Hansard and Journals
Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill — Third Reading
Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill
SUE BRADFORD (Green) : I move, That the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill be now read a third time. Nearly 2 years ago my member’s bill to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act was drawn from the parliamentary ballot. Although I was certainly well aware of the controversial nature of the issue that the bill deals with, after facing hostile audiences when on various election platforms around the country, little did I realise back then the full extent of the difficulties that were yet to come.
I came to Parliament after many years of working for the rights of unemployed people and beneficiaries, and was very used to our groups and ourselves being seen as outcasts—koretake, blamed, and despised. I was used to being physically assaulted when on street protests and, often enough, arrested as well. However, none of that prepared me for the level of vitriol and for the ugly lies and threats cast at myself and others, simply for standing up for the right of our babies and our children to live lives free from violence.
I thought that in a country that prides itself on being a great place to bring up kids, and where people from all parts of society talk constantly of their love for children, it would be like motherhood and apple pie to work for a law change that benefits children. Instead, the debate over whether to get rid of the defence of reasonable force for the purpose of correction has shown quite starkly that some people believe that the right of parents to legally beat their children is so important that they have stooped to threats of violence and other abhorrent tactics. However, it has in the end been a wonderful thing that despite the ugliness of some aspects of the public discourse, so many members of this Parliament from almost every party have chosen to support my bill in its amended form.
I acknowledge and thank all involved, from all sides of the House, for their support within this outbreak of consensus politics, and I regret, on behalf of Peter Dunne and Judy Turner, that this bill has seen their party break apart because someone called Mr Gordon Copeland is so dedicated to fighting for the right to beat children that he has abandoned his long-term allegiances.
The bill in front of us tonight fulfils my original goal of removing the defence of reasonable force, while at the same time dealing with some of the fears expressed at different times by both the Labour and National caucuses, and by some members of the public. The Labour-led amendment that came out of our select committee consideration of the bill is aimed at reassuring parents that they will not be prosecuted if they use reasonable force when doing things like putting a child in a room for time out, forcibly removing a child from danger, or restraining a child from causing damage to people or property. I am aware that some lawyers believe that this new provision may be misused as a legal defence for having hit a child as part of control, and because of this I believe that its use as a defence in future must be monitored to ensure that it is not used this way in practice.
The second significant amendment to the bill has been the one put forward just 2 weeks ago by Peter Dunne, which was agreed to by both Labour and National through John Key’s leadership. It encapsulates within the bill the long-established police discretion regarding the action they take when deciding whether to prosecute in very minor cases where there is no public interest in proceeding. This new provision simply affirms in law what is standard police practice under their existing prosecution guidelines, but I think it is useful in helping to calm some of the unnecessary fears that have been driven up by the bill’s opponents.
Neither the select committee, myself, nor anyone else supporting this bill has ever intended that all parents who ever lightly or occasionally hit their children should be subject automatically to investigation and police prosecution. What we have been simply seeking to do is remove a defence that has allowed some parents to get away with quite badly beating their children and, most significantly, that has stopped police from taking action in many situations of violence against children.
Some of the most powerful submissions to the select committee came from paediatricians, who talked about the injuries they see constantly and about how most of those injuries are inflicted in the name of child discipline. Only last week we were made all too aware of the case of the 3-year-old Ōtara boy who was killed as a result of beatings inflicted in the name of toilet training. The police officer who led the investigation, Detective Senior Sergeant Richard Middleton, said, among other things: “… what I will say is keep your hands off your kids. Don’t hit them. It’s not on. There’s no need for it.” I think it is a red-letter day when a senior police officer feels able to make such an unequivocal statement in the national media. Police, like paediatricians, see the daily consequences of what happens when people assault their kids just to teach them a lesson.
Some people say that smacking or spanking is not violence. I ask them: “What else is it? If a burly gang member, much larger than you, smacked you in the pub tonight, what would you call that?”. Some people say that the deaths of children like James Whakaruru or the little Ōtara boy have nothing to do with this bill. I say that they have everything to do with it. There is a spectrum of violence used against our babies and children, and one person’s light, occasional tap is another person’s beating or shaking to death—all in the name of so-called correction.
I have been much criticised by the bill’s opponents for my unwillingness to support the early amendment put up by Mr Chester Borrows, which attempted to define the nature and level of force that parents could legitimately use against their kids. I simply reiterate that to support any such definition would make things even worse for children, by having the State define acceptable violence and by entrenching the legal and social concept that it is OK to beat children but it is not OK to beat adults.
It is important that as we finally vote this bill into law we also look forward to what else needs doing. Law change alone is not enough. To be really effective, the bill we are passing tonight needs to be accompanied by a well-planned public information campaign that tells people the intentions and implications of the law in a way that does not make people feel frightened or guilty. The Government also needs to make an ongoing commitment to maintain and extend the SKIP programme, so that strong, clear messages about alternatives to physical discipline are available to all parents around the country.
Funding for community groups that support children, parents, and families needs to be increased. We need research on, and monitoring of, the attitudinal change that I feel sure will result from this new law—as it already has, I think, during the 2 years of public debate. The interpretations of the new law, and its implementation by the courts, police, and Child, Youth and Family, all need to be monitored well. I welcome the 2-year review that was instigated by the Minister David Benson-Pope. I also strongly recommend that the Government works closely with the relevant non-governmental organisations, following the bill’s passage, on an action plan to ensure that the best possible outcomes are achieved for children and families.
In conclusion, I would like to take a moment to thank some of those who have played such a critical role in championing and supporting this bill in getting it to the stage it is at tonight. An enormous number of organisations have worked tirelessly for reform over the last 2 years, including Plunket, Barnardos, Unicef, Save the Children, the Families Commission, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, EPOCH, Every Child Counts, the Body Shop, the Child Poverty Action Group, Parents Centres, and many, many others. I am sorry I cannot name them all.
Many individuals have also played a key role—people like Beth Wood, the Ritchies in Hamilton, Mike Coleman, Deborah Morris-Travers, Megan Payne, Ian Hassall, Cindy Kiro, Kaye Crowther, Robert Ludbrook, Sonja Hogan, Rhonda Pritchard, and David Kenkel. I salute all of them and apologise to all the many others I do not have time to mention tonight.
I also say a special thanks to the Reverends Anthony Dancer and Margaret Mayman, and to all the other clergy involved in hosting the moving ecumenical service that a number of us attended in the cathedral up the road a couple of weeks ago, for their assistance in mobilising Christians in support of this bill. I also acknowledge the huge amount of work done by the MPs and officials involved in the very long select committee process, including the sterling efforts of our Parliamentary Counsel Office adviser, Elizabeth Grant.
Finally, I say a huge thanks to all the MPs who stood firm in support of this bill during some fairly dark days, including Helen Clark and the Labour caucus, the entire Māori Party caucus, all my own Green Party colleagues, Peter Dunne, Brian Donnelly, Doug Woolerton, and Katherine Rich. Those members are all heroes in their commitment to a vision of a country where children will finally receive the same legal protection as adults. I also acknowledge the lead that John Key took in working to find a way through a seeming impasse, so that his party, too, could lend its full weight to the mana of this bill.
