Recently we have had the strange spectacle of John Key, National party leader, pretending to make nicey nice with Sue Bradford, sponsor of the bill to repeal s59 of the Crimes Act, and Helen Clark*. Ostensibly this was all about finding a "compromise" on the issue of child discipline - one that would put at ease all those parents scarified by National and others into thinking that they were going to end up in the Big House for even thinking about tapping their child on the hand if the bubs was about to stick pins in their own eyes.
What frustrated me about this whole political set-piece was the complete and utter reinvention of history. Not ancient history, quite recent history really. Key was portrayed as the gentle obliging man seeking consensus**, while Bradford and Clark were the staunch, cold-hearted women who would never ever bend.
But actually Bradford has already compromised significantly, in the Select Committee process. She went in with a member's bill to repeal s59. Full stop. You can see this quite clearly in the Select Committee report - the substance of the original member's bill read:
Domestic DisciplineYes folks, that was it.
Section 59 is repealed.
When the bill came out the other end though it was not only quite a bit longer, it was also significantly different. Bradford made significant compromises in those Select Committee meetings - anyone who puts the original bill alongside what Parliament are soon to vote on can see that clearly. Yes, the new bill repeals the existing s59, but it then replaces it with a new section - it is no longer full repeal, far from it.
Despite this fact the National minority position from the Select Committee states the following:
The National party members were disappointed that few submitters would considerThose submitters, the ones in favour of full repeal of s59, include a vast list of national and regional organisations drenched in parents and dealing on a daily basis with real families. WebWeaver has a handy list of these groups, which really shows the width of support the Bill has amongst those dedicated to practical everyday support for children and those raising them.
any other option than full repeal.
Those organisations are now backing the new Bill, which is clearly not full repeal; that's right they are supporting the compromise. They have decided that what came out of the Select Committee will be sufficient, that they will may concessions in the interest of improving the law we have now. But they can only be pushed so far.
Key must surely know that. He must be aware that compromise has already happened, and that actually that is what the Select Committee process is often about. A cynic might think Key only put up his generous attempt at compromise because he knew it would fail.
Sadly the media hasn't exactly fallen over itself to point out the compromises that Bradford et al have already made. They have also failed to point out that Key has been playing a game to taint Labour, and in particular Clark - why meet only with Bradford and Clark? Surely it would have made more sense to meet with just Bradford, as the actual Member in that Member's Bill, or alternatively with representatives from all the parties supporting the current Bill, not just two of them.
John Key's attempt to find an imaginary middle ground was compromised at conception. It's a shame it hasn't been widely exposed as such.
* You may remember her from such things as her eight year stint as Prime Minister of our country, or telly interviews beyond number, or maybe her spot on National Radio presenting The Prime Minister's Music.
** That would be a consensus that was impossible anyway. I'm all for consensus politics, but sometimes you just have to vote, particularly in a big collective like the whole country.