New Zealand's new Children's Commissioner, John Angus, says he occasionally smacked his sons on the hand - but supports the new law that would have stopped him smacking them for "correction".

Dr Angus, 60, a former top bureaucrat at the Ministry of Social Development, has been given the commissioner's job for six months after anti-child abuse campaigner Christine Rankin turned down the job because she didn't want to move to Wellington.

Ms Rankin, who was then made a part-time Families Commissioner instead, helped to organise the campaign for next month's citizen-initiated referendum seeking to overturn the controversial 2007 law that bans parents from using force against their children "for the purpose of correction".

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, who voted for the law as part of a last-minute deal between Labour and National, indicated personal sympathy for the referendum on a radio talkback show last week.

Asked for her view on the referendum question, "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" she said, "No, I don't, I believe that actually good parenting should be left to do that in their different ways in their different homes and I don't have an interest in going into people's homes and telling them how to parent."

But Dr Angus said Ms Bennett had not given him any "riding instructions" on what to say about the referendum, to be held by postal ballot between July 31 and August 21, and he supported the new law.

"It's up to the Government to determine how they respond to the outcome of the referendum, but it won't change my advice to the Government and my statements that I think the law as it currently stands is satisfactory and is a good piece of law for the children of New Zealand."

He said his two now-adult sons "on occasions probably got a smack on the hand" from him or his wife. "Certainly we didn't follow the practice of the parents of our [sons'] peers, which was to have fathers give children the cane or the strap long after the event for which they were being chastised," he said.

"It was something we didn't think was right. It was an expression of our frustration from time to time. I know that we both immediately felt a bit bad about having done it, and I think that is the experience of a great many parents.

"I don't think that sort of isolated incident, about which parents felt bad, is an abuse of children or is starting down a slippery pathway to abuse.

"But there is another category in which the smack is the start of a pattern of escalating violence towards children ..."

Dr Angus said he supported the new law because vulnerable children should get the same legal protection against assault as adults, and because smacking was not usually a consistent or effective form of discipline.

"It's linked to how tired and frustrated parents are rather than the nature of the behaviour that is trying to be changed," he said. "There is some evidence that what children remember is that someone who is supposed to love them inflicts pain on them, rather than making a link with a particular behaviour."

Ms Bennett said last night that her statement on the talkback show was not the Government's position.

"The Government's position on this legislation is clear - that should good parents be convicted for a light smack, we would look at changing the law, but so far we have seen no evidence that the law is not working."

SMACKING DIVIDE
2007 law:
Parents can use force against children to prevent harm or to stop a child's "offensive or disruptive behaviour", but cannot use force for "correction".

Referendum question:
Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?