Friday 17 January 2014

The Sound Of One Hand Smacking

The 87 Percent Solution: Few subjects have lent themselves so readily to the arousal of popular passions as the so-called "anti-smacking" crusade. Colin Craig and his Conservative Party are attempting to harness that emotion and ride it into Parliament.
YOU HAVE TO WONDER if, in the weeks since Colin Craig made his interesting observations about astronauts and the Moon, he hasn’t gotten some professional help. Because his latest stunt – to raise again the fraught subject of child discipline – is nothing short of brilliant.
Over the past couple of decades few subjects have lent themselves so readily to the arousal of popular passions as the so-called “anti-smacking” crusade. There’s something about the crusaders’ arguments against corporal punishment that gets right under the skin of “the average Kiwi parent”. And, equally, there’s something about “the average Kiwi parent’s” willingness to use the phrases “hitting your kids” and “good parenting” in the same sentence that drives the crusaders’ absolutely bonkers.
Given that most of the anti-smacking crusaders are staunch supporters of the Green and Labour parties, inciting them to launch yet another assault on the child-rearing practices of ordinary New Zealanders makes perfect sense – if your purpose is to push Colin Craig’s Conservative Party over the 5 percent MMP threshold.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Mr Craig is acting entirely alone. There has always been a peculiarly guileless quality to the man: a weird “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” honesty that is every bit as attractive as it is off-putting.
His ready admission that he still smacks his 8-year-old daughter is a case in point.
Only an adviser of Crosby-Textor’s sophistication would have the sheer Machiavellian gall to suggest that a political leader own up to the belief that it is perfectly acceptable for citizens to pick and choose which laws they obey and which they ignore. A party which openly acknowledges its ambition to join the nation’s legislators is generally expected to demonstrate (and usually does display) a little more respect for the Rule of Law.
It is, however, a crucial element of Mr Craig’s na├»ve political genius to instinctively “get” that the anti-smacking legislation owes nothing at all to the will of the people and everything to the unshakeable convictions of a self-righteous minority. Those who bridle at this characterisation would no doubt also dismiss the judgement of the 87.4 percent of voters who in 2009 answered “No.” to the Citizens Initiated Referendum question: “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”
Mr Craig’s argument is that any law passed in such studied contempt of public opinion has no legitimate claim upon the ordinary citizen’s compliance. Accordingly, he plans to make its repeal a “bottom line” should the Conservatives end up holding the balance of power following this year’s general election:
“It would be an easy one for National to put over the line", says Mr Craig, "because obviously the law is not working. Child abuse statistics have risen. It’s a silly law. The vast majority of parents think this law has gone too far.”
The big challenge for Labour and the Greens is to demonstrate an equally sophisticated grasp of the political dynamics of the “anti-smacking” debate as Mr Craig (acting either alone or in response to professional advice) has shown.
They must resist the temptation to re-litigate the political arguments of 2007-08. Instead they must hold firmly to this thought: “The best way to keep children safe from parental brutalisation is to win the election.”
Let Mr Craig knock himself out on the smacking issue. There are a whole host of important things to talk about with voters besides the anti-smacking legislation: inequality; inadequate incomes; child poverty; affordable housing.
The Labour-Green strategy must be to coax the non-voters of 2008 and 2011 out of their political alienation; their belief that the political class simply doesn’t give a toss for their opinions. Both parties need to “get” that nothing demonstrates the “truth” of elite indifference better than the “anti-smacking” bill.
Why else would Mr Craig’s Conservatives be thrusting it back into public consciousness?
If Labour and the Greens cannot persuade alienated voters that someone other than Colin Craig’s Conservatives is listening to them, then the Left will lose.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 January 2014.


Dave Kennedy said...

A vote for Colin Craig will be a vote for smacking our way to a better society.

Brendan McNeill said...

HI Chris

An interesting response. I agree that the anti-smacking legislation is an example of unwarranted intrusion by the State into the family, largely targeting those who are not the perpetrators of child abuse.