But, in the end, this bill is not about us here at Parliament—or, indeed, about adults at all. It is about our children, and what I believe is their God-given right to grow up secure in the love of their families, valued as equal citizens to the rest of us, and without the constant threat of legalised violence being used against them.
CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) : I rise to support the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill, which is something I, among many others, thought that I would never do. Many thought, as I did, that after failed attempts to cut a middle track through the competing and the aligned objectives of both sides of the debate with the promoter, Sue Bradford, all hope was lost for a mutually acceptable compromise. The fact is that those most scathing of finding a compromise are struck with the same malady we as politicians are consistently and frequently accused and berated for: the will to win. Members of the public chant: “Why can’t you guys sit down and negotiate?”, and now we are getting caned, so to speak, for doing just that. Although these people continually repeat the fact that 83 percent of parents believe that parents who smack their children should not be liable to prosecution, nobody has bothered to poll on the support or otherwise of the bill as it is now. That could be because nobody wants to. It could also be because not a lot of people understand the bill as it is now written, and I will talk about that shortly.
I want to cover some of the recent history of the bill and its metamorphosis from a pig’s ear into not quite a silk purse. I repeat that National’s first position was to support my amendment as drafted, but as lost through the Committee stage—and prior to that. Initially, the bill repealed section 59. After select committee hearings and consideration, it did not repeal but amended section 59. There was also a Supplementary Order Paper in my name that sought to cut a middle track and to further protect children from force that had previously been found to be reasonable in the court, even though most parents thought it was unreasonable.
Parties formed hard lines on support of the bill. We entered the Committee stage and debated through to clause 3 before John Key made approaches to Sue Bradford and Helen Clark to find some consensus. This becomes important, because clause 3 is the purpose clause, so it is the clause that prohibits reasonable force for the purpose of correction. In the clause 3 debate National wished to amend the clause to allow reasonable force for correction. Having lost that debate, National have now negotiated an amendment that seems to counter the purpose clause by offering a defence to behaviour the bill seeks to condemn. It is easy to see why people find it difficult. It is not hard to see why some people find it difficult to understand and why they can only wish that Helen Clark had been willing to talk a couple of weeks earlier. The amendment confirms that police have a discretion not to prosecute in cases of inconsequential breaches. This is important, because clause 3 as it stands creates an unlawfulness, which would not have existed had clause 3 been passed as National sought to amend it.
What the new bill does is threefold. First, it provides in law a counter to current police practice in that it confers upon an individual officer discretion—so it will be case by case—which has, up until now, been removed by the police family violence policy, which is to prosecute on every occasion. Second, it provides a defence to parents who use reasonable force for the purpose of correction in the same way as section 59 does presently, though in a more limited form. It does this by allowing a court to read widely the terms “inconsequential” and “not in the public interest”. This means that parents should not be held liable for what we would call light smacking—no parent wishes to smack a child in more than an inconsequential manner, in any event. Third, for the purpose of clarity, it should be explained that a narrow reading of the law as it is now written would see the court hold that the amendment acts only as a guide to police. This narrow reading would be inconsistent with the court’s usual interpretation in such matters. It is important to state these points now, because parliamentary debates form a secondary source in statutory interpretation, so in making these points today, in the way I am making them now, we provide another defence to parents by way of the expectation that the amendment will be used in this way.
Those parents who are worried that this legislation will criminalise lightly smacking a child can rest assured that Parliament’s intention is that this should not be the case, and if at some future time they find themselves on such a charge, they should advise counsel to research Hansard and cite these comments in their defence.
I pay tribute to John Key, who made an approach for the purpose of protecting parents. He put principle before pride. There is also the clear understanding that if this bill is misused against parents or found not to be working as intended, it will be replaced with a more explicit law. I have to say that we have received a number of emails—thousands, actually; I will never forget the day when I received a thousand emails in a day in response to this legislation—and a lot of those emails were from people who said we had far more important things to discuss than this legislation. Well, the nature of members’ bills is that they are drawn up and go into a ballot, and, having been drawn from the ballot, they come before the Parliament for discussion. I have to say right now that I find nothing more important and worthy of debate than our children, because they are the most vulnerable and the most in need of protection within our society. Having opened the debate, it was important to work through it in a consistent and logical way. Those people who would rather not debate the issue at all, or who would just relegate it to the bin, undervalue children in our society.
One of the most important things that has occurred through the course of this debate is that it has focused the attention of the broad spectrum of the public on the safety of our children, the way that we raise our children, the methods of discipline that we use, and the many, many options that are in a community, short of using corporal punishment. I applaud, for instance, the work of those involved in preparing and distributing the SKIP programme, and of those who are providing that to the community, and I applaud those who have changed their behaviour as parents and are using the programme to be far more creative in the way that they raise their young ones. I believe that the trend will continue, similar to the trend in our family. My father was probably beaten less than his father was, he smacked me less than he was smacked, I smack my children far less than I was smacked, and I hope, in turn, that they will not smack their children at all.
In any event, the reason why I moved my amendment to cut that middle ground was this: parents do use smacking in the discipline of their children. We know that the vast majority of parents in this country do not believe that it is tenable for them, acting in what they believe are the best interests of their children, to be prosecuted for that. People may argue about it as long as they like, but this bill, as it is written now, protects parents now, starting from the implementation of this bill, and will in the future.
I thank those who took part in the select committee process for their goodwill and good faith in the way that we negotiated and heard the submissions. I believe that we have ended up with legislation that is slightly less than where I wanted it to go, but—compromise being something refreshingly new to this House—I hope that we have set a bit of a benchmark and that we see a bit more of it in the future.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister for Building and Construction) : I rise in support of the third reading of the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill. Before getting into the substance of the bill I would like to, firstly, place on record my congratulations to all the parliamentary leaders in this House who accepted the Prime Minister’s offer and worked together to reach a sensible solution, which the vast majority of members in this House accept, and perhaps in time the vast majority of the public will come to accept.
As I said in the Committee stage, leadership is not simply about being popular. It is also about doing what one believes to be right, even in the face of potential criticism. The sensible solution that has been agreed on, and is now written into this bill, has the rare virtue in politics of being popular but also fundamentally right.
I also want to place on record my firmly held belief that, despite all the hype that has surrounded this bill from before its introduction, not one member of this House does not support the underlying intention of this bill, which is to ensure that our children can live in a safe and secure environment free from violence. For me that has always been the key issue. As I said previously, I took a lot of convincing over this bill. It is no secret to both those across the House and, indeed, my colleagues in the Labour Party that I do take a more conservative stance than many in this House over these sorts of issues.
I have spoken face to face and, more important, listened to hundreds of people in my constituency of Waimakariri and all over the country about this bill. I have listened closely and taken advice from those people on all sides of the public debate. I pay tribute to those constituents of mine for having the fortitude to express their views, whether for or against the bill. I worry, though, about the few—very, very few—parents who spoke with me who felt, to quote one, that they had “a God-given right to hit their children with a cane or an implement.” I am a Catholic, an Irish one. I am not the best Catholic in the world—there is plenty of testament to that—but I have a very different interpretation of the Bible than that individual who spoke with me.
