One with a gun or twenty with clubs

Would you prefer to have twenty people bash you to death with clubs, or one shoot you until you died? Either way you’re still hurting and dying. This principle is why I really don’t get people who say it’s okay to take away people’s rights so long as we do it by referendum- whether it’s the Māori seats, a child’s right not to be hit in an abusive manner under a defense of correction, the right of any two people to marry regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation- whatever.

The point is there is no difference between a totalitarian regime imposing a specific injustice because of the word of Dear Leader, and 50+% of us deciding to rob some portion of the rest of human rights. In matters of protections from abuse or entitlements to civil rights, the people who will actually be affected should also agree they aren’t needed before we start talking about a referendum at all.

And, to the current specific case before us with the upcoming referendum: seeing we don’t enfranchise kids, perhaps we should be even more careful about taking away their legal protections over some populist whip-up with no real weight of argument behind it. Let’s be neither the twenty with clubs nor the one with the gun, when we could instead so easily be a society of parents and other caregivers who realise that “corrective” violence, even when it starts off not hurting, just isn’t worth it. ๐Ÿ™‚

(Cross-posted from G.Blog)

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And it’s all wasted time.

So, for those of you who don’t follow the news, we now have assurance that because the S59 amendment act is working properly, even our current government is willing to continue supporting it, and even they acknowledge the uselessness of the question.

This certainly brings up issues around our referendum process- for instance, there’s no requirement to state the question in a certain way, so often we have referenda where the desired answer from the groups that supported a referendum is actually “no” rather than “yes”, like the current referendum.

While I’m not a big supporter of referendums in the first place, (I think they’re usually either useless or they get used for majority groups to step all over the rights of minority groups) if we’re going to spend nine million dollars on a referendum, it might as well be a good one.

I think there are three good criteria to a referendum process we’re currently lacking in New Zealand:

  • It shouldn’t be harder to initiate a referendum than it is to win a political campaign. (Currently, it takes twice as many voters to initiate a referendum as it does for a list-only party to enter parliament)
  • It should be very clear what the status quo is.
  • There should be a very clear proposed change, rather than an ephemeral goal to be met. (Such as “hire more fire fighters” vs “allocate $2million to hire additional fire fighters”)
  • Referenda results need to either be bound directly into law or introduce legislation into the house of representatives to be useful. (Under the current system the results are mostly ignored)

There are already some good posts on other sites- Kiwipolitico comes to mind- that suggest viable alternatives. My personal favourite is the suggestion that groups actually have to submit a draft law, and then uses the purpose statement or explanatory note in the referendum question. Then you just need to figure out exactly what sort of majority you want to see before you consider the law implemented.

Correcting incorrect “corrections”

Bob McCoskrie of “Family Fist” fame has an opinion piece supporting the repeal of the amendment to Section 59 of the Crimes Act in the Dom Post today. It can be found online too. His piece is in response to a regular column piece by Linley Boniface, whose column is often apolitical but usually runs pretty centre-of-the-road politics when she does swim into the shark tank.

Before we get started, I of course advocate people vote YES in the upcoming referendum to be as clear as possible that they think the law is working and that violence against children is inappropriate. Now, let’s address Bob’s major points one by one, shall we?

Linley Boniface (A question smacking of deceit, June 8) is right on one thing. We should not be spending $10 million on a referendum on the anti-smacking law. But we are for two reasons.
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Second, the previous government failed to hold the referendum at the more economical time of a general election because it knew the issue would bring about its downfall. It did anyway.

The government did not have time to hold the referendum simultaneously with the election because the referendum’s supporters missed the deadline due to illegitimate signatures the first time they submitted their petition. Your own fault, Bob- people shouldn’t try to cheat petitions, especially given how often they’re simply ignored anyway. And in case you forgot, this wasn’t even a government Bill, and it would pass almost as overwhelmingly in the current parliament given the same parties have committed to supporting a law that works.

But Boniface needs correction on many other things. A total of 113 politicians did vote for the law – after being whipped to vote that way by Helen Clark and John Key. Phil Goff and Paula Bennett have now admitted they don’t agree with the law as stated.

I think avoiding the truth is bad, Bob. Both of these politicians support the law as it is.

The question “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in NZ?” was publicly notified for submissions in 2007 but there was no opposition from these groups at that time. They never believed that more than 300,000 voters would sign a petition demanding a say on this issue, the majority of whom signed the petition after the amendment was passed.

Nobody thought they needed to object to a question that described the position it supported as “good”, because it was so obviously biased. As it is the question cannot be reasonably interpretted as even opposing the current law no matter how you answer it, as smacking as part of “good parental correction” should by definition be inconsequential- and any inconsequential assualt against a child is explicitly protected under the amended version of the Crimes Act.

At least you didn’t try to defend the question as actually being a meaningful referendum on the Section 59 Amendment Act.

Bob goes to claim studies don’t show harm from light smacking as part of correction, however he seems to ignore studies that show any smacking at all is a risk factor for child abuse- most likely because of the problem of escalation. (a little smack can become a big smack or even a punch easily enough even without conscious intent) There is also the fact that there are many positive parenting strategies that avoid the need for any “corrective” violence at all- why bother smacking children when you can achieve the same results without having to bring violence, however small, into your home?

The law as it stands is confusing. In research done in March, respondents were asked whether the new law makes it always illegal for parents to give their children a light smack: 55 per cent said yes, 31 per cent said no, and 14 per cent didn’t know.

Even 71% of people having a definite opinion about a technicality like a single defense against assualt of children is pretty impressive Bob, even if 55% of the total were wrong.

Meanwhile, the rate of child abuse continues. Sue Bradford said her bill was never intended to solve the problem of child abuse. She was right.

No law change will be a magic bullet, but this law has already resulted in a conviction that probably wouldn’t have gone ahead and will probably result in a Dad that needed some help with his parenting getting it, without spending any time in jail. I’d say even that one result is great, even if this law hadn’t taken part in a sea change on our attitudes to parenting and assault against children.

Vote Yes

For those truckers who don’t follow me on G.Blog, here’s a cross-post:

Just a reminder to everyone who supported Sue Bradford’s Bill to repeal ยง59 of the crimes act and extend full protection from assault to children- there is a referendum coming up that is designed to undermine that decision, even though it passed overwhelmingly and attitudes (not only to abuse of children, but also to physical discipline of children) have already changed dramatically since the implementation of the new law.

There’s a great non-partisan campaign to support the current law on at http://yesvote.org.nz/. The site is very rigorous and straightforward in its facts, doesn’t overreach, and has excellent talking points for the current policy and why it needs extra time to be successful. In short, their main thrust accords with the Party’s reasoning for supporting the bill in the first place: It draws a line in the sand and uses that to motivate slow change towards a society where physical discipline is largely abandoned and unnecessary.

If you can get out and help spread the word that people supporting our current, sensible laws regarding assault against children, please do so. Their recommendations for supporting the “Yes” campaign are here1, and you can find resources for grassroots campaigning here.

1 Basically, they recommend writing your local MP and keeping up with news from the campaign.