The answer’s more important than the question

Kerre Woodham has got to grips with the referendum question:

. . . What he was saying was, should a bunch of poxy lefties, many of them childless, be telling me what to do in my own home? Although the question reads: “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence?”

For the terminally confused and bewildered, commas will help you out enormously. Using commas, the question basically reads as: “Should a smack be a criminal offence?” See? Easy.

The other side would have asked: “Should the striking of children as part of lazy parenting be allowed?” Put in the commas and it’s: “Should the striking of children be allowed?” You can see the loaded messages behind each brief question.

Kerre points out that most of the almost 92% who voted in favour of Norm Withers’ petition on violent crime, weren’t answering the convoluted question which included a prescription for hard labour. They were expressing their anger and concern about increasing violence and an apparent disconnect between the law and justice.

They answered another question and by doing so made the answer more important than the question.

I suspect there will be a similar result in the child discipline referendum. Partly because, as Kerre said, many people don’t like being told what to do. But even more so because they don’t believe parents should be criminalised, or even at risk of it, for administering a minor smack.

Some people aren’t going to vote because the question is loaded.

Loaded or not the intent is clear and I’m going to vote because I value the right to do so.

I’m not going to vote yes because I think the current law is a bad one. Stephen Franks explains why:

. . . everyone is criminalised for smacking.

That’s the way criminal law works in rule of law countries. It applies to everyone equally. Whether or not you are an offender does not depend on the mood or political inclinations of those armed with the state’s coercive authority. It depends on what the law says, and what you’ve done. The law is not the plaything or the tool of the ruler. All are subject to it, whether or not the ruler decides not to enforce it, or enforces it the way he’d prefer it was written.

The right of private prosecution is precious for that reason. Otherwise rulers can play favourites, and decide who benefits and who is damaged by the law. In other words the enforcer is given the power to effectively make up the law as they go along.

And that is exactly what the compromise in the current law does. It says everyone who smacks is criminal, but the the Police are to decide which ones pay the price. Not the Courts, not Parliament, but the Police.

 I could make an invalid vote by crossing out both yes and no and I haven’t yet discounted that option.

But nor have I discounted voting no.

Smacking is not a good way to discipline children and anyone who thinks they can smack a child “lovingly” has a corrupted view of love.

But should a parent who lightly smacks a child – in what is almost always a spur of the moment reaction to dangerous or disruptive behaviour be criminalised for doing so ?

Should police time be wasted on investigating a minor smack?

My answer to both those questions is no and because of that I am beginning to think that I will vote no .

In spite of a concerted effort from highly regarded organisations which advocate on behalf of children to get people to vote “yes”, I think the result of the child discipline referendum will be a resounding no.

National and Labour both know the damage this issue did to the previous government and both would like it to go away.

But I think they’re underestimating the strength of feeling about it. Not just from the extremists but from moderate people who don’t think smacking is good but don’t want parents criminalised for doing it.

Chester Burrows had a way round that problem with an amendment which meant no-one could get away with violence through a “reasonable force” defence in Section 59 of the Crimes Act. John Bowscawen offers a similar option in a private member’s bill.

The government doesn’t want to get sidetracked on relatively unimportant issues. But bad law makes little issues big issues and until this one is dealt with it will fester.

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