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Child-discipline bill wins support.

Posted by watchingcyfswatchnewzealand on May 3, 2007

As posted on CYFSWATCH NZ

Child-discipline bill wins support.
Thursday, 03.05.2007, 08:45am (GMT12)

Child-discipline bill wins support

By COLIN ESPINER and DAN EATON – The Press | Thursday, 3 May 2007

The Government and the Opposition are both claiming the credit for a last-minute political deal that allows Sue Bradford’s child-discipline bill to pass with a huge majority.

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The Green Party MP’s Crimes Amendment Bill, removing the justification of “reasonable force” for assault on a child, is set to receive almost unanimous support in Parliament after National’s acceptance of an amendment directing police to use their discretion over prosecuting parents who lightly smack their children.

The breakthrough was announced amid extraordinary scenes at Parliament yesterday when Prime Minister Helen Clark and National leader John Key walked side by side to a joint press conference as hundreds of supporters and opponents of the bill converged on Parliament.

More than 1000 protesters against the bill, led by Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki, massed on the steps of Parliament, where the amendment was hailed as a victory for democracy and common sense.

The amendment introduces no new protection for parents. Rather, it reiterates the existing powers of discretion held by police when deciding on a prosecution where the offence “is so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding”.

Further changes could yet be introduced into the bill, with senior Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove last night proposing an amendment that the legislation be reviewed in two years.

ACT MP Heather Roy told Parliament last night that opponents had been hoodwinked by Labour and its allies.

“This amendment is not a victory at all. Nothing at all changes with this amendment. Those parents who do this will still be criminals in the eyes of the law,” she said.

“Sue Bradford and Helen Clark must be howling with derision. They have out-manoeuvred and out-lawyered opponents to the bill.”

National deputy leader Bill English claimed victory for National, saying the party had ensured parents still had a defence under Section 59 of the Crimes Act for smacking children.

It had simply changed from “reasonable force” to force that was”inconsequential”.

“That is what parents always had under Section 59 and at the last minute it is what they will have again. I wonder if it was all worth it,” he said.

United Future leader Peter Dunne, who tabled the groundbreaking amendment, said Parliament was sending a clear message of support for parents and an equally clear message that unnecessary violence against children would not be tolerated.

“I can’t ever recall a prime minister and a leader of the opposition standing side by side to make a policy announcement,” he said.

“I think that was an extraordinary thing and a good day for this Parliament.”

The amendment was drafted in consultation with Law Commission head Sir Geoffrey Palmer last week, and Clark met Key and English on Tuesday night and they agreed to the wording.

“There has been a lot of passion on both sides of this,” Clark said. “We just had to find a way through and I think that this is that way through.”

Key said the deal “let sanity prevail”.

The compromise was not perfect. If the law plainly did not work and if he were prime minister, he would change it.

“I think the National Party has showed some leadership. The bill could have passed with the 63 votes it already had. It will now pass with a lot more,” he said.

“Sometimes we are better off when politics is left at the door. This is one of those sometimes.”

Key’s stance represents a turnaround for National, which only yesterday had just one MP in favour of Bradford’s bill – Dunedin list MP Katherine Rich.

Originally, six National MPs backed the bill, but all but Rich changed their minds in the face of opposition from within the party and from their constituents.

Bradford’s bill now appears set to pass its third reading on May 16 by about 110 votes to 11.

New Zealand First said last night that while it would support the amendment, all but MPs Brian Donnelly and Doug Woolerton would vote against the bill on its final reading.

Independent MP Phillip Field confirmed he would vote against the bill, as would United Future MPs Gordon Copeland and Judy Turner.

Bradford said she was “over the moon” with the agreement and that it was a tribute to MMP that all parties were able to work out a compromise.

However,she denied the amendment allowed parents to smack children.

“It is not in any way defining reasonable force that can be used against children, which had always been my fear with the amendment that National had put up (earlier),” she said.

“It simply restates what is in police prosecution guidelines already in place.

“Obviously, this is a political compromise – that’s fine.

“It hasn’t compromised the fundamental purpose of the bill.”

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