonna back Sue Bradford.


CHESTER      Yeah and our party position is that we are voting against it, those who want to exercise their conscience are able to do that, and there’s indications that they will.


LISA                Let’s bring our panel in on this discussion let’s go to Bernard Hickey, who is father of two, are you a proponent of smacking or not?


BERNARD HICKEY – Managing Editor,

                        No, no.  I’m pleased to see the bill go because as much as anything it creates a debate about this in
New Zealand.  I think the mood is shifting particularly after the Kahui twins, I personally think it’s wrong to smack my children and I sort of can’t understand why people are so aggressively campaigning to retain the right to hit their kids.


CHESTER      But that’s because the bill isn’t about that, I’ve never been a proponent of smacking either, I’ve never made the stupid comment that you know it never hurt me or never did me any harm.  This is purely about whether parents who do smack should be rendered liable to prosecution, it’s not about whether smacking is good or bad or good parents smack or good parents don’t.


BERNARD      Has anyone actually been prosecuted for smacking their kids?


CHESTER      That isn’t the point.  What your saying if you go along that track is well you know parliament doesn’t make the law the Police do or the courts do or whatever, in actual fact it’s our job to make the law and if we don’t like it we should go somewhere else.


BERNARD      And do you seriously believe that Police will prosecute parents for smacking their kids?


CHESTER      Some will and some have been prosecuted for similar acts especially in the middle of a sort of custody dispute where there’s been estranged parents and access visits and I’ve got people in my electorate who have been in that position, you know we are getting a lot of anecdotal stuff.


LISA                Let’s bring Richard Long in here, is this muddying the waters do you think for Sue Bradford’s bill?


RICHARD LONG – Columnist

                        Well I mean nobody likes smacking but it seems to be this has created an almighty row and divided everybody including parliament and it could have been solved so why on earth not have accepted Chester’s amendment which seems to me to have proved what a trifling or transitory impact of a smack, like the kid throwing a tantrum in a supermarket, or deliberately smashing an ornament, some mild touch like that, and then parliament would have been totally united if that had been accepted.


SUE                To accept Chester Burrows amendment would be the worst possible thing we could do for the kids of this country it would make the situation worse than the status quo we have now because what it would mean would be parliament and the state legitimising the level and degree of violence that it’s okay to use against children.  What people keep forgetting in this debate is it’s about kids, about our babies, our children and young people, we have such high levels of violence against kids in our country as a result of this legacy of a culture of violence we’ve brought with us in the 19th century and to turn that around we’ve got to give kids the same protection under law that adults have.  At the moment if a husband beats his wife we wouldn’t say well it’s okay to beat her in a trifling and transitory manner, what Chester’s saying is that if his amendment went through it would be okay to beat our kids in this manner.  So if you put a child’s hand on an electric fence for a moment that’s okay, that’s transitory, so it’s actually – it’s the State legitimising the use of violence against kids and that’s even worse than what we’ve got now.


RICHARD       It can’t be worse than it is now, that woman got off for horse whipping a child for goodness sake, that’s really bad, so that wouldn’t take place under your bill or under Chester’s amendment, but it wouldn’t provide the rather silly situation that we have now where someone could report a mother for giving a child a mild slap in the supermarket for kicking down a display, or deliberately breaking an ornament.


LISA                So do you argue that that’s not the case that you can actually use a light smack, let’s be clear on what your position is.


SUE                Should my bill go through in its current form using physical force for the purposes of discipline there will no longer be the defence of reasonable force, but that does not mean that every parent who ever smacks their child will suddenly be prosecuted and taken to court for doing it.


CHESTER      That’s not what the words of your bill say.


SUE                That’s the myth that’s been put out there in the community and has unnecessarily terrified tens of thousands of ordinary decent parents.


RICHARD       Can I focus on that one?  I mean can you imagine the Police in this day and age with their call centre that’s always under criticism not responding to a complaint, they’d have to?


SUE                They’re obliged to respond to complaints of assault on child and don’t we all think that’s a wonderful thing, every time we hear of a child death we say why didn’t the Police do more, so of course they should investigate, that does not mean that they arrest and prosecute, they look at the Police prosecution guidelines how trivial the offence was.


LISA                Let’s bring
Chester in on this, are the Police going to actually follow up all those calls?


