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Clark/Key amendment passes by 117-3.

Posted by watchingcyfswatchnewzealand on May 3, 2007

As posted on CYFSWATCH NZ

Clark/Key amendment passes by 117-3

By NZPA and | Wednesday, 2 May 2007

The amendment brokered by Prime Minister Helen Clark and National’s leader John Key that ended the battle over changing the law on smacking was passed by Parliament tonight on a vote of 117-3.

ACT’s two MPs, Rodney Hide and Heather Roy, and Independent MP Taito Phillip Field, voted against it.

Mr Hide said the amendment saying the police had the discretion not to prosecute complaints which they considered to be “inconsequential” made no difference at all to the bill.

“It just says the police don’t have to prosecute – they don’t have to prosecute without the amendment,” he said.

“We’re not making any law, we’re leaving it up to the police to decide what it is.”

Mr Hide said Miss Clark had cleverly worked out an amendment which meant nothing but had ended National’s opposition to the bill.

“The entire National Party has been rolled. I congratulate Helen Clark for a great sleight of hand and emerging from it unscathed.”

Mr Field was not in the debating chamber when the vote was taken and did not speak on the amendment. His vote was cast by proxy.

During the debate, Labour’s Harry Duynhoven revealed that he had great problems with the bill when it was introduced, and when his party decided to support it.

He said he had voiced his concerns at caucus meetings.

“I seriously considered whether my values were appropriate for the party I’m in,” he said.

Mr Duynhoven supported the amendment, saying it had clarified the position and made the role of the police clear.

Parliament also accepted, by 116 votes to four, an amendment that commits the Government to reviewing the law two years after it comes into force to find out whether it is achieving its intended purpose.

The amendment was introduced by Social Development Minister David Benson-Pope several weeks ago, when the Government was trying to ease public concern about the bill.

Earlier, police commissioner Howard Broad said today’s compromise would send a useful message to the public.

Today’s amendment would make it clear police had the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent where the offence was considered “so inconsequential” there was no public interest in it going ahead.

Mr Broad said the proposal “reinforced a commonsense approach to dealing with allegations of inconsequential force used against children by parents”.

He said the amendment would send a useful message to the public and hopefully avoid a significant increase in the volume of calls to police for action.

“We think that the proposed amendment to the law will be eminently workable while we celebrate what is undoubtedly a healthy contribution to the ongoing campaign to reduce family violence.”

Mr Broad said police already had discretion and the amendment reinforced that.

“We’ll be promulgating a practice note on this matter just as soon as the law is passed.

“We’re confident that we can get this right. If we don’t we know that the courts and the Police Complaints Authority will soon tell us as to how they see the law being appropriately applied.”

Police Association President Greg O’Connor was also pleased and said the new clause upheld police discretion.

“Parliament is to be congratulated on coming to this sensible position,” he said.

Previously the Police Association expressed concern that police would have to prosecute even minor offences under the law – some supporters of the bill said that was incorrect.

Prime Minister Helen Clark has denied the amendment is a back-down on the issue.

Clark and National leader John Key walked in side-by-side to a packed press conference to announce the changes this morning.

Clark said there was common ground between most MPs on what they wanted the bill to achieve – removing the legal defence for parents who beat their children, and sending a strong message there were alternatives to violence in disciplining children.

Where they had differed was on what was needed to achieve that.

But Clark said the proposed change was a “breakthrough” in that it provided assurance to good parents who were concerned they could be prosecuted for lightly smacking their children under the bill.

She said the bill as it stood would have never done that, but inserting police guidelines into the legislation made that clear.

At the same time it did not define an acceptable level of violence against children, which would have pushed Ms Bradford to withdraw the bill completely.

Clark said the change was not an acknowledgement the bill had been poorly written and handled up until now.

The solution that had been reached was the product of lengthy and robust debate.

The change of tack should also not be characterised as Labour bowing to public pressure.

Asked if the proposed amendment really changed anything, Clark said: “The bill as it stood without the amendment had this absolutely implicit in it, but for the avoidance of doubt it is better to be absolutely explicit.”

Key also said the change was significant.

“Once Parliament explicitly banned smacking then you were asking police to essentially ignore the law – so you were passing something into the law which was bad practice.

“I think we’ve now got a sense of tolerance where we are saying to police if it’s inconsequential we don’t expect you to follow up on that.

“They’ve got clear guidelines they can follow.”

Mr Key, who has worked hard in the past fortnight to find a compromise solution, said in a statement that Labour was adopting a version of his proposed amendment.

But at the press conference he was more demure.

“It’s not a situation of claiming credit, but I do think it’s a positive step.

“I think good New Zealand parents can now take a high degree of comfort and confidence that they will not be criminalised for lightly smacking a child,” he said.

“I think it was a milestone last night when the Prime Minister and I put politics to one side and let sanity prevail after what’s been a fairly heavy debate.”

Mr Key said he hoped the bill attracted unanimous support.

Ms Bradford said she did not believe the changes were necessary, but she was happy for them to be inserted to unify Parliament behind the bill, which boosted its “mana”.

“The reason I can live with this amendment is because it doesn’t do what earlier amendments such as those put up Chester Burrows and John Key did – which was attempt to define a level of reasonable force which it would be okay for parents to use against their kids,” she said.

“This amendment keeps the integrity of my original bill intact. . .all it’s doing is to say to avoid doubt police have discretion when prosecuting complaints where the alleged offence is so inconsequential that there’s no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.”

Ms Bradford said a campaign of misinformation had worried parents.

“What this amendment is attempting to do is provide reassurance to those parents. I think it’s tremendous that John Key and Helen Clark have come to an agreement around it, as have other parties.”

Police already had discretion on what prosecutions were taken but this made it explicit.

“I don’t think we needed this amendment at all in terms of what the bill was seeking to achieve but we needed it to reassure New Zealand parents and to achieve the kind of political consensus across Parliament.”

Police were already developing protocols and guidelines around the bill. She hoped Child Youth and Family would also develop protocols in light of the bill and work with police so there was a common understanding.

Ms Bradford said she expected the announcement would “take the steam” out of the Destiny Church rally at Parliament today.

All but one National MP previously opposed the bill.

Miss Clark said she began working on the circuit-breaker last Thursday after Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen told her Mr Key had indicated over talks at last week’s leadership forum in Sydney he was keen on finding a genuine solution.

Miss Clark said she had worked with Law Commission president Geoffrey Palmer and arrived at the idea of inserting the Solicitor-General’s guidelines to police into the bill.

She had then consulted with Ms Bradford and other parties before approaching National yesterday afternoon.

Former Labour MP, now Independent MP for Mangere, Taito Phillip Field told NZPA the amendment made no difference to his opposition to the bill.

“It’s really creating an uncertainty and leaving it to police. I think we are really splitting hairs in the wording I mean it’s just a ridiculous situation that’s it’s developed into,” he said.

“People should call a spade a spade and make the law clear so there is no confusion.”

United Future MPs Gordon Copeland and Judy Turner are understood to have agreed to the amendment but it they were not immediately available for comment on whether they would change their position and support the bill.

Maori Party MPs were attending select committees and unavailable for comment.

  • Listen to audio from Prime Minister Helen Clark’s press conference on the amendment to the bill.

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