As I said previously, I am charged as a constituency MP not simply to do what is popular, but I am, after listening and discussing issues with my constituents, charged with making a judgment and doing what I believe to be right even though that may risk unpopularity or criticism. As I said in the Committee stage, when I voted against the Prostitution Reform Bill, the Civil Union Bill, and the euthanasia legislation, many of my constituents said I was right, many said I was wrong, and history will be the ultimate judge. My constituents pay me to do this job. Doing this job means listening to them, carefully considering their views, but also having the guts to make a judgment—a judgment in the best interests of all our communities, not just a judgment based on the last person one speaks to. Kiwis are, indeed, fair-minded. I respect the legitimate fears of good and decent parents up and down the country.
New section 59(4) inserted by clause 4 makes it clear that the police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints where the offence is so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with the prosecution. I have been confident all along that the police will not lay frivolous charges against decent, loving parents. Police have made these judgment calls every day of the week for years. They are trained to do so. New section 59(4) puts this beyond doubt, and, underpinned by prosecution guidelines, represents an important safeguard for parents.
The other important safeguard in this bill is new clause 6, which requires the monitoring of the effects of this legislation, and which, after 2 years, requires a review of the effects of this legislation, to ensure that it is achieving its purpose as set out in clause 3. I promoted and fought for that provision, and I am glad it has been included.
Should it turn out that the fears of those on either side of the debate around this bill are realised—the audit will make this clear—then Parliament and the public can take another look after an appropriate period of grace. Both these changes, new section 59(4) and new clause 6, provide added safeguards for parents. Both make explicit that which was always implicit. Both address the legitimate concerns of good and caring parents throughout the country who deserve reassurance that the bill will achieve its intended purpose.
Last time I spoke in this House on this bill I said that when people who have been misled by mischief-makers realise that this bill does not try to tell parents how to run their families they may tend, over time, to take a different view. There are members, of course, who made outrageous claims, and who drove people unfairly into a frenzy, and that, I think, is a shame on this House. Katherine Rich is a National member of Parliament. We often disagree. But I have respect for her. I say this: the threat made against her children during this debate was an appallingly low period in this debate. Every fair-minded Kiwi—the vast majority of Kiwis—would have seen that act as it was: appalling.
President Bill Clinton once said, and it is apt, that the “whole nature of public service is, by definition, a reflection of the nature of life. It is passing. It has seasons. It is a process, not a destination.” I am convinced that this legislation’s time has now come. I am firmly convinced—and I have reflected carefully on this legislation—that what this House is doing today will be seen in history as the right judgment, and as the right thing to do. I am convinced that the review that was insisted on and gained, and that has the support of this House, will ensure that this bill is a process and not a destination.
The signal that this House is sending today is that violence against our children is unacceptable. Having a sizable majority vote in favour of this bill ensures that a powerful message is sent to our communities loud and clear. This bill by itself will not eliminate violence from the lives of our children. We have a long way to go before we can guarantee that our children live in a safe and secure environment free from violence. However, it is a historic and necessary step along the road towards that destination.
I want, in the rare times of non-partisanship that we have in this House—times that our communities, I know, would hope would extend beyond the debate on this bill—to thank and pay tribute to members on all sides of the House, especially those members in the Justice and Electoral Committee who were at the sharp end; to those eminent persons in the Law Commission; to the officials, who often get kicked around in public life but who are there in the engine room making things happen; and to all those who contributed in a positive way to making this bill both workable and acceptable to the House and, ultimately, the public. I urge members to support it in this third reading.
Hon BRIAN DONNELLY (NZ First) : I want to draw people’s attention to section 56 of the Crimes Act, not section 59. It deals with what I can or cannot do to somebody who is wrongfully trespassing on my property, possibly with criminal intent. I am allowed to use reasonable force to remove such a trespasser, but it is clearly stated in section 56 that I can do that only as long as I do “not strike or do bodily harm to that person.” In other words, the current law gives greater protection to a trespasser, possibly one with criminal intent, than it gives to our children. In a month from today that will no longer be the case.
I want to point out another anomaly in the current law. If my granddaughter were to crawl out on to the street and I were to grab her and carry her, kicking and screaming, to safety, I would not be protected under section 59. The reason is that I did not apply the reasonable force by way of correction; I did it for her safety. The same goes for the old perennial, which is putting the child who is running wild in a supermarket into a trolley. As I do not take that action by way of correction, I am not protected under section 59.
When this bill becomes law, I will be protected in both the above cases; whereas, I am not, in fact, protected now. “But hang on,” I can hear people say, “whoever got prosecuted for the sorts of behaviours you’re describing?”. The answer, of course, is that nobody got prosecuted, because the law does not deal with trivial or, should I say, inconsequential matters, which is the very point I have been trying to make since the saga of this bill began.
This bill is not about smacking. It never was. It is about our current legal framework—and the fact that the framework is far too permissive—and the levels of violence it allows to be dealt out to our children. The quality of the future we leave to our children will be determined by the quality of the children we leave to the future. Earlier today our select committee was briefed on factors that dispose people to crime. One of them was maltreatment as a child. The current legal framework, which states that it is all right to hit kids, invites the very sort of maltreatment that is associated with later criminality. The former Commissioner for Children Laurie O’Reilly told me in 1996 that we would never reduce violence against children in New Zealand unless we got rid of section 59. That is not to say there will be no more horror stories, such as Delcelia Witikā, James Whakaruru, Coral Burrows, and Lillybing, etc. We have murder laws, but murder still happens. But it will reduce the overall level of violence towards our children—of that I am convinced.
I have related to the House my personal experience when teachers were taken out from the protection of section 59. No longer did I become angry when confronted with antisocial behaviour by students. Such anger was a precursor to the delivery of corporal punishment. That is not unusual. Researcher Gabrielle Maxwell found in the early 1990s that 80 percent of physical punishment of children is carried out in anger. We have heard much about the loving smack. The reality of New Zealand children is not reflected in the phrase “the loving smack”. I recently spoke to a reporter who said she was always angry when she smacked her children, otherwise she could not have carried out the punishment.
I am therefore convinced that the passage of the bill will see a reduction of physical violence towards our children, and New Zealand will be a better place for it. However, I am equally convinced that the passage of this legislation will not see hordes of parents prosecuted for minor smacking, just as we have not seen hordes of teachers prosecuted for physically moving children to the mat. In the case of this legislation, the principles of de minimis, of constabulary discretion, and of the public good have been made explicit within the legislation itself. The advantage of the so-called amendment is that it has enabled a large majority of this House to vote in favour of the legislation. Such a majority will facilitate the public’s buying into the purpose behind the legislation and will accelerate behavioural change.
I commend the New Zealand First caucus. From the outset, back in 2002 when I submitted a repeal of section 59 bill to the ballot myself, the New Zealand First caucus has stuck staunchly by its decision to make this matter a conscience vote, and I thank my fellow caucus members for holding firmly to that position. The record will show that many of them were not convinced of the soundness of this legislation from the outset. However, members have been able to listen to the variety of arguments both for and against the legislation as it developed. Some of my colleagues are still not convinced. They believe that the amendment still leaves it up to the police to define what “inconsequential” actually is. I may disagree with them, but I respect their right to vote in accordance with their consciences.