However, I felt Colin Craig's re-litigation of the issue was somewhat naive as most of us have moved on, and parents who do smack their children, now do so at home rather than publicly at the supermarket.

Sure, repeal or update the legislation, but to make it a 'bottom line'?

jh said...

Let Mr Craig knock himself out on the smacking issue. There are a whole host of important things to talk about with voters besides the anti-smacking legislation: inequality; inadequate incomes; child poverty; *affordable housing*.
The Greens can't say much about affordable housing if you trust the wisdom of the (independent) Savings Working Group*.

*anti immigration feeling has no place in the Green Party, says Mr Locke.

Jan said...

Can I remind all of you that the amendment to Section 59 was passed by an overwhelming majority of both sides of the House. It appears from the overheated comments I'm reading that you either do not realize, or are overlooking this. Luckily they were in possession of the facts, not swayed by the hysteria of journalists looking less for justice and more for reader engagement

Davo Stevens said...

Quite right Jan, it was a conscience vote, not a party one.

107 voted for it and 13 against as I recall.

The Act was a bill by Sue Bradford who was in the Greens at the time which is why it's called the BWBB (Bradford's Whackabrat Bill).

Time will tell whether Craig gets traction.

Kat said...

Craig, and his puppet master, Jackboot Joyce want to reintroduce corporal punishment, national conscription and the return of Sunday as a national holy day.

Key on the other hand is happy just playing golf, which mixed with the top echelons of US politics should get you a cosy retirement in Hawaii.

God defend NZ?

Psycho Milt said... was a conscience vote, not a party one.

In some alternative universe, perhaps. In this one Labour required its MPs to vote in favour, whether they were or not. Can't remember if National whipped a yes vote or not, but even if not it would be a brave Nat MP who'd oppose it after Key had said they would support it.

Anonymous said...

more power to Colin Craig, he speaks volumes on common sense.
Michael Laws has just been done for smacking one of his kids, how ridiculous, he got told on by a nurse. A smack is not child abouse, and child abuse is still rife. Woprse than ever, just not talked about.

Also, Mr Craig is right, most Kiwis are on his side, not that of Sue Bradford or the hard leftists. Eat that Mr Key, you golfing empty wanna-be someone.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Someone please tell me what effect the bill has had? Sky's fallen? Kids getting worse? "I was smacked and look at me" :-)

Jan said...

The reason for the change in legislation was not primarily to criminalise parents who believe in smacking as a form of discipline so much as to prevent the existing laws from being used as a loophole for parents who were using quite serious violence and engaging expensive lawyers to avoid justice.
As an early childhood teacher can I please also put in a plea for children here and say that physically punishing children is really not a good idea. We are meant to be leading by example and what does hitting demonstrate? That it is ok to solve your issues by hitting whoever doesn't agree with you? As teachers are not allowed to physically discipline children and our training has taught us much better ways of encouraging decent behavior. Maybe the legislative changes should have been accompanied by more parenting advise. Mind you, there are none so blind as those who will not see, eh?

Jigsaw said...

In this debate I think people like Jan have completely the wrong take on the issue. As an ex-teacher of almost 40 years service (primary and secondary) I personally gave up corporal punishment in the very early 1960's in spite of being urged to do so by parents. As I parent I used it only when the children were small-a slap on the bottom. However the state should not dictate to parents how to bring up their children. Children are not small adults. Saying that the anti-smacking law prevents serious assaults on children is simply ridiculous, of course there are gradations of violence. Criminalising a smack on the bottom is absurd and people know that. I support Colin Craig as his party want to abolish the TOW tribunal - the one that Geoffrey Palmer said might last 10 years-25 years ago!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It took away the defence of reasonable force. Some of the so-called reasonable force I saw imposed on my friends when I was a kid – accepted by all – in my opinion went beyond that. Now we can argue about what reasonable force is, but let's face it unless a kid was severely damaged this sort of thing never got to court. In my father's day, he was regularly punched by one of his teachers, and it took my grandfather to sort that out, because no one else was going to do anything. Personally I think the idea that the state shouldn't interfere in the bringing up of children is a load of sentimental twaddle. The state interferes in the relationship between you and your children in any number of ways, I can't see that one more makes any difference. Particularly as it's in the area of violence.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Jigsaw, I am aware that primary and secondary teachers hit children back then - I was on the receiving end once or twice and all it left me with was a burning sense of injustice and an abiding dislike of the perpetrator. We have moved on and are trying to built a society as free from violence as we can manage.
You say that children are not small adults but you presumably think they have somehow developed the mental sophistication to comprehend that although they receive violence it does not mean they can give it - I think not!
And the state does need to intervene to protect the rights of children on many levels. I suggest you read the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, or closer to home, the Registered Teacher Code of Ethics which clearly states that the child's interests are paramount, not those of the parent.

