Thursday, May 17, 2007

Smack no more!

Child protesting against smacking. Hooray! The Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill was tonight given its third reading and was passed by Parliament by a vote of 113 to seven. Fantastic! I'm very, VERY happy about that - and so pleased that MPs on all sides decided to be grownups about the whole thing, and found a way to compromise, and were able to come to an agreement on the issue.

Here's Sue Bradford's speech that she gave in Parliament tonight, in support of the bill. It's so good I think it deserves quoting in its entirety. Thanks to the Green Party for making it available. And thanks SO much to Sue and all the Greens for having the balls to make this legislation happen. I'm so proud of you all. And I'm a little bit prouder of New Zealand tonight than I was a few weeks ago.

Sue Bradford MP, Green Party Children's Issues Spokesperson
Third Reading, Parliament, 16th May 2007

Madam Speaker,

I move that the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill be now read a third time.

Nearly two years ago my private member's Bill to repeal s59 of the Crimes Act was drawn from the parliamentary ballot. While I was certainly well aware of the controversial nature of this issue after facing hostile audiences on various election platforms around the country, little did I realise back then the full extent of the difficulties that were yet to come.

I came to Parliament after many years of working for the rights of unemployed people and beneficiaries and was very used to our groups and ourselves being seen as outcasts, korotake, blamed and despised. I was used to being physically assaulted on street protests and often enough arrested as well.

However, none of that quite prepared me for the level of vitriol and the ugly lies and threats cast at myself and others simply for standing up for the right of our babies and children to live free from violence.

I thought in a country that prides itself on being a great place to bring up kids and where people from all parts of society talk constantly of their love for children that it would be like motherhood and apple pie to work for a law change that benefits children.

Instead, the debate over whether or not to get rid of the defence of reasonable force for the purpose of correction has shown quite starkly that some people believe the right of parents to legally beat their children is so important that some of them have stooped to threats of violence and other abhorrent tactics.

However, it has, in the end, been a wonderful thing that despite the ugliness of some aspects of the public discourse, so many members of Parliament from almost every party have chosen to support my Bill in its amended form.

I acknowledge and thank all involved from all sides of the house for your support within this outbreak of consensus politics, and I regret on behalf of Peter Dunne and Judy Turner that this Bill has seen their party break apart because someone is so dedicated to fighting for the right to beat children that they've abandoned their allegiance.

The Bill in front of us tonight fulfils my original goal of removing the reasonable force defence while at the same time dealing with some of the fears expressed at different times by both the Labour and National caucuses and by some members of the public.

The Labour-led amendment which came out of our select committee consideration of the Bill is aimed at reassuring parents that they won't be prosecuted if they use reasonable force to do things like putting a child in a room for time out, forcibly removing a child from danger, or restraining a child from causing damage to people or property.

I am aware that some lawyers believe that this new clause may be misused as a legal defence for having hit a child as part of control and because of this I believe that its use as a defence in future must be monitored to ensure that it is not used this way in practice.

The second significant amendment to the Bill has been the one put forward just two weeks ago by Peter Dunne and agreed to by both Labour and National through John Key's leadership, encapsulating within the Bill the long-established police discretion regarding the action they take when deciding whether or not to prosecute in very minor cases where there is no public interest in proceeding.

This new clause simply affirms in law what is standard police practice under their prosecution guidelines but I think it is useful in helping to calm some of the unnecessary fears driven up by the Bill's opponents.

Neither the Select Committee, myself or anyone else supporting the Bill has ever intended that all parents who ever lightly or occasionally hit their child should be subject automatically to investigation and prosecution.

What we have been simply seeking to do is to remove a defence which has allowed some parents to get away with quite badly beating their children, and most significantly, has stopped police taking action in many situations of violence against children.

Some of the most powerful submissions during the Select Committee process came from paediatricians who talked about the injuries they see constantly, and of how most of them are inflicted in the name of child discipline.

Only last week we were made all too aware of the case of the three year old Otara boy who was killed as a result of beatings inflicted in the name of toilet training. The police officer who led the investigation, Detective Senior Sergeant Richard Middleton said, among other things, "What I will say is keep your hands off your kids. Don't hit them. It's not on. There's no need for it."

