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With the swine flu virus lurking just around the corner and the French rugby team rampant, it didn't seem as though the winter could get any gloomier.

Then into my letter box arrived a jolly note from the Electoral Commission warning that hordes of paddle-wielding fundamentalists will soon be knocking on my door demanding I vote to let them whack their kids. For the good of the child, of course.

If there were a God, I'd like to think he'd indulge his sense of humour by loosing the virus on the child-beaters and keeping them off the streets. But such perfect solutions don't happen in real life, so I guess it's a case of stocking up the fridge as the pandemic planners advise, shutting the door, and waiting for both plagues to pass by.

Over the next few weeks, $8.9 million of taxpayers' money is going to be wasted on this meaningless, non-binding referendum. That's a quarter of the amount Barnados spent helping children in need last year.

It's more than half the Government funding for adult education, a programme which will be cut from next year to pay for meaningless extravagances like this.

The 200,000 Kiwis who take night classes might like to remind the smackers of this ... or feel guilty that they were among the 300,000 people who signed the petition calling for a referendum.

Also feeling guilty should be the law-makers and the bureaucrats who created a system which allows such a meaningless question to be put to voters.

"Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand." This question is so loaded as to be incomprehensible.

What does "good parental correction" mean in this context. What is "a smack". It also suggests that a smack, in this context, is a criminal offence. But it isn't. Two years ago, a grand coalition of parliamentarians - 113 to 8 - cobbled together a compromise to allay any such fears.

So we're wasting $8.9 million to express our opinion on something that isn't happening now and that no one has any plans to introduce.

In the deal hammered out between former Prime Minister Helen Clark and her successor, John Key, police were given the discretion not to prosecute a parent for the use of force against a child "if the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution".

What the act (that the slap-happy fundies so oppose) did do was remove the anomaly that allowed a parent to thrash a child and then later in court, use the defence of "reasonable force for the purpose of correction". It's a defence not available to brawling adults. Nor to an adult disciplining a child who is not their own flesh and blood.

A year later Mr Key said "if there is demonstrated evidence that good New Zealand parents are convicted for lightly smacking a child then I will act to change the law. But at this stage I haven't seen evidence of that." He repeated this statement a few days ago and he's right.

For all their fear-mongering, the pro-smackers have been unable to produce any evidence to back their claims that good parents will be marched off to slappers prison. The best they could come up with as a poster boy for their cause was Christchurch musician and father-of-six, Jimmy Mason. A month ago he was convicted of assaulting his 4-year-old son.

He was dubbed the "ear-flick dad" but witnesses and even he told a different story.

A witness saw him yelling at the boy in downtown Christchurch, saw him yank his ear and hit him in the face with a closed fist. Mr Mason's version was he gave the boy "a bloody good flick" because he was "being a prat".

A policewoman testified he repeatedly shouting "f ... ing listen" to the child and told her "I hit the big one in the face and that is what I do ..."

Later, on what passes as television current affairs these days, Mr Mason was given the chance to recreate his attempts to teach his youngsters safe bike riding practices.

He thought better of repeating the physical violence, or the angry swearing. But if he's the best the smackers can do by way of a martyr figure, they should apologise for wasting our time - and money.

Given the costs involved, and non-binding nature of this poll, it does raise the question of why are we firing up the whole electoral system outside the normal election cycle. The recently departed Labour Government must shoulder some of the blame here. It could have held the referendum with last year's election.

That would have reduced the costs greatly. Presumably, Labour feared that its nanny-state opponents would have had a field day linking the two polls.

Whatever, we don't have $8.9 million to waste on these self-indulgent state-funded political circuses. If we are going to persist with citizens-initiated referendums, at least let's change the law that permits them to be stand-alone events.