I must admit that I am pleased that the amendment has allowed three of my colleagues who have previously opposed the legislation to vote in its favour. However, I wish to make it clear that that is not because they believe that the legislation is perfect; it is because they believe that the amended bill is better legislation than what currently exists. In one case it was the combination of the police discretion clause and the obligation to review after 2 years that has swung the vote. The same member went to members of the party hierarchy in his local area and sought their advice. They posed a question to him that asked what he would do if he had a casting vote, and he told them that he would vote for the bill because it was an improvement on the current law. By a significant majority, the party membership supported that call. Peter Brown will be voting for this legislation, but he also wishes to make it clear that he urges people to sign the petition that is currently circulating, if they are so inclined.
However, I want to extend my gratitude to Doug Woolerton, who, from the moment the bill came out of the Justice and Electoral Committee, was convinced that the legislation was right, and he has remained stalwart since that time. I say to Doug that I will always appreciate the support he has provided, because, as people will know, our futures in politics were publicly threatened by some within our party. The threats did not shake our resolve, but we certainly viewed them as serious—we still do, because it is one thing to tell people they are wrong; it is a whole different thing to prove they are wrong.
When I witnessed the vilification and abuse confronted by Sue Bradford, I sometimes felt glad I pulled my bill at the time I did, because I perceived the lack of numbers at the time. However, I must also commend the Green Party for providing such unreserved support for Sue during what must have been extremely difficult times. I would also like to make note of the position maintained by the Māori Party. It is understandable that its constituencies would have had anxieties over this legislation, fearing they would be disproportionately prosecuted under the legislation if it went through. In this case, however, it was the politicians who showed real leadership, and I commend them for it.
Helen Clark, when she decided to champion this legislation, showed enormous courage, because there were significant political risks. At the midnight hour John Key also demonstrated a similar level of courage, because his agreement to support the legislation also held huge political risks. Also, I have to mention others who have continued their support. I have to mention the work that was done by Lynne Pillay in the select committee; also the work done over many, many years by people like Beth Wood, our ex - New Zealand First member Deborah Morris-Travers, and a whole host of other people out there from a number of different organisations.
When the opposition to this legislation was at its zenith, I often used to quote Anatole France, who said that it does not matter whether 10,000 people believe that something that is wrong is right; it is still wrong. Therefore, we have to stick by what we believe is in the best interests of the youth and young people of our country. I believe that today is a watershed day in New Zealand’s social history. It is a day that Parliament will look back on, I believe, with a great deal of pride, and I guess we will wonder what the fuss was all about. But what we will in fact be able to say is that we will be leaving to the future of this country a somewhat better quality of child than the children who face the levels of violence they currently face. I therefore urge everybody to support the bill and congratulate, for a final time, Sue Bradford.
TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) :Tēnā koe, Mr Deputy Speaker. Tēnātātou katoa. In the sea of hyperbole and extreme emotion that has washed over the nation in these last few months, there have been two particular cases before the court that should have stopped us all in our tracks. The first was just last Friday, when the High Court in Auckland heard how a boy of 3 years of age was subjected to regular beatings using a baseball bat, a vacuum cleaner pipe, rods, and a wooden spoon, and was punched repeatedly in the face. The couple convicted of manslaughter used section 59 of the Crimes Act as their defence, claiming that they only ever used reasonable force.
They could use section 59 of the Crimes Act as a defence simply because it is there. It is a defence to allow parents to administer physical punishment against their children. No such defence exists for people doing the same to other people’s children, to other adults, or to pets. As long as we have people who are prepared to administer beatings so savage that a child’s blood splatters on to the ceiling, and who are then able to defend that callous brutality as a “reasonable” punishment, then this nation is in deep trouble.
The other case was heard in the Napier District Court 2 weeks ago, when a Hastings woman came to the attention of the police after her 7-year-old foster son was beaten so severely that he was left with welts on his arms and back still visible 6 days later. In reflecting upon her actions, the woman—a grandmother—talked about the need to take responsibility, saying: “There’s no reason justifying hurting your child, because it’s lifelong.” She resolved that she was determined to break the cycle of violence and learn new ways.
This is why this bill has been so significant in the evolution of Aotearoa. We all know of the outrageous abuse at the extreme end of the scale of violence that every day is being meted out to innocent children, and it must stop now. We also know of the willingness and the commitment of parents and grandparents, of aunts and uncles, and of caregivers who are clear that there is a different way to address the disciplining of children.
Child abuse and violence—and at its most grotesque extreme, child murder—have a profound cost on the well-being of this nation. At the level of fiscal impact, economist Murray Weatherston has estimated that child abuse costs our nation $1.25 billion a year. But there are other costs that emerge from the current provisions in our legislation, which have allowed physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment to be suffered by a child in the care of his or her parents or guardians. These include costs in international reputation in terms of our current status by breaching the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Then there are the lifelong costs of the trauma of the vulnerable. Children have a right to grow up free from violence; to grow up unscathed by the abuse of power; undamaged by the imprint of parental ill-treatment. There are the costs of cruelty that influences future generations whereby the ill-treatment of one child is repeated in the children and the grandchildren to come.
The Māori Party fully endorses and absolutely believes in the capacity of parents to be wonderful parents. We have travelled the country and met parents wanting us to know that they are the best possible parents they can be. We have had parents sending in photos of their children and their parents, sharing their stories in a passionate desire to help. We have called, right throughout this bill, for the urgency of ensuring that effective parenting education programmes are provided. We know that the cases of maltreatment and violence that feature in the headlines are few in number, yet far too often they overshadow the real issues facing parents in their homes. They are the issues of not knowing what to do, of calling out for help, and of looking for strategies, for programmes, and for ideas to be great parents.
Our decision to support the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act was based on these factors. As long as a single child is damaged at the hands of parents, we will support any legislative proposal that seeks to make a difference. As long as parents are saying to us that they want to know how to be better parents, we will support proposals to make a difference. And this bill will make a difference. It has already. It has sparked debate about the most difficult, challenging, and important responsibilities of all—the precious opportunity to bring up children. The Māori Party wants today to pay tribute to those organisations that have lobbied members of Parliament for years—thank you. I want here to acknowledge with great respect the investment and courage demonstrated by all those organisations in the name of this bill.
The Māori Party stands to honour the vision of Sue Bradford, who has endured the onslaught of anger and fear that this change has incited in so many. Sue has stood strong in her belief that we must treasure our mokopuna as the taonga we know them to be. I thank her for her persistence, her foresight, and her leadership. There have been others in this House who deserve to be recognised: members who shared their personal experiences, who talked about the challenge of parenting. We acknowledge Katherine Rich, for having the strength of character to stand true to her beliefs—tēnā koe, Katherine—Chester Borrows, for his genuine attempt to try to put forward a compromise, and, of course, the leaders of both National and Labour, for being prepared to work together in the interests of our children. The reaction to the practice of compromise was interesting in itself—a spirit of cooperation described as “flabbergasting”, as a “giant leap”, and as “remarkable”. If anyone had asked for our reaction we would simply have said that it was about manaakitanga—mutual respect, treating others in ways that ensure that all are elevated and enhanced in the interests of the nation.
