In general, I like New Zealand. Its a nice place to live, has a good culture and, importantly, is very clean (unless you're in Carterton, maybe).
However, one thing I don't like about New Zealand is all the furore about this so-called anti-smacking bill. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, well, it really fucks me off. Right off.
Its not the fault of the bill itself. On the contrary, I've always been in full support, and even when 80% of the country was somewhat confused and were against it, I was right behind it. Child abuse is abhorrent, and any bill with the aim of helping out just a bit is fine by me, and this one seemed to be going up the right alley.
The bill never changed the way parents ended up in court. It has, and never had, anything to do with that. It affected the punishment to be dished out when parents DID end up in court by removing the defense of "reasonable force" that was often used in such situations. So think about it: for this bill to come into force, then the parent would have to be charged in the first place. Have parents traditionally wound up in court for smacking their kids (lightly, of course)? Of course they haven't. So why would they now?
I don't know how people came to the conclusion that this was an "anti-smacking bill" and that it was going to criminalise "good parents" who just gave their kids a light tap every so often. I should probably add for the record that I am against smacking well and truly, but parents can do what they want and this is not the issue. The issue that led to the creation of this bill happened a few years ago: a woman ended up in court charged with attacking her child. She had repeatedly whipped the kid with the end of a power cord, causing a great deal of pain and injury-we're not talking about a light smack here. The woman's defence was that she had used "reasonable force", the jury agreed, and she was let off. Clearly, anyone in their right mind would see that that this was unacceptable, and hence the creation of the bill by Green MP Sue Bradford to ban the use of "reasonable force" as a defence.
Ok. So far so good. So to get back to the point of this bill: how do parents end up in court? Do they end up getting charged by doing things like...giving their kid a light smack on the wrist? Giving them a light smack on the backside? Of course they don't. They never have, and they never will. Parents end up in court, by and large, by beating several shades of shit out of their kids; not even cops have wasted precious time and resources by charging people with useless things like light smacking. So then, how on earth did this innocuous bill become a heinous "anti-smacking bill" that banned smacking on risk of jail time, if caught? I didn't know then, and I still don't know now.
However it started, soon enough the opposition to the bill became a groundswell, with marches all over the country protesting against the bill's ratification in parliament, the first being in grand old Masterton, the home of intelligent political commentary, headed by the worlds most boring (not to mention idiotic and inbred) newspaper columnist Sue Reid. Prime jackasses like Garth McVicar, head of the misleadingly titled 'Sensible Sentencing Trust' and Bob McCoskie from the 'Family First' organisation weighed in, panicking parents up and down the country by telling them that they were all soon to be criminals. Panic spread: good parents all over the country were soon going to be able to be charged by the police and sent to jail. Kids were going to run off the their local constable after being denied, I don't know, being allowed to watch Spongebob, and tell little lies about being given a smack, which would eventually result in firstly a visit by the police, and then a trip to the cells. Any little allegation was going to automatically mean jail time. What was going on? Was the world going mad? The government needed to be overthrown! Time for a revolution! Kids, get the emergency kits and shotguns! This was war!
To their eternal credit, the Labour government's support of the bill never wavered under intense public pressure, which at its height was about 80% against the bill. In fact, this was probably the final nail in the coffin for Helen Clark; the public never forgave the party for not listening to their misguided protests, and they were voted out of office by a landslide. Never mind that John Key had also voted for the bill. That was, umm, different, apparently.
Just when things were at their peak, a clause was dropped into the bill to help reassure the public that, in fact, noone would be going to jail unneccesarily. It was along the lines that the police were free to make their own decisions on who to charge and send to court; if they deemed a complaint frivolous or without merit, nothing would go any further. As soon as this was added, the movement quickly dissipated, and the bill passed quietly, with little fanfare. Of course, this clause was unnecessary from the start; it was always up to the police over who to charge and what action to take, but this clause just made it plain for the public to see. Last year the act was passed into law, and that was the end of that. Case closed.
Or maybe not. Despite the fact that it had been proven that good parents would not end up in court after all, and that it would only affect bad parents that were child beaters, a small group of hardcore nutjobs still kept up the righteous fight for the scum of society, travelling around the country under the (now clearly disproven) banner of "protecting good parents", still attempting to get the bill overthrown. Good parents who beat their kids, obviously.
And now, due to the efforts of these nutjobs, we have before us a public referendum on the issue. The question? "'Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?". Sigh.
The question is obviously misleading, since smacking isn't a criminal offence in New Zealand. Potentially it is, but only, of course, if you smack hard enough to get charged by the police. Despite the claims of victimisation by the proponents of the referendum, this has, in fact, only happened once. Once. In a whole year. Once.
And how much has this cost the whole the taxpaying public? I'm not one who constantly goes on about wasting taxpayers money, but $9 million says that this time I will. And whats more, the government has said that they will not pay the slightest bit of attention to the results; the answer could be 100% in favour of "no", and they wouldn't give a shit. And so they shouldn't. Its a stupid, pointless question, and governments are not around to be held to ransom by misguided ( or even ill-meaning) lunatics. Whats worse is that, before they submitted this referendum, Larry Baldock (the one who officially submitted it) and his ilk knew full well that this was not going to change things one bit. So why did they do it? Well, fucked if I know-all I can guess is that these people seem to think that child beating is a-ok, that parents have the right to beat the shit out of their kids and get away with it: after all, its their kids, so therefore they can beat away to their hearts content. Scum.
I'm not voting in this referendum. Tomorrow afternoon I'm catching a flight to Los Angeles, so I won't be able to; however, even if I was at home I still wouldn't. Its a pointless, stupid exercise, commited by strange, crazy people. Hopefully, when all the votes are cast and the last one is counted, the whole issue can quietly die down once again and everything can go back to the way it should be, i.e normal. Its time this ridiculous and embarassing episode ended. I sincerely hope so.