Audrey Young: Flabbergasted on smacking bill

By Audrey Young

Does telling police not to prosecute parents go far enough? > Send us your views > Read your views > PM: Public will now back smacking bill > The smacking bill compromise in quotes > What the current law, proposed bill and amendments say Herald political editor Audrey Young analyses this morning's compromise on the smacking bill.

Occasionally Parliament surprises itself, Prime Minister Helen Clark said about the cross-party support reached on Sue Bradford's anti-smacking bill.

Flabbergasts itself - and everyone else - more like it.

It is a giant leap from the vitriol of the economic debate in the past few days to the staggeringly civilised compromise announced at Parliament this morning by Clark and National leader John Key.

Make no mistake, this is a real victory for Key, disguised by the remarkable statesmanship of Helen Clark.

John Key's concentrated on what the proposed law actually said and not the wishful thinking of its proponents.

He expounded it without the extreme rhetoric adopted by what has become known as the "beaters and thrashers" camp.

The bill as it stood would introduce a new law to outlaw the use of force against children for the purposes of correction - and still will.

It would have been unlawful to smack a child. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.

Parliament was about to pass a law that Sue Bradford and Clark hoped the police would ignore, except for the extreme breaches.

Now, it will pass a bill that directs police not to prosecute "inconsequential" offences.

There is a world of difference between hoping that the police and the courts will use their discretion and judgment in a way that won't come back to bite the Government, and actually spelling it out in law.

The meaning of the term "inconsequential" will still ultimately be determined by the courts in case law. But it has clearer guidance about the intent of Parliament.

Key tried to get an identical result last week when he met Sue Bradford on Anzac Day and said smacks of a "minor and inconsequential" nature were justified.

She rejected it then saying she did not want the law to define the level of acceptable violence.

Today's compromise defines the level of "offence" that is acceptable - "inconsequential" - in order for it to be immune from prosecution

Bradford is dancing on the head of a pin when she says there is a real difference between the two.

The emphasis however today is on what the police can do, rather than what parents can do and Bradford uses semantic purism to claim that her position has not been compromised.

Everyone's a winner in this compromise.

Clark and Key have asked United Future leader Peter Dunne to introduce the amendment tonight so he gets to bask in a little common sense glory.

Key gets to claim that he initiated a solution that otherwise would not have been reached.

The alternative would have seen Helen Clark force unpopular, unwanted and unclear law on the country.

In that sense, John Key has given Helen Clark the greatest victory of all.

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