We think of the goals of a fair and just society, and I pay my greatest tribute to the people of this country. Academics and researchers sent us papers describing how in earlier times Māori children were not physically disciplined in order to develop and nurture their fearless and adventurous spirit. Finally, as we consider the fearless and adventurous spirit of children, I thank the many mums and dads on both sides of the debate who, whether they marched on Parliament, sent an email, wrote copious letters, or made extremely passionate phone calls, all showed that they cared about children.
It has not been an easy path by any means, and in the Māori Party we too have had our trials and challenges as we agitated over the significance of this bill to our nation. We were influenced greatly by our reluctance to intervene in the important role of parenting. Our whole approach to whānau development has always been that we look to support the self-determining capacity of whānau to care for themselves. But we reminded ourselves that the State has exercised power over the family, long before this bill saw daylight, through parental obligations, education, health, and other matters. We have, and continue to have, significant concerns about the role and the capability of the police to be able to act in ways that support a climate of non-violence. We were adamant that we did not want to do anything that would create fear or exacerbate bias, particularly when we recognise the disproportionate and ongoing injustices experienced by Māori. These are concerns that must be listened to and we will continue to look for every opportunity to ensure justice is attained. But ultimately we made up our minds in our united pursuit of our kaupapa and in our vision for a nation that allows children to explore their world without fear of violence or of being hurt. We believe that statements of aspiration are important in encouraging whānau to create and maintain violence-free homes.
So it is with the vision of the Māori Party, the vision of this Parliament, and the vision of this nation that we made our stand to speak up to protect children. I want to end with the words of a waiata that one nanny sent to me, asking me to think of this song as we voted to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act. If I could sing, I would sing it:
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.
That is the very least that we owe the children of this country. Nōreira, tēnākoutou, tēnākoutou, tēnātātou.
JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) : I stand on my own behalf to speak to this third reading. I represent one of the only parties in this House that is exercising a true conscience vote on this bill. It is a decision that has today cost us dearly. Some of those supporting this amendment to the Crimes Act would suggest that this is all about sending a message, not about upping conviction rates. I accept that due to the fact that both old parties are whipping their caucuses this new section 59 will tonight become law.
The bill neither bans nor allows smacking as such. In fact, it does not even mention smacking. It is about the use of force. Throughout the Crimes Act any degree of force, and even the threat to use force, is an assault. The current section 59 states that parents are justified in using force by way of correction towards their children, as long as that force is reasonable in the circumstances. This has historically created two tests for juries. Firstly, they have had to determine whether the force is reasonable, which has been a fairly objective decision, usually determined by the evidence of physical harm. The second test a jury had to weigh up is whether the force is being used for the purpose of correction, and this has always been a much more subjective test, requiring a jury to determine what was in the mind of the parent at the time of the incident.
This new amendment to section 59 does not change the first test. In fact, that is exactly what Chester Borrows attempted to do. But it does change the second test and establishes that correction is no longer a lawful purpose. Reasonable force can be used to prevent harmful behaviour as long as parents are not intending to correct the child. Parents can use reasonable force to place a child in his or her room for time out to protect siblings from aggressive behaviour, but they must not do so with the intention of punishing the child for that behaviour. Parents will need to make sure they are thinking with legal precision.
Whatever side of the issue members are on, it does not take long to figure out that this legislation will be a legal nightmare. However, this legislation is an amendment to the Crimes Act, and breaches of this Act rightly demand a strong response from law enforcers. Law enforcement is surely as important as the law itself. One of the reasons we scrutinise our police so intensely on matters of corruption or unbecoming behaviour is that as law enforcers they are agents of civil society and we rely on them to keep lawlessness at bay. We are in trouble if they act in a biased or reckless way. Police conduct and protocols must reflect a high and consistent standard, and the court system acts as a check that the law is both applied and upheld to the highest standard. The Police Complaints Authority also holds them to account for the way they treat the public while in the line of duty.
Most members of this House—including myself—supported an amendment a fortnight ago to make explicit the discretion we want the New Zealand police to use when dealing with cases where parents are enforcing boundaries with their children. We want it to be clear that those charged with enforcing this amendment do so appropriately. However, no explicit discretion is articulated in the amendment bill for Child, Youth and Family despite the fact that it exercises profound statutory powers in regard to children, young people, and their families if it believes that children or young people are at risk of harm.
Shortly after I entered this House in 2002 I visited a non-governmental organisation provider to better acquaint myself with its work. The visit was, for me, a defining moment. At the end of my time there, its lead social worker asked whether he could get my help with a case the organisation had. It concerned a couple who had had their six children removed by Child, Youth and Family and had turned to this reputable organisation for help. It was quickly determined that the mother was suffering from moderate depression and that the housework had got away on her. The children had been removed on grounds of neglect; there was no suggestion of any kind of physical abuse.
A team was sent round to clean up the house, and wrap-round services were put in place to support the mother and work towards her recovery. This was successfully completed in a reasonably quick time. Then the agency went, as advocates, to Child, Youth and Family to request the return of the six children, offering assurances that ongoing support and monitoring were guaranteed for this family. Two years later, when I was visiting the centre, these children were still in care, separated from each other as siblings, and some of their foster parents were applying for permanent care of the children in their charge. I could not believe that this could actually happen in Aotearoa New Zealand.
It was even more disturbing that highly competent professionals could not persuade the local office of Child, Youth and Family to review the decision or supply an explanation for its unwillingness to do so. The staff at the agency I was visiting felt like they had hit a brick wall. That brick wall explains why I cannot support the third reading of this bill. It is not that I object to the statutory powers that Child, Youth and Family has. Nor do I mind it acting with speed if its staff believe that children are at risk. But when a competent agency cannot get a situation reconsidered, then how do distraught parents make a calm and rational appeal to a department that keeps no record, does not collate any complaints, does not have a robust complaints procedure in place at present, and certainly does not have anything with any independence? There is no advocacy service available to families who want to appeal a decision being made on their behalf.
The staff at Child, Youth and Family are the people, whether we like to admit it or not, who will be largely investigating claims of breaches of this provision and enforcing and intervening in those situations. I cannot, with my hand on heart, tell New Zealand parents that they are currently safe with the amendment to this legislation and therefore I cannot support this third reading.
RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) : The ACT party rises in the third reading of the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill as the only party opposing it, and I think it is important that we state the reasons why. But, first of all, let me take my hat off to Sue Bradford, whose name appears on this bill. All the way through, Sue Bradford has held a consistent and principled line on this policy and legislation. The Māori Party, too—and it has been a tough issue for the Māori Party to take leadership on—has had a consistent and principled line, as also has, I think, Katherine Rich. It is fair to say that other parties and MPs in this House have had shifting positions on this bill and on the policy, and that has added to some of the confusion.
