Phil Jackson: Parents, not governments, are responsible for children

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It is an extreme rarity for a politician to articulate a deep understanding of any issue and this debate shows that this is still the case. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today
It is an extreme rarity for a politician to articulate a deep understanding of any issue and this debate shows that this is still the case. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today

Parliament tends to attract those that are unable to ferret out the principles of important issues. The Electoral Finance Bill and the Microchipping Bill are two good examples of bits of subjective legislation that should have stayed submerged.

Members of Parliament know that they can get away with many things because they have denied the public the means to direct them on issues important to them. The Privy Council as the last means of appeal was abolished by a government that wanted its legislation to be interpreted in a particular way and despite the overwhelming number of submissions against this, decided that is what it wanted anyway.

The referendum on smacking has come about because ordinary New Zealanders and many decent mums and dads have felt that the law change was wrong. Support for the original law has hovered around 80 per cent and it comes as no surprise to the cynical amongst us that Prime Minister John Key is not interested in changing the new law.

A disrespect for democracy is a hallmark of many politicians. Although they depend on it to get power, once it has been gained they flaunt it with impunity.

It is an extreme rarity for a politician to articulate a deep understanding of any issue and this debate shows that this is still the case.

This law change was sold on the pretext that it would stop the senseless murder and physical abuse of infants. Only a fool would expect a law to be able to stop everyone committing such acts.

Sentences of prison do not stop murders nor will they, nor have they stopped the young and helpless dying from the acts of others.

The law now states that parents cannot use physical discipline for correction. If this is a good principle, then it should also apply to adults and that time out should also not be used for correction for children.

The penalty for a breach of this law is intended to correct the attitude. It is not a good principle but a bad ideal.

My two boys can be quite hard to manage sometimes and the rare times I've had to administer some physical correction, I have seen them want to become closer to me after their boundaries had become re-established.

Those that argue that smacking is violence show a simplistic grasp of the subject. Society has rules that apply to different contexts that permit "violence". For example martial arts, contact sports and self-defence.

It has long been accepted that parents have responsibility for their own children and the law change has now taken away some of that responsibility.

When John Key says the legislation is working - I worry. If I were to say my car is working when someone expresses an interest in buying it, no one would for a second think that I meant "working well".

Is it working because ordinary parents are now criminals? Is it working to prevent children being shaken and murdered by step-parents? Is a smack abuse?

These are important questions and left to politicians, they would remain unanswered.

The test for the police of "in the public's best interests" is a subjective nightmare of inconsistency.

The New Zealand police have lost the respect of many people including myself due to preferential treatment for Helen Clark's misdemeanours, pursuing cases where the evidence was shaky and wasting resources prosecuting shopkeepers who tried to defend themselves. If we can't trust the police and we certainly cannot trust politicians then what authority can we trust?

A woman I know spent nine months carrying her baby, with morning sickness in the first trimester, and toxaemia in the final few weeks. The baby's head was too big for her birth canal and a caesarean with epidural was needed.

That baby woke three or four times nightly for over six months causing countless lost hours of sleep. When that baby grew into a 10-year-old and one day went too far, with the woman already stressed out, she slapped her child on the face. Under this legislation, she could have become a criminal.

In summary, the new law prevents smacks for correction without any basis, has a test that could never be absolute and objective, and was meant to stop deaths. In reality the architects of this law were uncomfortable with parents giving their children physical discipline and wanted to impose their ideals on others.

Excessive cases of discipline were prosecuted before the law change and will continue to be under any law change.

This referendum provides a limited opportunity for the public to voice their concern and if enough people support a law change then only the most resistant politicians will ignore their voice.

* Phil Jackson lives in Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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