CHESTER      Yes they are and if you look at the Police family violence policy it says that if there’s an offence disclosed the Police must investigate.  Now what’s going to happen in an investigation, well the Police come in are they going to allow the accused parent then to remain in the house with a child who they consider a victim at that stage while the investigation goes on – the family violence policy says at the moment that when someone’s going to be prosecuted it should be processed by an arrest and the arrested person should stay overnight in a Police cell, so you could look at an investigation being worse than the prosecution when it eventually comes and parents being taken out of a house or children being removed from the house for instance if the mother supports the father who gave the smack the child could well be removed from the house during the course of the investigation.  It’s huge, you have to look at the black and white stuff that’s in Sue’s bill and what that says, not say well we’re just gonna hand this over to CYFS and the Police to decide where the law is on this.


LISA                So can you overturn it then?


CHESTER      Yeah I think we can, it depends on what support we get, who’s prepared to stand up and be counted and if the Prime Minister really wants to achieve what she said in 2005 she’ll be voting for my amendment and not Sue’s bill because my amendment does what she said she wanted to achieve.


Part 2 – To smack or not to smack? 

LISA                Well this morning we’re discussing Sue Bradford’s anti smacking legislation and to carry the conversation on we’re now joined by Lynne Pillay from Labour and Barbara Steward from New Zealand First.  If I can start with you first Lynne, why can’t Labour MPs vote according to their consciences on this?



                        Well we discussed it in our caucus and in fact the discussion happened just after the UNICEF report that very clearly showed our appalling statistics actually around violence against children.


LISA                This is the one that showed
New Zealand was in the top three for child deaths under the age of 14, violent child deaths?


LYNNE           That’s right, and so there was a lot of discussion on it and we decided as a caucus that we couldn’t and that it wasn’t really a conscience issue it was an issue, a party issue about violence against children in our society, and in terms of Section 59 the bill isn’t about anti smacking it’s about the instances where Section 59’s been used when children have been literally thrashed and their parents have got off and Richard referred to before with riding whips with blocks of wood and also instances where children have been chained to their parents.  We as a caucus don’t think that in this day and age that’s acceptable behaviour for parents to get off on.


LISA                Alright let’s bring Barbara Stewart in, you voted for the bill on its second reading, you support Chester Burrows’ amendment, why is that the way to go?


New Zealand First MP

                        I believe that that will allay the fears that the parents of
New Zealand actually have, I think there’s been a lot of misinformation about this particular bill and parents are quite worried about the legalistic cloud that’s actually hanging over their heads at this particular point in time.


LISA                So do you seriously believe if Sue Bradford’s bill went through that good decent parents would be dragged off from the supermarket if they smacked their child, they’d be going to court?


BARBARA      Well no not necessarily but that is the perception that the parents have and of course we’re here to represent people and the other side of the coin has never ever been explained in the media or to parents.


LISA                Let’s bring our panel in here, Lynne Pillay has brought up the point that in the past Section 59 has been used as an excuse for rather vicious beatings, but does anyone here believe that Sue Bradford’s bill is going to stop that kind of abuse of children, would the Kahui twins still be alive if we had this law?


RICHARD       It seems to me it’s totally unfair to link the two, I mean New Zealand is in a very bad way, every report that comes up says just how bad we are, there’s a certain – and it’s non confined to the underclass out there, but there’s a lot of beating of children and a lot of killing of children and just this week we had a father gaoled what 17 years for drowning his baby and another woman in court for bouncing her baby off the kerb, but this bill’s got nothing to do with that, that’s a particular violence that’s part of New Zealand society and it’s not confined to the underclass.


LISA                So how is this bill going to stop that?


LYNNE           It has everything to do with it because Section 59 is about a defence it’s not introducing a prosecution, the only time the defence is used is when parents’ behaviour has been so abhorrent that they have been prosecuted and they have got off under that defence, the very case you referred to, so the message to society is it is okay to hit your child with a riding crop because parents got off.  Now when the Police are considering prosecution at the moment they have to look at the likelihood of the prosecution succeeding.  The benchmark is that because some of these cases is that well it’s not going to succeed because we’ve had successfully defended cases where it has been deemed okay to hit our children with blocks etc.


LISA                I see Barbara shaking her head here.