Let me explain why ACT opposes this bill. Sue Bradford and the Māori Party have a policy of zero tolerance for any violence against children. Included in that definition of violence is a smack. In their view we, as a Parliament, should make it a crime to smack a child, so that if a parent smacks a toddler, that is a crime. The bill removes any defence.
To make it plain what the purpose of the legislation is, I can do no better than to read clause 3, which states that the purpose is to “make better provision for children to live in a safe and secure environment free from violence …”. I think that is a very worthy purpose. But the clause goes on to say: “… by abolishing the use of parental force for the purpose of correction.” That is where the difference between ACT members and, I guess, now the vast majority of MPs lies. I do not think it is Parliament’s role to say to mums and dads that if they lightly tap their toddlers on the bottom, they are committing a criminal offence, and that they should not do it. This bill says not only that parents should not do that but that they are committing a crime against the Crimes Act in so doing.
In case members have any doubt about what we are doing here today, let me read clause 4 of the bill that we are shifting into law. Clause 4 puts a new section 59 into the Crimes Act. Section 59(2) will now state: “Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.” I want to read that again. It states: “Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.”
When my son was a toddler I smacked him on the bottom; this legislation makes that a crime. The legislation is quite clear that it is against the law to do that. It may be that the police would not bother prosecuting me for doing that, but that gives me no comfort, because I want to live within the law as best as I can. Certainly, as a parent I want to live within the law with my son. I object to the fact that this bill will make me and a large number—dare I say it, the vast majority—of parents, who are good parents, criminals under the Crimes Act because they tapped or used force for the purpose of correction. I do not think that is a good policy for this Parliament to adopt; I do not think it is right.
I want to make a further point. Sue Bradford has not done this, the Māori Party has not done this, but Labour and National have. Those parties have said that good parents who lightly smack their children have nothing to fear, because the police will not prosecute them. Well, that has to be bad law. We are passing a law that says people should not do something and that it is against the law, but we are telling those people not to worry, because the police will not prosecute them if they break the law.
What sort of law are we passing here tonight? It is a law that people can disobey—as detailed by the Prime Minister and the leader of the National Party—because the police will not prosecute them. Well, the ACT party believes in law that means something. The ACT party believes in a police force whose job it is to uphold the law, not to ignore it. The Prime Minister and the leader of the National Party have said: “Don’t worry about this law. The police will ignore it, and if they don’t, we’ll change it.” That is why I say that I admire Sue Bradford and the members of the Māori Party. They have stuck to the principle of what the law is about. We have heard from Helen Clark and John Key that we should not worry about the law, because it will not be upheld. Well, I do not agree with that. I think we should pass law that is clear and that we expect to be enforced.
My next point concerns the great aroha—love—that has broken out in our Parliament in respect of the smacking issue. Well, I think it is quite nice, and I rather love it that MPs can work together sometimes. But just because all parliamentarians agree on something does not make it right, does not make it good law, and does not make it good for New Zealand.
I have to say that when I read the new clause 4 I do not understand what the National Party has been against all this time. I was persuaded by National’s arguments against the bill. The only thing that this new clause does is to say that the police have discretion. Well, we knew that. The police always have had discretion. No one knows that better than the Prime Minister of New Zealand, because she has been the beneficiary of that discretion on more than one occasion, has she not? So we knew that the police had discretion. I do not understand how a party can be opposed to this legislation, then say the police have discretion, and suddenly it becomes OK, without explanation.
Finally, I have this concern: I think the issue of the smacking of children—not abuse, not violence, but smacking—should be one of conscience for individual MPs. If we were serious about testing this Parliament and its resolve, the old parties, like the new MMP parties, would allow their MPs to have a free vote, so we could actually see where Parliament lies and actually test the vote. In respect of this issue I do not agree that Helen Clark and John Key can dictate and decide how the majority of MPs in this Parliament will vote. I do not think we can take any comfort from that. John Key said in this House that if Labour had had a free vote, the bill would not have passed, so presumably, at that point, he was saying there were Labour MPs who would vote against it—I presume that was the case. I would like to see that tested by John Key and Helen Clark by their giving their MPs some mana and letting them have a free vote. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
KATHERINE RICH (National) : It is a great pleasure to stand in the House today and speak for the first time on the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill, in its third reading. I think it is a marvellous time for Parliament. We have brought together differing views at times, but we now have majority support, by far, for this bill, and we will see it passed tonight.
If hitting children is the answer, I think many of us have asked the wrong question. One of the things that struck me as being really surprising throughout the whole debate about the bill was that in many cases the debate went off-track. This bill was really about removing the defence of section 59, which was used when some parents who had beaten their kids within an inch of their lives came before the courts and used it as some kind of excuse. In many cases those parents got off convictions. There were only a small number of those cases a year—some estimates were six, some were 10, and some were 15—but a number of cases in particular really made many New Zealanders wonder about the rights of parents and the sort of country we live in.
One case I recall, when I was spokesperson on welfare many years ago, was that of a 41-year-old stepfather who beat his boy with a block of wood. This man, having been to the courts and listed the atrocious things that the little boy had done, was able to get off a conviction because the jurors looked at him and said: “What would we have done if we were in the place of that parent?”. Well, that is not an excuse.
One of the things that is marvellous about tonight is that we are lowering the bar considerably. We are saying goodbye to horsewhips, jug cords, hosepipes, vacuum cleaners, pieces of wood, and all sorts of other implements that have been regularly used on children in the name of discipline. I do not think that the reasons given for the use of those implements stack up.
One of the things we need to think about is how our country is judged. At the moment, our child abuse record is appalling, so we need to work towards cultural change and changing the minds of some parents who regularly inflict those kinds of beatings and think, in so doing, that they are instilling discipline in their children when they are not.
There has been considerable debate about this bill over many decades, so what we are doing tonight is the culmination of the work of a lot of people, some of whom are sitting up in the gallery tonight—people who have spent their lives as advocates for children and in raising these debates. I thank all of those groups who have taken part in the debate over many, many years.
What we are doing today is something that Sweden did in 1967—it removed the defence for smacking in that year. There was no tidal wave of cases brought to the courts. There was no increase in abuse. Perhaps we can debate what Sweden went on to do in the 1980s and 1990s, but that is different. Sweden did in 1967 what we are doing tonight, and Sweden benefited from it. There was no crush in the courts of parents being made criminals. It just did not happen.
Some have said that what we are doing tonight will not reduce child abuse. We are not pretending for a second that what we are doing tonight will eradicate the way some parents treat their kids. But I will tell members one thing: for those parents who do thrash their kids within an inch of their lives, this law will make it a hell of a lot clearer that when they come before the courts there will be much stronger convictions, and strong messages sent to them that what they have done is wrong. I am very thankful for that.
One of the things that has surprised me about this debate has been the absolute hysteria whipped up by some people who have wanted to create an impression that this bill will do a whole bunch of things that it will not do. In particular, false experts have been brought out from Sweden. Ruby Harrold-Claesson is a fruit loop, to say the least. She had no academic standing in her community, and I know that, because I contacted a number of Swedish professors, people who were social workers, and people who had worked within the child advocacy area. Those people had not heard of her, and if they had, they did not have very complimentary things to say.