Jan said...

Sorry, that last 'anonymous' was Jan - must have pressed the wrong button!

Anonymous said...

Anon, I bet you are not a parent. Child discipline is the business of parents, not the state. It is absured to prosecuteparents for light smacking, a world gone mad.

Jan said...

Yes, I'm a parent, in fact I'm a grandparent.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Give me the name of one person who's ever been convicted of 'light smacking'. And I AM a parent :-). Maybe give me one concrete statistic that can be sheeted home to not hitting kids too?

Jan said...

The following is the actual wording of the law as it stands. It may help the standard of the debate to read it, Guerilla Surgeon, and you will understand that it is, in fact, very unlikely that anyone has been prosecuted for 'light smacking' as you are pleased to call it:
59 Parental control
(1) Every parent of a child and every person in the place of a parent of the child is justified in using force if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances and is for the purpose of—
(a) preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or(b) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or(c) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or(d) performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.
(3) Subsection (2) prevails over subsection (1).
(4) To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child or person in the place of a parent of a child in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child, where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.
As for reasons not to hit kids it seems so much common sense not to do to children what you don't want them to learn to do to others that it hardly bears a response. Pretty much every adult (and they've all been men, by the way) who has stood before me and announced with pride that they were beaten as kids "and there's nothing wrong with me has earned the response of gales of laughter - mad as meat axes, every one of them!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jan, it would certainly help the standard of the debate if you read my post and realised that it wasn't directed at you. And if you realised that I was in fact saying pretty much what you just said, albeit more succinctly. Lawyers say you should never ask a question unless you know they answer. I pretty much know the answer to my question - thank you.

Jan said...

My apologies, Guerilla Surgeon, but sometimes succinct can morph into obtuse, as you might realize if you read your last post critically. Yes, looking at your previous posts again I can see that indeed, you are saying much the same as me. Mea culpa :)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jan - short of time and I forgot to name the recipient I see. My bad.

Victor said...

Personally, I'm in favour of the "anti-smacking" law. But I believe it sticks in the throat of a very large percentage of the voting public.

My instinctive reaction is that Colin Craig is on to a winner here, providing he doesn't (for example) suddenly claim to have been abducted by extra-terrestials and returned to Earth specifically programmed to lead us to a traditionalist Nirvana.

I can't think of a single other issue that so dramatically distinguishes cultural conservatives from the pragmatist strain now dominant in the National Party.

It might be enough to deliver John Key the coalition partner he needs. So this is no small matter.

Unknown said...

We drug young boys for 12 years while they are at school rather that give them a whack to limit their behaviour. It feels so much more civilized. They could have turned out like me otherwise.

Jan said...

Read Michelle A'Court's blog on the subject in Stuff - delightful and insightful

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Sturgeon, if you're talking about ADHD kids, I can assure you that not only does a whack not have any effect but outright thrashing his none either.

Unknown said...

"Your Honor, I gave this 14 year old boy with ADHD a outright thrashing without any concern as I had been told by a surgeon that it would have no effect upon him." Interesting defense.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Sturgeon, ignorant response. I have known several people with ADHD children, one of whom was regularly thrashed to within an inch of his life. It didn't cure him at all.