BARBARA      Well I believe that the Police are obliged to investigate any complaint that is made to them, that is what they’re there for, so if somebody phones up with a case or an example they’re obliged to follow it through.


LISA                Is it all about though Bernard Hickey, is this all about saying we have zero tolerance for violence?


BERNARD      It’s great that we’re having this debate and that we’re saying to people it is wrong to hit your kids and to raise the level of focus on this horrible record we have with killing our kids, it’s perhaps the Kahui twins is a case that’s separate from this it would have obviously not applied here, but when people are using a defence to allow them to hit their kids with a horse whip and we’re allowing this law to stay on the books, that should be changed.


RICHARD       But then why not have a compromise which would – I mean if parliament is at loggerheads on this so is the entire community, so a compromise along the lines of the Chester Burrows thing would have brought parliament together as well as the community.


LYNNE           Well I think in fact Plunket, Barnardoes, all the credible organisations said exactly as Sue did, please don’t introduce an amendment that prescribes how to hit our children, because the SKIP programme which is very successful in educating parents about alternative ways, it will undermine that education process that you spoke about before, so this is actually, the amendment to section 59 is actually about protecting children in extreme situations.  As Sue said before, every time a parent actually takes their child out of school not for illness but if they’re going to go and see granny for the weekend in Tauranga and they leave on Thursday or Friday, technically they’re breaking the law, are the Police marauding in and arresting them for that, of course not.  When high profile rugby players hit their mate in a bar with a handbag do the Police maraud in and arrest them, of course not.  Commonsense prevails and it will continue to with guidelines.


LISA                Barbara I just want to bring you here into the conversation again.  Phillip Field and Tariana Turia have both expressed concerns at various points that this bill could criminalise good Maori and

Island parents, are those legitimate concerns?


BARBARA      Well I believe they are because once the Police are phoned they are obliged to come along and investigate, that is what we expect the Police to do.  There mightn’t be a prosecution but your name perhaps would be down there on the files and I believe that good parents don’t want that to happen, we all try our best as a parent.


LISA                Richard how much do you see this as Labour paying back the Greens for their support with the coalition?


RICHARD       It’s not in the formal understanding for support, but a lot of people are thinking that maybe there is something particularly now that Helen Clark’s comments from pre the election or during the election campaign have come out where she said she’s absolutely against smacking, and now maintains there’s not change of stance, well demonstrably there is a change of stance, so there may be a lot of people are thinking that there’s an understood arrangement  between the two even though it’s not part of the formal agreement for confidence and supply.


LYNNE           Lisa can I respond to that?  That is absolute nonsense, and in fact to do the right thing is not always the popular thing and as I said before there was a bit discussion around it in our caucus and our position is still the same.  Parents will not be – I’d love to get this group together in six months time and see how many parents have been prosecuted for lightly smacking their child at the supermarket, it simply won’t happen.  Every prosecution, any government intervention always has to be in the best interests of the child.


LISA                Let’s bring Bernard in here because he is an anti smacking proponent.  Do you think Lynne Pillay is saying that sometimes you have to do the right thing even if it’s hard but does this go far enough, could it be argued that Labour is sitting a little on the fence with this as are the Greens they’re trying to soften it a little bit to make it acceptable for people?


BERNARD      I think it’s perfectly reasonable to remove that Section 59 which gives support to those people who are hitting their kids in a way that the Police recognise is a problem and the prosecutors have taken them to court.


LISA                But this bill still would, according to Sue Bradford allow you to give a light tap or a smack, so does it go far enough?


BERNARD      I don’t think that’s an issue, we’re really talking about people who are abusing the law to abuse their kids, and I don’t think it’s a problem that the nation’s parents are afraid that they’re gonna be dragged out of their homes, that’s simply not true, and anyway we have a Police Force and a legal system which on the whole is sensible and I don’t think we’re gonna have you know marauding bands of policemen raiding people’s houses.


LISA                I want to bring Richard Long in here just for the final word.  You don’t believe in smacking either but you just don’t think this is gonna work do you?


RICHARD       I don’t think this is the right bill no, but I would go along with the Chester Burrows amendment and the problem that we’re also having to address, okay Police are not gonna go around grabbing parents for smacking and throwing them in gaol or taking them to court, but they’re going to have to investigate if they get complaints, but it’s the waste of time, the waste of resources.


LISA                Well will leave it there.


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