Making the Timaru horsewhip lady the champion of parental rights was, I felt, one of the most outrageous things that I had ever seen. Here was a woman who had a case file with Child, Youth and Family that was very thick, and a track record with some of our social service agencies that dated back more than 15 years. Yet here she was presenting herself as being a good parent and an advocate for not changing the law. Well, that was one of the things that I found very difficult to deal with.
There are a lot of people to thank. One of the things I would like to do is pay tribute to Chester Borrows for the work he has done. He is someone who has been a cop and who has been a lawyer, and he has seen a lot of New Zealand life that many of us would not like to see. He was someone who I think became a champion for change and a champion for children.
I also pay tribute to the Māori Party members. What they did was not easy, but they took a leadership role, decided what was best for their people, and they stood strong. I thank the likes of Brian Donnelly, who had a previous bill; some previous members of this House, like Deborah Coddington; and those like Kay Crowther, a staunch advocate. I think the sum total of her Plunket presidency will be a great one, when she stands down after its conference, having seen such major change.
I also pay tribute to Sue Bradford. Yes, there have been some testing times for all of us in this House as we have debated this issue, but I can say that I am sure none of that burden is a little toe’s worth of the burden that Sue has faced in being an advocate.
I also pay tribute to my leader, John Key. One of the things that I think John has shown is that he is willing to put the classic tactics of Opposition aside in order to do something that is better for our nation’s people and for our nation’s children. He was not afraid to make a decision that put aside classic Opposition politics in order to come to an agreement and do something for the benefit of our country. That is something that I think has created this unprecedented situation today, where we have so many members in the House voting for this particular bill.
I feel very confident about this bill. I am glad there will be a review in 2 years’ time, because I think that in 2 years’ time a lot of people will go: “Phewf—what were we worried about?”. One of the things that has been said in previous debates is that this bill could potentially make good parents into criminals. Well, that was never going to be the case, in my view. I ask those parents who think there is such a thing as a loving smack—which seems to me to be the worst kind of oxymoron possible—that if the right to smack is such a God-given right, why do people do it in private? Why do they feel bad about it when they do it in public? One of the surveys I saw, which I thought was really interesting, found that some parents said that if this bill were passed, they would think twice before they smacked their child in a supermarket. Well, I think that that is a good thing, and I think that that is progress for us all.
This has been a bill that has made us talk with our families, talk with those people whom we respect, and debate the issues. I think that that is a great thing. This issue is one that has touched many Kiwis’ lives. It has occupied more talkback hours and more newspaper column centimetres than any issue I can recall within my political lifetime. It is an issue that forces people to think about the kind of community we want to have.
I think that in passing this bill we are doing something for children. With all those surveys we saw—surveys showing that 83 percent of New Zealanders did not want this bill—I kept wanting to ask the question: “Well, how many kids did you survey about the bill?”. I do not think that many were included in that. The survey question I would have liked to have seen was: “Do you think parents should get off a conviction by citing section 59 when they have pummelled their children, beaten their children, and thrashed their children?”. I think that most Kiwis—by far the majority—would have stood up and said: “No, I don’t want that.”
What we are doing with this bill tonight is lowering the bar and sending a strong message. I do not think we will see come before the courts the cases—which have resulted in acquittals—that we have seen in the past. Hopefully, as a result of this bill, we will not see again the sorts of cases where parents have used horsewhips, jug cords, and blocks of wood on their children, and done all sorts of things that would make good parents shake their heads with concern.
So I say thank you to all members. I do not think that those supporting the bill will regret it. I think that this is a great day for Parliament that so many members have chosen to do the right thing and support this legislation.
LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) : It is a pleasure to stand in this House and speak on the third reading of the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill, and, in doing so, to thank and congratulate Sue Bradford as we end our journey of seeing the bill go through this House. I acknowledge the Green Party, the Māori Party, Jim Anderton from Progressive, and, of course, our Labour caucus led by Helen Clark, who all stood together right at the beginning within their caucuses. I acknowledge that for Labour, Broad Church though we were, we all did so because we saw that this bill was about making and keeping our children safe. That was always what it was about: making our children safe.
I also want to acknowledge the courage of members who did not have their colleagues standing beside them: Peter Dunne, Brian Donnelly, Doug Woolerton, and Katherine Rich. I also acknowledge the Law Commission and the Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who worked so hard with us in drafting the first amendment, and the Justice and Electoral Committee report, which was designed to reassure parents and the public. That report was supported by the majority of the select committee, and it stated that the police had the discretion not to prosecute and that they would prosecute only when it was in the public interest. Despite that statement in the select committee report, many, many parents remained very anxious and needed more reassurance. I commend Helen Clark, who was able to work with Sue Bradford and the Law Commission to present an amendment that was acceptable to the vast majority of the very strong opponents to the bill. That was done to ensure that the bill will now pass—which we are confident about—by a sizable majority in this House. It now sends a message that is very, very loud and clear.
But I want to ask the House a question. In the debate that was raging out there, if the question put to people had not been whether they thought parents should be criminalised for smacking their children, but had been whether they thought parents should be criminalised for hitting their children with pipes, whips, and pieces of wood—which is what this legislation is about—what would the poll have told us then? I wish that there had been far more clarity and integrity about running this debate. I am very saddened by the uncertainty, the fear, the panic, and, certainly, the heartache that many parents felt about this bill. It was a very, very difficult time. But I am elated that most at-risk children will now be safer and that we can work towards achieving the purpose of the bill set out in clause 3, which is “to make better provision for children to live in a safe and secure environment free from violence”.
Sanity around this debate would never ever have happened if it had not been for the staunch advocacy work undertaken by many of this country’s great and credible organisations that care for our children. I will name just a few: Barnardos, EPOCH, Women’s Refuge, Plunket, Save the Children, Unicef, Every Child Counts, our Families Commission, and the Children’s Commissioner. Many individuals also spoke out and campaigned very strongly—far too many to name here. I acknowledge the many churches that held a peace vigil for our children in such a dignified way. I acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of emails, which gave us heart and clogged up our BlackBerrys. I am proud of the Waitakere City Council, which, in line with its children first policy, was the first council to speak up and state strongly that section 59 should change.
Not one member of the Justice and Electoral Committee, which I chair, was unmoved by the stories we heard during the submission process. We heard about the damage that a harsh upbringing and violence had had on people’s lives, and that they had carried the damage through not only their childhood but also their adult lives—and it still hurt. It was really significant to hear those people, who came and told us their stories. That took a tremendous amount of courage.
Critics of the bill argued that section 59 of the principal Act has been used successfully only seven times over a long period of time. But that is the whole point of why the law had to change. Seven times represents seven children, and the issue was not just about those seven children. It was the message that section 59 of the Act gave to the police when they were looking at prosecuting someone and were considering whether the prosecution would be successful, if the benchmark was as high as that. I am not someone who is of the view that it is a parent’s God-given responsibility to hit a child, but many submitters who came to the select committee said just that.
