Better Democracy NZ is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation.

Our mission is to foster the improvement of New Zealand's democratic system and encourage the use of direct democracy through the

Veto, Citizens' Initiated and Recall referendum.


Monday, 24 August 2009

The people have spoken: now to stop the violence

Sunday Star Times 23/08/09: Michael Laws. A good article well worth reading if you haven't already.

IF THERE is one thing that Friday's anti-smacking referendum will never influence it is those morons who believe that a corrective smack on a child's bottom constitutes child abuse.

The country has rejected this absurd correlation. But it remains a favourite of liberal pressure groups who agitate that any physical punishment equates to assault. The Plunkets, Barnardos and Greens honestly think that preventing white middle-class parents from smacking their kids on the bum for being naughty will somehow save poor, brown kids from being killed by their feckless whanau.

As all the child beatings and deaths of 2009 prove, the anti-smacking legislation has failed. It hasn't stopped one beating, one abuse, one death. And it never will. You can't reason with drugged, drunk, violent parents, acting out their inadequacy, with an act of parliament. If you could, we would all be living in Utopia.

In the past fortnight, three toddlers have been killed two in Northland and one in Manawatu. At least two of the alleged killers fit the ethnic and socio-economic stereotype of your typical offender. At time of writing, the third offender is unknown. What's the bet?

This simple fact has escaped the intellectual grasp of the "Yes" campaigners. It seems self-evident to me indeed to the entire nation but not to the zealots whose faith blinds them to reason. As an air-blown kiss is not a prelude to rape, neither is a corrective smack a prelude to Nia Glassie.

That the Maori Party campaigned for a "Yes" vote, you could at least understand. After all, Maori kids of the underclass seem an endangered species if child abuse statistics are any indication. But I would have thought the culture of violence is actually part of the culture and that requires the more immediate redress.

Ultimately, though, Sue Bradford's private member's bill was all about gesture. In the face of cruelty especially to small children that is often all we have left. Let us not condemn her heart. It was her brain that was in the toilet.

But the question this morning with regards to the anti-smacking legislation is really simple: how come parliament just doesn't get it?

How come they are so out of touch? If we thought they were universally reckless with their allowances and travel perks, then how much worse is this?

Part of the answer is that Prime Minister John Key is out of whack with his own caucus on this issue. But they dare not call him. He has delivered them the Promised Land. His guy-next-door persona keeps them riding high in the polls. They will bear all manner of political correctness if his star stays stellar.

And, to a certain extent, he is right. The police operating instructions effectively undermine the intent of the legislation. The prosecutions taken would probably have been taken under the old practice. And there was too much leniency applied by previous juries and courts to contemplate a simple return.

Without question the best solution has always been and remains so that of the amendment that Whanganui MP Chester Borrows advanced within his caucus in late-2006.

It excused "transitory and trifling" disciplining and it is the genuine compromise that John Key should choose in response to Friday's overwhelming result.

Of course, there will be the nay-saying in the wake of the smacking referendum: that the turnout was too low, the exercise too costly and the question too confused. Again, all these things are true.

But we don't unelect mayors who are elected with less than 50% turnout. And that's most of them.

We don't jettison councils or ignore Maori MPs elected from Maori seats because only half their constituency votes.

Democracy is democracy. Those who bother to vote are entitled to the result and those that don't are not.

And, yes, this was a waste of $9 million. But it could have been easily tacked on to the 2008 general election and cost a mere fraction. That it was not was solely due to parliamentary and Labour Party politics.

As for the question yes, it did take a moment to fully comprehend the intent. It involved as much brainwork as trying to decipher the weather symbols on TV. Again, the fault lies with parliament.

There should be a mechanism whereby the petitioner's intent is wordsmithed for maximum ease.

But it is the nature of the referendum itself that intrigues. Parental smacking is like prostitution, in the sense that each is a moral issue. If we are to have a public morality then it must always be the public who decide. The parliamentary conscience vote stands condemned as a device to establish a country's moral tone. That responsibility rests with all of us, and the Yes/No referendum is a particularly clever way to clarify the public mood.

In Wanganui we have proven that it can be used for more complex perambulations such as choosing various rating structures. And get a 61% turnout in response.

And therein lies the beauty of Friday's result. We are adult and educated enough to choose between contrasting propositions. On a critically important issue: the responsibility to parent. Now it is for parliament to provide us with more such choices. And, like the courts, automatically enact our verdict.



Matt Kopikarat said...

Hi Deen from Golden Sand, Malaysia. I like your articles about democracy. Hope we can share some ideas here and em..Welcome To Malaysia.


Dominic Baron said...

Perfect, Michael. You have hit so many nails on the head that I am gob-smacked in admiration! I especially like your notion that poor old Sue Bradford's brain is in the toilet. A motion notion?!

My only slight disagreement with you is over what needs to be done right now. You are diplomatic, but I say: repeal the Sue Bradford folly at once and without delay.

Unknown said...

Hardly the most politically correct article ever, but full of extremely valid points. If only a few more of our politicians could see the issue in this way. Or, at the very least, if only a referendum on a moral issue like this was binding. Democracy seems to lose all meaning when two successive governments can go against the wishes of the population on an issue like this.