The men behind the smacking poll are so confident of its result they have prepared their next move.

They have drafted a bill that would allow parents to use reasonable force for "correcting" a child's behaviour.

They expect the vote for their "good parental correction" to be so decisive that John Key will have to surrender his stated wish to leave well-enough alone.

When they sent me the bill this week they said, "This is what government will adopt after the referendum." So definite.

Last weekend I wondered what exactly they meant by correction.

They want me to report that the bill, sponsored by Act MP John Boscawen, expressly forbids the use of "any weapon, tool or instrument". That is progress.

The bill would also make correction illegal if it "causes the child to suffer injury which is more than transitory and trifling" or, "is inflicted by any means that is cruel or degrading".

So that is what their correction is not, but what exactly is it? It is not simply the instant admonitory smack that the law now specifically permits. They want to add correction as a distinct permitted purpose.

In a return message to their spokesman Bob McCoskrie, I asked: "When you want to 'correct' a child by the use of force too late to stop or prevent the behaviour from continuing, what exactly do you want to do?"

McCoskrie replied: "Preventing particular actions will often amount to correcting them, especially when the action and the prevention are repeated. This bill will remove that confusion by adding correction to the list of permitted purposes.

"Correction is about preventing," he said. "Child swears at mum, mum gives smack on bottom, child realises that pleasure of swearing ain't greater than the punishment.

"I get speed camera tickets well after the fact. Still prevents me repeating the crime - well, usually!"

Me: "Your speed ticket is a good analogy. Coming long after the crime it doesn't prevent you doing anything, it corrects your future inclinations, hopefully. There is a difference between prevention and correction and the law has made it.

"But if you are determined to conflate their meanings, would you be prepared to word an amendment bill so that the 'correction' had to be contemporaneous with prevention? I suspect not. I suspect you want the right to smack long after the event, which is a more sinister thing, and much less effective for the child."

McCoskrie: "As long as it's non-abusive, it'll work. And as long as the child associates the punishment with the wrong behaviour. Haven't you heard of parents having 'time out' themselves before they decide what the punishment should be; ie, 'We'll talk about this later'?

"And I don't want the 'right', just the option. Just as you want the 'right' not to smack."

I don't need a right, he does. But there it is; they want the right to smack long after the event, "as long as it's not abusive ... as long as the child associates the punishment with the wrong behaviour ... haven't you heard of parents taking time out ... ?"

I find the idea of parents taking "time out" to plan a punishment quite repugnant if what they plan is physical.

A smack delivered in the anger and frustration of the moment is likely to be a more healthy and harmless act, mentally at least, than a calm, considered, cold-blooded assault sometime afterwards.

Any decent parent who takes time to consider a suitable punishment will surely come up with better ideas.

If Mr McCoskrie ponders his speeding fine a moment longer it might strike him that a civilised state has not sent a notice that his traffic authority will be coming to his room tonight to smack him around a bit.

Timing is central to the distinction in the present law as I read it. Immediate preventive force is permissible; delayed punitive violence, the proverbial hiding, is not.

The legislators' word for the latter, "correction", is not very precise but their intent is fairly obvious.

Law cannot always be "clear" in the sense that it is immune to the imaginative interpretations of lawyers for the purposes of litigation or academic discussion.

An emeritus professor of law, Jim Evans, argued this week that the term "reasonable force" in section 59 of the Crimes Act might permit no more than physical restraint.

We are talking about the Crimes Act. Parents don't need a detailed dispensation from the crime of assault for acts that amount to no more than restraining a child from doing harm.

It is easy to be confused by legislation if you are determined to be. But judicial rulings, to my untutored reading of them, have a genius for resolving most things in accord with common sense.

Whatever the referendum result, I think justice will decide the hiding has had its day.