Boycott march, kids' advocate urges

By Simon Collins

Children's Commissioner John Angus has urged people to stay away from a "march for democracy" tomorrow.

He said the march, sparked by the Government's refusal to change the law after an 87 per cent vote in an August referendum that smacking should not be a criminal offence, was "poorly named".

"The march planned for Queen St, Auckland, tomorrow is not about democracy, it is about reinstating a law that allowed parents to assault their children and claim a defence of reasonable force," he said.

But Auckland property manager Colin Craig, who has sunk about $300,000 into organising the march, said it aimed to pressure the Government into honouring all referendum results, not just on smacking.

"It's about democracy," he said.

"I think it's really problematic when bureaucrats look to suppress the will of the New Zealand people. The statement from Mr Angus is obviously out of step with 87 per cent of New Zealand voters."

Mr Craig widened the march's brief this week by flying in organisers of two 1999 referendums which he said were also ignored by successive governments - Wellington superannuitant Margaret Robertson, who won 82 per cent support to cut the number of MPs to 99, and Napier-based Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar, who helped win 92 per cent backing for tougher penalties on violent offenders.

Mrs Robertson and Mr McVicar will be the only scheduled speakers at the march alongside Mr Craig and smacking referendum organiser Sheryl Savill. Bob McCoskrie of the Family First lobby group will be master of ceremonies.

Yulia MacLean, a 23-year-old Russian-born singer, will sing to the crowd.

Yesterday she quoted Martin Luther King's words: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that really matter."

Dr Angus said from Perth that he had stayed out of the smacking debate before the referendum.

"But now that the referendum has been held and Government has decided how it wants to proceed, I think it's quite appropriate that I put my hand up and say I think what the Government has decided to do is in the interests of children, and that children are part of a democracy too."

In a written statement to the Herald, he said people genuinely interested in children's welfare would be better to spend tomorrow "encouraging them in their sport or recreation" than marching up Queen St.

"I don't believe that finding ways to define when and how children might be hit, at what age and what with, for purposes of correction, is in any way connected to the best interests of children," Dr Angus said.

"The evidence tells us smacking is bad for children and that the majority of parents in New Zealand don't want to smack their children to discipline them.

"The reviews undertaken since the law change in 2007 tell us that parents aren't being unfairly taken to task and that the law is working well. Young people I have sought advice from want the law to remain as it is.

"Instead of a clearly divisive march, I would rather see our time taken up with debating the nature of the relationships we have with children as parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers and community members. Those relationships shape our children's futures.

"We should put our energy into how well we are bringing up our children," Dr Angus said, "rather than into the rules around a very narrow and problematic behaviour - physical punishment."


March start: Queen St/Fort St corner, 1.30pm.
Transport: Free buses from noon from Constellation Drive park and ride (North Shore), Campbell Cres entrance to Alexandra Park and along Tamaki Drive.
Songs and speeches: Outside Town Hall, about 2.30pm.
Event ends: About 3pm. Free buses from Britomart from 3.30pm.

- NZ Herald

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