I think it's a red letter day when a senior police officer feels able to make such an unequivocal statement in the national media. Police, like paediatricians, see the daily consequences of what happens when people assault their kids just to teach them a lesson.

Some people say that smacking or spanking isn't violence. I say to them - what else is it? If a burly gang member much larger than you smacked you in the pub tonight, what would you call that?

Some people say that the deaths of children like James Whakaruru or the Otara boy have nothing to do with this Bill - well I say they have everything to do with it.

There is a spectrum of violence used against our babies and children and one person's light occasional tap is another person's beating or shaking to death, all in the name of so-called correction.

I've been much criticised by the Bill's opponents for my unwillingness to support the earlier amendment put up by National MP Chester Borrows, which attempted to define the nature and level of force that parents could legitimately use on their kids.

I will simply reiterate once again that to support any such definition would make things even worse for kids by having the state define acceptable violence, and by entrenching the legal and social concept that it's OK to beat children but not OK to beat adults.

It is important that as we finally vote this Bill into law we also look forward to what else needs doing. Law change alone is not enough.

To be really effective, the Bill we are passing tonight needs to be accompanied by a well planned public information campaign telling people the intentions and implications of the law in a way that doesn't make people feel frightened or guilty.

The Government also needs to make a commitment to maintain and extend the SKIP programme so that strong, clear messages about alternatives to physical discipline are available to all parents around the country.

Funding for community groups that support children, parents and families needs to be increased.

We need research and monitoring of the attitudinal change that I feel sure will result from this new law, as it has already during the two years of the public debate.

The interpretations of the new law and its implementation by courts, police and CYFS all need to be monitored as well, and I welcome the two year review instigated by the Minister.

I also strongly recommend that the Government work closely with the relevant NGOs following the Bill's passage on an action plan to ensure that the best possible outcomes are achieved for children and families.

In conclusion, I would like to take just a moment to thank some of those who have played such a critical role in championing and supporting this Bill to the stage we're at tonight.

There are an enormous number of organisations who have worked tirelessly for reform over the last two years including Plunket, Barnardos, Unicef, Save the Children, the Families Commission, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, EPOCH, Every Child Counts, the Body Shop, Child Poverty Action Group, Parents Centres and many others. I am sorry I can't name you all.

There are also many individuals who have played a key role - people like Beth Wood, Mike Coleman, Deborah Morris-Travers, Megan Payne, Ian Hassall, Cindy Kiro, Jane and James Ritchie, Kaye Crowther, Robert Ludbrook, Sonya Hogan, Rhonda Pritchard and David Kenkel - and again I apologise for only being able to mention so few of you.

I'd also like to say a special thanks to the Reverends Anthony Dancer and Margaret Mayman and all the other clergy involved in hosting the moving ecumenical service two weeks ago, and in mobilising Christian support for the Bill.

I would like to acknowledge the huge amount of work done by the MPs and officials involved in the very long Select Committee process, including the sterling efforts of our PCO counsel, Elizabeth Grant.

And finally I'd like to say a huge thanks to all the MPs who stood firm in support of this Bill during some fairly dark days, including Helen Clark and the Labour caucus, the Maori Party caucus, all my own Green Party colleagues, Peter Dunne, Brian Donnelly, Doug Woolerton and Katherine Rich - you are all heroes in your commitment to a vision of a country where children will finally receive the same legal protection as adults.

And I also acknowledge the lead John Key took in working to find a way through a seeming impasse so that his party too can lend its full weight to the mana of this Bill.

But in the end this Bill isn't about us here in Parliament or indeed about adults at all.

It is about our children and what I believe is their God-given right to grow up secure in the love of their family, valued as equal citizens to the rest of us and without the constant threat of legalised violence being used against them.

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2 comments:

Nicholas said...

At long last we live in a country where children have the right to grow up without adults acting out and lashing out.

One feels great confidence in Sue Bradfor for changing this in spite of unreasoned opposition that in the end meant little.

webweaver said...

Hear! Hear!

I absolutely agree with you Nicholas!

That's why it was so important to me - to be able to live in a country where we can all say "Oh, here in New Zealand we don't believe it is acceptable to hit children" - and to know that the rights of the child to live in a violence-free environment is enshrined in law - as it should be.