The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Debating s59 - striking a blow for positive social change

There has been some comment, even from those who support the repeal of s59 like Chris Trotter and Bryce Edwards, that Sue Bradford's bill should be withdrawn because of the anti-repeal lobby. I completely agree that the political management around this piece of legislation has not been the best. The lack of a public campaign to galvanise (and simply show!) the true level of support has been a critical failure, which others have identified too.

I suspect part of this has grown out of the expectation that this Bill would never pass. After all, Laila Harre tried to pursue the repeal of s59 back when Labour-led meant Labour-Alliance coalition, not Winston Peters as Foreign Minister. I got the clear impression then that there was no way the new Labour dominated Cabinet were prepared to go there, and that their caucus wouldn't have backed a Member's Bill either.

Those opposed to the repeal of s59 cut their teeth on previous liberal legislation this Government has passed - law reform around prostitution, and the passage of civil unions into our statue books. They have used similar networks, and similar tactics, to whip up opposition and it has taken sometime for the Greens and other supporters of the law change to respond. In the meantime the public perception of what the bill will actually do has been replaced by an alternative reality where children will dob their parents into the dreaded CYFS* for a tap on the hand, and every parent in the country will become a criminal overnight. Tony Milne has been writing some great stuff on what the repeal of s59 is actually all about, for those looking for a bit of accuracy about the matter.

Many worthy organisations that have a great deal to do with parents, families and children have put their support behind repeal, yet this has been lost in the fray. Other groups, usually with "family" in their name and often with God allegedly on their side, have dominated the discourse, and the media has been slow in pursuing the balance required of the Fourth Estate in a democracy. If I hear the bill referred to once more as "the Anti-Smacking Bill" I may have to hit the presenter of that news item myself (of course I will do so lightly on the bottom in a loving yet correctional manner).

The debate has been portrayed by many as cold, childless elitists (their Uber Example being, quite unfairly, Helen Clark) vs ordinary lovable parents (who could see Simon Barnett as anything but a tender father?). This has given those on the Right of the equation yet another chance to have a go at the parental status of our Prime Minister**, despite the fact it is still not relevant to her ability as a politician and legislator, and wouldn't even be a factor if she was a man.

But actually there are quite a few ordinary parents who have stood up for repeal, not agin it. Some of these people I wouldn't normally agree with about much, but Deborah Coddington, Russell Brown, Katherine Rich, John Roughan, Tapu Misa, and Matt McCarten, are all parents and they are all supporting the repeal of s59, along with some of the parents who commented on my last post about this debate. A significant number of those in this Scoop article have children too (Added 2nd April 10.15am). Not to mention the parents in the Labour, Green and Maori Party caucuses, and no doubt amongst those from NZ First, National and United Future who are also voting in favour. Sue Bradford herself has children, but that seems to have been overlooked in the leap to brand those opposed to hitting children for correctional purposes as People Who Can't Have Any Idea How Hard It Is To Be A Parent.

This is not to say that all those who are opposed to the Bill have been this extreme in their opposition. Certainly it does rather seem to be a small but very vocal minority who have dominated the debate and polarised the issue into interfering know-nothings (aka loving parents) vs loving parents (aka child-beaters). It's not really very helpful is it? And it doesn't bode well for an electoral contest sans senseless dog whistling in 2008.

And so Bradford, the Greens, and the Government find themselves in an odd position. They have the numbers in the House, but the perception is that they don't have the numbers in the nation. I agree with Tony's advice, I wouldn't be rushing this Bill through or making it a Government Bill instead. I think the talk of urgency was a bad mistake, and one that only gave those in fervent opposition more hook to hang their hat on.

Time is now on the side of those who support repeal. We can take this debate back, and we must. It's going to be hard work indeed, but together I hope we can do it.

* Is anyone else wondering about the timing of the establishment of the CYFS watch blog?
** Those particularly apt to froth about this may want to check out some of the comments in this recent thread about infertility and then think about shutting their traps next time they feel the desire to attack someone because they don't have children.


Tony Milne said...

I must really be getting under the social conservatives skin. Dave at Big News has attacked not just me, but my partner, for not having kids. Apparently my view isn't valid because of that.

Interesting assumption he makes of course - I'm not sure how he would know if my partner had kids.

Martha said...

I don't suppose I should be holding my breath for them to ban smacking altogether, which is what depresses me.

The mainstream media is making me very depressed about all this, but you're right, there is interesting discussion in other arenas (ie Public Address).

I lost one subscriber from my blog when I said I don't believe in smacking ever. I was happy to see them go!

Anonymous said...

yay span. i wish more writers had the insight and courage to speak up on this too. i am also sick to death of people trying to make this an 'anti-smacking' bill in a lame (but so far effective) attempt to mislead middle new zealand to outrage.

