That referendum

I, of course, refer to the New Zealand referendum next month where we get to vote on the proposition: “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”8dc8ey

This issue provoked people in the lead up to the removal of section 59 from the crimes act enabling child discipline to be used as a defence by individuals accused of assaulting  a child. But it seems to be very much a non-issue now. At least as far a parliament and legislation is concerned (see Don’t encourage them!).

There has always been strong debate over techniques for raising children. No doubt there always will be. I can certainly remember how emotionally charge this issue was amongst parents when my children were young. Quite correctly, the state doesn’t get involved in this issue – unless things get out of hand. And then, surely we should insist that the state intervenes to protect defenceless children when they do.

Confusing two issues

So, I see the debate around normal child rearing methods as being quite independent of parliament, legislation and referenda. This referendum has only arisen because the two issues have been confused. Many parent were concerned that the law change might make their parenting practices illegal. Experience shows that this fear was unfounded. No one is being prosecuted for normal parenting. The law had almost unanimous support in parliament. And there is an undertaking to review the actual practice of the law to detect any inappropriate use.

But why are some people still trying to campaign against the law – long after its public acceptance?  The petition calling for the referendum took advantage of the previous public concern but that has now disappeared and most people now see the referendum as not necessary, posing a confusing question and pointless because no government action will result.

Christian fundamentalist campaign

I think it’s pretty obvious that the groups now campaigning against the law are almost all religiously motivated. The campaign is largely being driven by conservative and fundamentalist Christians. Initially they may have seen it as a way of influencing the last general election. As Nicky Hagar (author of the highly recommended book on NZ politics The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception) pointed out  last year, conservative US Christian groups often use this tactic to get their issues onto ballots in the hope that the public attention will influence more major electoral decisions.

These groups failed to get the referendum on to the NZ ballot papers last year and were bitterly disappointed as a result. Now they are left with a pointless referendum  where their campaigning reveals their relgious stance, rather than mobilising concerned parents.

Have a listen to Hagar’s talk – The influence of fundamentalist religious groups on New Zealand Politics (Nicky Hager.mp3). It was presented to the secular Heritage Conference in Wellington last year (see Our secular heritage presentations). I think it is very relevant to the referendum issue in New Zealand.

C104BAAA-8637-4898-947A-5DA67C12A16E_mw203_sAlso, because the issue is now about religion and “child discipline,” this Guardian video (Flogging of girl by Taliban) is very relevant. It shows how the Taliban in Pakistan discipline their children. In this case the victim is a girl who looked at a married man.


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14 responses to “That referendum

  1. [off-topic, well off-topic!]

    You’ve often raised the point that neurology might contribute to understanding our decisions, etc. This paper looks at neural correlates for admiration and compassion. The latter in particular is interesting, as they distinguish compassion for social/psychological pain from compassion for physical pain. This work will be far from having any direct impact on discussions on moral decisions here (yet), but I find it interesting all the same that there is tentative evidence that there are distinct brain loci assigned to dealing with social compassion (as opposed to physical).


  2. On this one it’s like you live in another world.

    The change of law makes it illegal to use force as a method of discipline, the fact that there haven’t been any prosecutions yet doesn’t change that.

    CYFS are taking more interest in those using smacking as a method of disciplining children.

    I’ve been told it’s increasingly being used in the family court in custody disputes.

    Parents are being intimidated by the threat inherent in the law.

    There are plenty of atheists and agnostics who oppose the law change, and plenty of Christian who support the change, I think you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s a religious issue.

    Polls are indicating that there will be a high voter turnout – over 70%, with a strong no vote – around 85%.

    Linking this issue to the Taliban video is just demented.


  3. Well, Andrew – get back to me after the referendum results are announced and laugh at how wrong I am!!

    I think you have got the poll data confused.

    “I’ve been told” “Parents are being intimidate.” In the absence of evidence I’ll just have to interpret that as your own delusions.

    No, differences over child rearing methods are not, in themselves a religious issue. People will swing both ways, independent of beliefs.

    (Although some of the religious sects, even the Catholics, do have a thing about children, don’t they.)

    But my point was about manipulation of this issue by fundamentalist Christians. I don’t think there is any doubt about this at this stage.


