The anti-smacking law is still enormously unpopular, a Herald election survey has found. It reveals that more than 500 out of 600 people polled don't agree that smacking children is a criminal offence.
Sixteen months after the bill passed in a political compromise supported by Labour and National, the in-depth poll also found strong resistance and scepticism about the watered-down version of the law.
The issue will be tested in a referendum next year, forced by 310,000 people who signed a petition organised by Kiwi Party leader Larry Baldock.
The Herald asked people from Cape Reinga to Fiordland the question to be put in the referendum: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"
Of those polled, 503 (86 per cent) answered "no", 52 said "yes", 28 were equivocal and 17 did not answer the question
Green MP Sue Bradford is the author of the Bill that removed Section 59 that included a defence of reasonable force. She said the defence ``allowed some parents to get away with assaulting their children'.
Ms Bradford said the poll confuses the issue because smacking is not a criminal offence. She said proponents of a referendum of the issue are confusing the issue on purpose.
``I believe their real intentions are to change the law so that reasonable force is defined, creating what would in effect be a whackers charter, describing in law the ways in which parents would legally be able to assault their children,' Ms Bradford said.
Another poll question details the compromise passed by Parliament. This allows parents to use reasonable force against children to prevent harm, to stop a criminal offence, to stop offensive or disruptive behaviour, and for "the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting". But they cannot use force for "correction".
Police are also given discretion not to prosecute "inconsequential" cases.
This produced a much more even reaction. Exactly 50 per cent (263) still didn't like it, 34 per cent (177) accepted it, and 16 per cent ( 86) said it was better or "okay in part" or gave other equivocal responses. Seventy four people did not answer.
But this result is not very meaningful because most people don't understand how it could work. Many described the compromise as contradictory.
More importantly, voters see the anti-smacking law as just part of a broader breakdown of discipline at home, at school and in the community which leaves youngsters vulnerable to the violent "gangsta" culture.
Auckland taxi driver Haresh Karelia, who runs a laundrette in Mangere and a dairy in Otara with his wife and two teenage children, says teachers "have no control of the students".
"The students do as they like at age 14 or 15," he said. "They start smoking. No one can do anything."
Many people also see the youth justice system as ineffective in dealing with children who break the law.
Teenagers aged 14 to 16 can be sent to youth residences for up to six months, but don't normally go to adult jails. Children under 14 are the subject of family group conferences, which decide who should look after them.
"All these family conferences don't work. Everybody sits around and agrees on things. Nothing changes," said Mangere Bridge teacher Margaret, 57.
Her partner James, 59, said: "Kids know they can get away with far too much before anything happens to them ... " I know kids with $45,000 worth of vehicle fines. They laugh at them."
Critics of the law have attacked the Government for rejecting a referendum with the November general election in favour of a postal ballot in the middle of next year.
But ministers said electoral officials had told them that the last time a referendum was held it had confused voters and slowed the vote count.
Ms Bradford said the second part of the Herald Poll is ``encouraging' because it shows New Zealand is evenly split on the Section 59 law passed by Parliament.
"This accords with my own perceptions over the last three years, that the country is evenly divided in this matter, but that more and more people are coming to realise it is actually better for all of us if children have a chance to grow up free from violence," Ms Bradford said.
The smacking debate:
Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?
86% - No
9% - Yes
5% - Unsure
Do you agree with the law as passed by Parliament?
50% - No
34% - Yes
16% - Better/Okay in part
with NZ HERALD STAFF