Span said...

In the article on the TV One news tonight the bill was never referred to anything other than the "anti-smacking bill".

Yes Bradford should probably have come up with a whizzy name for it (other than the Crimes Amendment [Substituted Section 59]Bill)
like Act and National so frequently do with their Members' Bills.

But actually she shouldn't have to. The original name for it is actually correct, albeit lacking in campaigning nous. We should have a media who don't attach inaccurate tags to things surely?

In other news, the Greens do have a good response to a lot of the misinformation here:
Pity it's so hidden away on their website.

Span said...

Tony, it's a shame when people bring partners and families into this stuff, especially when that involves assumptions. I know how you feel!

Aj said...

"who could see Simon Barnett as anything but a tender father?"

Who could see Graham Capill as anything but a tender father?

No inference intended, but you see my point.

Dave said...

Span, dont jump to conclusions on the word of Tony.

If you go and read my blog I said nothing of the sort. Tony is lying, which is unusual for him as he spins rather than outright lies. I never said that because Tony doesn't have kids that his opinion is not valid. Of course everyone has the right to have an valid opinion, You, me and Tony.Kids or no kids. However if Tony wants to have a debate, hes got one, and he`s losing it.

Tony is not "under my skin" I'm pretty thick skinned, and hardly a social conservative given my support for some social legislation as the prostitution reform property rights and relationships statutory references legislation.

Psycho Milt said...

I'm also no social conservative. Tony Milne hasn't provided accuracy on what the bill's about, he's merely spiritedly defended the Labour Party's spin on it, which will stand him in good stead for a political career but contributes no accuracy to the debate.

The reason everyone refers to it as the "anti-smacking bill" is not because we avidly read fundie propaganda, but because that's Sue Bradford's stated intent in introducing the bill. Labour also initially portrayed the bill as a handy discouragement to smacking in the face of our depressing child abuse stats, before finding out how bad that was going to be for their poll ratings, and changing tack to the current "doesn't ban smacking" one.

Labour (through Tony Milne) claims the amendments to the bill have altered it such that it no longer bans smacking. This would be a little more persuasive if cops and lawyers shared that view, but they don't. In fact the amendments have merely made the bill's intent confusing, as Nick points out on SH.

The weirdest thing in Tony Milne's argument is the claim that the bill not not only now doesn't ban smacking, but that it now explicitly permits smacking while somehow magically removing that same "reasonable force" defence for violent abuse. The most charitable thing I can say about that view is that it's wildly optimistic, but privately I'm nothing like that charitable. Again, lawyers and cops beg to differ, and I know whose view I'd rather trust.

You suggest that my view of this bill as nothing more than a lucrative free gift for lawyers working in family law and an uncalled-for increase in the power of CYF workers is a fantasy Span, but I don't see any reason to change that view.

Tony Milne said...

Dave, I'll quote you directly and let the readers decide what was meant by those words:

"Tony Milne has been running a wee mini-campaign on the smacking bill, a bill that doesn't affect him because he has no kids, and neither does his partner".

Tony Milne said...

p milt - just because lots of lies have been told and repeated endlessly about this bill doesn't make them true. I havn't been running any campaign on behelf of the Labour Party - what you're starting to see is the debate finally getting some balance.

Psycho Milt said...

Equally, calling something a lie doesn't necessarily make it a lie. I've read several lawyers' opinions now that don't agree with your assessment of the bill, and I find those opinions more credible.

Span said...

Let's not throw the lie word around too much folks, it tends to just alienate us from each other when that's not always necessary. There are certainly differing legal opinions on the bill. My experience is that lawyers often have widely divergent views of the same piece of legislation, even when the language is clear, and this is why we have a court system, to interpret to law over time.

Dave, I read your blog myself before commenting. Kindly don't assume that I am not capable of clicking through and reading.

Span said...

PM, I'd rather like to see a link where Sue Bradford says that her intent in introducing her Bill was to ban smacking. The impression I had formed was that her intent was in fact to lower this country's terrible level of child abuse, including physical abuse, and that removing the current defence under s59 would mean a) more prosecutions taken and b) less parents who hit their children able to hide behind s59 and get off.

If however Bradford's main purpose was to ban smacking then I would stand corrected.

Span said...

To go a bit further than my last comment (a few days away and I can't resist commenting up a storm!) here's a link to a Stuff article about Bradford's Bill:

including a quote from Sue herself as follows:
"...the intention was never to criminalise parents who occasionally or lightly smack their children."

Heine said...

Pity the lawyers disagree with you Tony et al. CYFS too will be very busy and I suspect more than a few hours work will end up on the desks of the police.

Of course all these experts must be wrong eh?