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Labour allies uneasy at smacking tactics – and Michael Cullen again demonstrates just how “tolerant” he really is.

Posted by watchingcyfswatchnewzealand on April 1, 2007

As posted on CYFSWATCH NZ

Labour allies uneasy at smacking tactics – and Michael Cullen again demonstrates just how “tolerant” he really is.
Friday, 30.03.2007, 08:07am (GMT12)

Labour allies uneasy at smacking tactics

5:00AM Friday March 30, 2007
By Mike Houlahan 

Sue Bradford

Sue Bradford

The Smacking Debate

Labour looks set to adopt Green MP Sue Bradford’s “anti-smacking” bill as a Government measure, despite severe disquiet among its support parties.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said yesterday that the Government was “perverting the normal way of doing things”, and several New Zealand First MPs expressed unease about the idea.

Opinion polls have shown strong opposition to the bill, and New Zealand First is worried any endorsement of the Government’s move will spark a backlash from its supporters.

Ms Bradford’s bill is now a private member’s bill, but in recent weeks Labour has become increasingly vocal in its support.

Prime Minister Helen Clark has strongly endorsed the bill, and last week Labour flirted with the idea of taking urgency to speed its progress.

If it remains a private member’s bill, debate could drag on into June and divert attention away from the Budget, but if it became a Government bill it could become law next week.

Ms Bradford has said she would welcome the Government taking over her bill, which removes the defence of using reasonable force to discipline a child for anyone accused of assault.

Yesterday Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said no decision had been made on whether the bill would become Government business.

Labour would not need the consent of its support parties to pick up the bill, but is required to consult New Zealand First and United Future on the legislative programme.

New Zealand First leader and Foreign Minister Winston Peters is on an official visit to South America. Dr Cullen has briefed him on the bill, but it is understood any formal announcement on a Government takeover will wait until Mr Peters returns home this weekend.

Yesterday Mr Dunne said he disapproved of Labour’s manoeuvring.

“It is the Government’s prerogative. I think it would be the wrong thing to do, but it is entirely its prerogative.

“I think there is an expectation that due process will be followed. This is a member’s bill; members’ bills normally are treated on members’ days.”

Mr Dunne said he would continue to vote for Ms Bradford’s bill; the party’s other two MPs oppose it.

New Zealand First MPs are also split on the bill, with Brian Donnelly and Doug Woolerton in favour and their five colleagues against. Both parties have “agree to disagree” provisions in their confidence and supply agreements, which should allow them to maintain their position that MPs have a conscience vote on the bill.

Mr Donnelly and Mr Woolerton have both been criticised for their stance by party president Dail Jones, who has said they are responsible to the party’s selection committee and will have to apply to that committee to get back on the list.

Last year Mr Jones angered MPs by saying he wanted to clean out the caucus at the next election, and had to fend off a challenge to his presidency by New Zealand First MP Barbara Stewart.

On Wednesday in Parliament, Mr Woolerton defended his right to vote according to his conscience, and yesterday he restated his stance.

“I take it seriously when someone makes comments like that, that I can only speak with the threat of repercussions hanging over me. I don’t think that is the proper thing to do.”

New Zealand First deputy leader Peter Brown said there was no personal friction in caucus on the issue, and the party maintained its stance that it was a free conscience vote.

“I mean, I voted for this bill to goto select committee,” Mr Brownsaid.

In Parliament yesterday, Dr Cullen stepped up Labour’s attacks on opponents of the bill. He said religious fanatics and extremists were among those in the vanguard of opposition, “as well as other various forms of strange people”.

National deputy leader Bill English later said Labour was showing contempt for the silent majority of New Zealanders by planning to push the bill through despite overwhelming public opposition.

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