I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with Cactus Kate in principle, but disagreeing on the outcome.
Firstly, I don't think there should be a reasonable force exemption in the crimes act against children. In principle, I don't think there should be any kind of defence against beating a child. I don't see any moral justification for using physical discipline.
I think most rational parents come to the view that consistently smacking an ill-behaved child just doesn't work. Having said that, there are a lot of irrational parents who never reach that conclusion. There are also many parents who beat their children and are offered no protection by section 59 as it is, because the Court simply doesn't interpret their kind of punishment as reasonable.
I agree that it is the State's role to legislate and define what constitutes an assault against another person, irrespective of the relationship between the two people.
Where I disagree, however, is the emphasis that this Government is putting on the issue, and how it has effectively made repealing section 59 the major social priority of this government.
The real harm to children is gross physical violence by parents and others who are often encouraged to breed children they otherwise would not have. If the Government actually cares about violence against children, and the appalling child death rates, it should be placing much greater responsibility on non-performing parents to ensure their children are healthy, educated, fed, properly housed, and physically safe.
An occasional smack does little harm to a child. Again, I agree it has no benefit, but that's another issue. The real harm against children--which Sue Bradford and even the PM are claiming that this Bill somehow addresses--is the failure of the welfare state to make parents responsible for the upbringing of their children.
That is the biggest social lie of this new century. Middle class parents, who feel legislatively marginalised by an occasional smack, rightly feel that the State's attention should be better focussed on ensuring children are protected from serious harm.
Sue Bradford is motivated much more by ideology rather than a genuine desire to protect children. That Labour has succumbed to Bradford's charms, for the sake of protecting its majority in the House, and is alienating vast tracts of middle New Zealand parents who may occasionally smack but otherwise raise their children responsibly, shows just how out of touch they are.
Over time, section 59 should be phased out. But a lot more has to be done to protect the most vulnerable children in society from abuse by irresponsible parents--and the social harms of alcohol and drug abuse, poor educational and health outcomes, and exposure to violent crime--before any repeal of section 59 is needed.
It is nothing short of an absurdity that the Government has made itself the enemy of its own constituency by introducing legislation that protects no children from serious harm, sends a message to moderate parents that they are harming their children, and is overwhelmingly opposed by voters. It's a tiny, inconsequential piece of legislation, which even its promoters say won't be enforced. In short, Bradford's bill achieves nothing of any use, other than pissing people off. To allow a minor party to hijack its legislative plans, and in so doing alienate large numbers of voters, suggests Helen Clark has lost her cunning nose for public opinion, and her ability to massage that opinion around her own agenda.