John Roughan’s column today must surely count as some of the most dishonest and bizarre writing to ever appear in the Herald.
There is something very creepy about this smacking referendum now arriving in the mail. What exactly do the citizens behind this initiative, men like Bob McCoskrie, mean by “good parental correction”?
Personally, I find Sue Bradfords’ “smacking was always illegal” and “smacking was never illegal” statements even more creepy, since she’s an MP with the right to vote on new laws.
Their publicity pretends they mean nothing more than the smack that an anxious or annoyed parent might use to stop or prevent dangerous or offensive behaviour. But that can’t be all they want because the law now expressly permits the use of parental force for exactly those purposes.
I could just as easily say that John Roughan’s column here seems concerned about his right to self-defense, but that’s silly because that right is enshrined in law.
In other words, John’s constructed a nice straw man in the shape of what’s allowed in the new law. Bob wants parents to have more than the power to “stop or prevent” behaviour, but also the right to correct it so it doesn’t happen again.
They say the new law is not clear, that parents are confused. If so, the confusion is largely their work. The law is clear. Read it:
“Every parent of a child, and every person in the place of a parent of a 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.”
That just about covers the gamut of infant misbehaviour, doesn’t it? All the commonly cited scenarios are there.
Could a parent really be criminalised for a light smack to stop a child running across a road or putting a finger near a light socket? I doubt it. See ‘a’ above.
Yet ‘a’ conflicts with other parts of the law which John only mentions below. That’s why parents are confused.
Could parents be prosecuted for smacking the hand of a child taking things from a shop shelf? No, see ‘b’. Or taking something from another kid? See ‘c’. Hitting someone? See ‘a’ again.
But given correction is illegal, is it reasonable to use a smack to stop a child when simply taking their arm would prevent that action? In theory a smack might be legal in these circumstances but it could very, very easily be interpreted as correction if another, less forceful action was available.
Throwing a tantrum in a supermarket? ‘c’. Fighting? ‘a’ or ‘c’. Teasing? ‘c’. Swearing? ‘c’. Insolence? ‘c’. If those clauses do not cover everything, the last, ‘d’, seems wide enough to deal with all persistent disobedience.
A parent has the right to use reasonable force to separate out two children fighting, but not the right to use force to administer any sort of punishment. Every parent knows what happens when a child is simply stopped from doing something without punishment – they quickly learn that bad behaviour has no cost.
A smack may not be the best way to deal with any of these but the new Section 59 (1) of the Crimes Act permits reasonable force if a parent must.
Mr McCoskrie’s group is more interested in a second subsection, which says “Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.”
So after putting up a nice straw-man, John decides he can’t ignore the part of the law that was actually law changed.
The law banned correction, and made it clear that no other section of the law anywhere can be used to justify it.
Ah, correction. What is that?
When a columnist asks a question like that, you know nothing good is going to result.
Mr McCoskrie says it means the same sort of smack and hence the confusion. But lawmakers do not deliberately compose contradictions.
But where is the contradiction? The contradiction appears in the mind of John Roughan who has just decided that the other sections of the law allow smacking. Clearly when the entire law is read, that interpretation is wrong.
Then there’s Sue Bradford – living proof of contradictions within lawmakers.
They must mean something different by subsection (2). That is how judges will reason if they are asked to interpret the word correction.
As the word is used in public policy nowadays it means serious systematic punishment. The penal arm of the state is now called the Department of Corrections. A prison is a “Corrections Facility”.
So the correction being banned here means the same as a prison?
This is pure fantasy. The courts dealt with many cases under the old section 59, something tells me that they’re going to continue the same definition as before. Certainly, throwout this lengthy and very public debate I have never, ever heard anyone suggest that “correction” means what John seems to imply here. Sue Bradford was clear that she wanted the law to make illegal even a light tap on the hand, which she equated as violence (she just didn’t want people arrested for it).
In plain language the lawmakers might have written that subsection (2) does not allow parents to use force for the purpose of serious systematic punishment. Or more precisely, they might have said “punishment alone”. Mr McCoskrie is right that a permissible smack to stop or prevent bad behaviour is also intended to be corrective….
Ah, so buried in the middle of the paragraph is an admission that Bob is right. And the law explicitly states that if force is used for correction, no other excuse will let you off – you are guilty of assault.
…But there is another sort of smacking that happens too late to stop or prevent the behaviour. It is only corrective and it tends to be quite a different beast.
When physical punishment is delayed it ceases to be an act of anger or frustration understandable to the child and cathartic for the parent. Delay changes the relationship.
Wait, so immediate smacking is the result of “anger or frustration”? Here’s me thinking that it was the result of bad behaviour on the part of the child.
A different parent, father usually, may be called on. And to give the performance due seriousness he is liable to keep a stick, strap, bat, belt or hosepipe handy for the purpose.
The child ceases to see a natural act of annoyance, he (hopefully never she) prepares for a cold-blooded assault intended to leave him in pain and fear.
Delayed, systematic parental correction is the old-fashioned hiding. It was often called a “good hiding”.
That is what the recent amendment to the Crimes Act has criminalised. That, I suspect, is the “good parental correction” we are being asked to endorse in this referendum.
I could list the groups that disagree with this interpretation, but it’s easier to list the people who think it’s true.
1. John Roughan.
The ritual thrashings that children used to receive “when your father comes home”, may be rare today but not in some sections of society we hear.
Those who initiated the referendum know what the new law says. They know it permits reasonable force for all the preventive situations they are fond of citing.
And yet the police were called when a mother dragged her children off a trampoline and smacked them. Clearly they didn’t get the memo. Sure, they didn’t prosecute but there is no suggest that the child was held for hours in fear then thrashed, so why the massive rush?
They pretend it does not because they could not attract majority support for the restoration of the right to flog children. Don’t be deceived by them. Should a smack, as part of good parental correction, be a criminal offence in New Zealand? Absolutely.
I found this paragraph in an old book review by John:
They [readers] need to be gently acquainted with a mind that is going to challenge them and they need to feel they are going to enjoy the journey. Intellectual honesty is usually enough to meet those requirements. The sense the writer is going to open his mind to the subject, acknowledge awkward truths, grapple with them and come to an honest conclusion is usually enough.
What does it say about “honest conclusions” and “intellectual honesty” in a writer when he opens his attack with a carefully constructed straw man, argues small sections of law in isolation from sections that they are subservient to, and ignores well established definitions in favour of ones that suit his argument?
I suggest readers pop over to the “Yes Vote” site and have a look at a few articles. It might be easy to tell us that the “No vote” is pretending to get a majority, but why would the “Yes Vote” join in a similar pretense? To loose?
What about the police actions since the law change? Are they part of the conspiracy too?
Ian Wishart might be into conspiracies, but he’s got nothing on John.