  4. Ken, you’re starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist.
    People get involved in this debate because it affects them personally, or because they don’t like the state getting involved in the normal disciplining of children by parents in the home, that’s all!
    You don’t need to act like a latter day Joe McCarthy, looking for Christians or commies under every bed or in every newspaper office trying to manipulate every issue for their own diabolical ends.


  5. Sure, people form all sorts of backgrounds debate this issue. they always have and always will. The law has nothing to do with it – in the end.

    You may well want to dimsiss me as a conspiracy theorist but have a look at the fact. Who organised the petition? What groups are actively campaigning on it now? What web sites are actively promoting a No vote?

    I think you will see a thread there.

    Have a listen to Nicky Hager’s talk – its interesting.


  6. Well I’ve had a couple of goes at the Hager link but all I get is some advertising and an IQ test, perhaps not being able to listen to Hager means I fail it.

    I’ve checked around various sites and I’d say the most fervent supporters of the No Vote campaign fall into two groups; conservative (Many right, many Christian) family orientated people and organisations, and classical liberal/libertarian people and organisations. While there are several Christian organisations represented in the former group there are also non-Christian groups and groups representing religions other than Christianity.

    I’m a big fan of sociobiology and I think we’re all influenced by our instincts more than we recognise, this includes instincts to demonise those who we see as our opponents (you may well have come across me arguing this before) – a powerful survival trait in the world in which we evolved.

    As you’re a bit of a one trick pony with your obsession of discrediting Christianity, I suspect this has triggered these instincts in you.

    Best wishes.


  7. Andrew – the link works for me. it takes you to Mediafire file hosting site. Clicking on the Nicky Hager link enables you to download the file. Pretty straightforward and worth the effort.

    I agree with you about instinctual influence. I have often said we are a rationalising species rather than a rational one. And we select and rationalise to suppoprt pre-cocneuived views. I may be doing that – or yoiu may be doing that.

    The test, of course, is to actuallyt look at reality, at objective influence. I am really onl,ky aware of conservative/fundamentalists camapigning on the no-vote. Focus oin the family and many fundamentalist/conservative Christian blogs.

    So, could you identify some organisations/blogs campaigning on the no vote who don’t fall into that category? I am genuinely interested and could well change my view if the evidence is there.


  8. Pingback: “Smacking not an offence” « Open Parachute

  9. The new law is flawed & ineffective. It was introduced to help stop child abuse, but the abusers won’t stop just because of a simple law change. Also, they do not use a few light smacks (which are harmless in the long run) to correct a childs wrong behaviour, but a closed fist to physically harm the child. The New Zealand Court should be able to tell the difference. Obviously not. The amount of children dying from abuse has not changed since the introduction of the law.
    I am a proud atheist, not a conservative or fundamentalist Christians. I think people want to revert to the old law, not because of their religous background, but to have a choice in how they discipline their children. Less physical methods do not work on every child.


  10. @Katie.

    My understanding of the initial law change was that it removed the discipline defence for cases of physical assault of children. I don’t think anybody expects this to extinguish child abuse, but rather removes one technique that parental child abusers could use to avoid conviction. Whether this was required or not is perhaps another point.


  11. Katie – I agree with Nick. The law change only removed the defence of discipline in child abuse prosecution.

    It didn’t change laws on normal child upbringing/discipline. That’s why this referendum, whatever, the result, will have no influence. how could it because it doesn’t relate to a real legal situation – only to personal attitudes on child raising.

    I don’t think laws, in themselves, will stop this problem. (And yes, I don’t think the law change has had a measurable effect on child abuse prosecutions).

    Society needs to identify the underlying causes and try to bring about the social changes required to remove these.


  12. Pingback: Deceptive, Polarising Media Practices in New Zealand. « John Dierckx

  13. Also, under my understanding of the way the law works, there is a definite reason to remove this sort of specificity from the legislation.

    That is, the acceptance that it is impossible to specify exactly every situation beforehand, and therefore the individual details of the case need to be considered. As I understand it, this is also where case law fits in. That is you can make an argument based on the history of previous similar cases in court.

    Given this, I think that the net effect of the removal of this clause from the legislation is to change the weighting a bit, and open up a new area to be refined by future cases. Almost like pushing the reset button a an aspect of the law.


  14. Pingback: That ‘no’ vote « Open Parachute

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