Many submitters came and talked about their upbringing, and also talked about bringing up their children and how that differed from their own upbringing. They acknowledged the good job that their parents had done in bringing them up, but they also talked about the information and strategies available to them when they raised their children. They particularly spoke about The Nanny programme on television and the influence that it had had—the naughty chair, the naughty-mat, and taking time out. They also spoke about the SKIP programme—or, to give it its full name, SKIP: Strategies with Kids - Information for Parents—and about how it was really significant to learn that there are other ways of disciplining children than smacking them. In fact, I found it was our younger parents who often said they could not contemplate hitting their children now, because it just did not seem right. That is not to denigrate the parents of my generation, who were good parents, but it is to say that as we roll out education, information, and research, and as we talk about new and different ideas, then our society does become a better place to live and a better place to raise our children in.
I will finish by talking about an incident that occurred when I was in a fruit shop in New Lynn. There was a young child there, throwing a doozy of a tantrum. The mother was standing and waiting, with other people standing around and tsk-ing just a little, but not saying anything. She was just waiting calmly for that child to stop throwing the tantrum. I probably would not have done this before, but, because I had been on the select committee, I felt compelled to go to her and say: “Excuse me.” As I said that, she reeled around and looked as though she thought she would probably be told off. I said: “I just want to say what a great job you are doing of handling this difficult situation.” She responded by saying: “Thank you. I feel like I am an alien.”, and I said: “You are not. This is what kids do, and you are handling it really well.” I noted that when she went to the queue, people moved to let her go through, and I think that is what we need to do. We say that it takes a village to raise a child. We need to stand alongside parents when they are in such situations and say that it is a normal thing for kids to throw tantrums, that our kids did that, that we are not judging them, and that we want to support them in dealing with it. It is not much to do.
I am proud that this bill has got to this stage. As I said before, I am sorry about the heartache associated with getting it here, but I know that we now have very good support from the majority of the members in this House, and I am really proud of that. I think that this is a day to be remembered. Thank you.
NICKY WAGNER (National) : I rise to speak on the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill again. As a member of the Justice and Electoral Committee that worked on this bill, I have been deeply involved since day one. I reviewed the 1,700 submissions and listened to over 300 oral submissions. I have talked to dozens of people. I have been absolutely snowed under by hundreds—no, possibly thousands—of emails. As Katherine Rich has noted, section 59 has had New Zealanders discussing, debating, and often disagreeing shrilly, for months. That is the one good thing about this bill: it has focused New Zealand on its appalling record of child abuse.
Despite the bitterness of the debate at times, it has also united New Zealanders in the positive things that they do believe about child rearing. In the submissions, we saw that submitters actually agreed on many, many things. The first thing that all submitters commented on was the frightening tendency for family violence in New Zealand and their disgust for child abuse. All submitters who took the time to present their message—regardless of their opinion on the bill—did so because they were concerned about the welfare of children. The vast majority commented on the importance of parenting and said that it was probably the most difficult job that any of us have ever done in our lives. The majority of submitters understood that there were many creative and interesting techniques used to bring up kids, and that parents were always keen to learn new ways to parent—we just need to look at the number of “super-nanny” programmes on the telly to vouch for that.
The only thing submitters had trouble agreeing on was the role of the smack. Either smacking was OK or smacking was not OK, but even those who thought that smacking was not OK mostly did not want to criminalise or convict good parents for giving a light smack. So that tells me that most New Zealanders—although they are diverse in their values over how to bring up children—are thoughtful, conscientious, and concerned about their kids. It also tells me that most parents are more than capable of making good decisions about rearing their children without the Government being involved. Managing, training, disciplining, and bringing up our kids is an intensely personal experience, and decisions about these matters should be family business.
That is why Parliament has had so many problems when trying to write this legislation. To me, it is such a shame that so much parliamentary time, energy, and resources have been wasted on this bill, when we could have addressed the real causes of child abuse and focused on stopping the kind of treatment meted out to those Lillybings, James Whakarurus, and Coral Burrows.
However, the biggest concern I had with this bill has always been the interference into the lives of good parents and the dangers of criminalising families who occasionally use a smack. Now that John Key has been able to facilitate the introduction of the amendment that will accept that ordinary, good parents may occasionally smack their kids without being charged as criminals, the bill actually manages to bridge the main area of disagreement between submitters. National and John Key were very aware that unless we did something, the bill had the numbers to pass in its original form. We were deeply troubled that politicians were abdicating their responsibility to provide clear messages to the New Zealand Police, who are charged with enforcing the law.
The amendment does that. It is not perfect but it is the best we could do. Now, finally, after all the argument, the bill can do what most New Zealanders desire. The bill will send a strong message that the present level of violence against children in our society is unacceptable. It will also prevent good parents from being prosecuted for carrying out their normal parenting duties.
I congratulate John Key on finding a circuit-breaker. Good parents will appreciate this solution. As everyone has heard in the House tonight, the bill will not stop child abuse. Hopefully, all the focus on the issue will be positive for our children. We have certainly heard how much New Zealanders abhor the high levels of child abuse we have in this country. The bill is much better because of John Key’s and National’s faith in New Zealand parents and because of our advocacy for them. Thank you.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: The next call will be a split call for the Labour Party—5 minutes each. There will be a bell at 4 minutes.
MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) : I commend the people who have spoken in this debate on the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill. When I first came to this House and gave my maiden speech back in 1994, a significant part of that maiden speech was to observe the obvious and to express my concerns about how in many cases we treat the most vulnerable people in our society—our children. Thirteen years later I stand in this Chamber and acknowledge the work of Sue Bradford in bringing an amendment to section 59 of the Crimes Act that I believe will give greater protection to those vulnerable children in our society. I also commend the select committee process and the job that the Justice and Electoral Committee did under the leadership of Lynne Pillay. I commend them for the hours and hours of time they spent on trying to bring back into workable form a bill that basically was going to give protection to the youngest and most vulnerable in our society but was certainly in no way—as has been claimed by some of the opponents of this bill—going to criminalise good, law-abiding parents who are doing their best.
Like many people in this House I have the privilege of being a parent—of four children from 18 to 7—and I can say very clearly that there is nothing in this bill that should make me and my wife, Gillian, in any way afraid of the law intervening in our household. People talk about their own history as children, and upon reflection of my own history of upbringing I reflect in terms of my own parents—my late father and living mother; I hope they do not mind my mentioning them. There is nothing in this bill that would have endangered them as loving and excellent parents.
I particularly commend the contribution made by Katherine Rich. I will not repeat the very excellent points she made, but I commend her courage and focus, and the real issues she summarised. The repeal of section 59 is not about criminalising and going after good, law-abiding, loving parents; it is about raising the bar of those parents who historically have been inclined to basically beat their kids to within an inch of their lives. Katherine Rich said—and it was a wonderful saying—“goodbye to horse whips, jug cords, hose pipes, vacuum cleaners, pieces of wood, and all sorts of other implements that have been regularly used on children in the name of discipline.” As of tonight, the legal bar will be raised in those areas.
I also commend the contribution of former ACT MP Deborah Coddington. I do not often agree with her contributions, I have to say, but I acknowledge the sincerity with which she has addressed this issue. I also acknowledge the personal pain for her that that involved, and her long-time history of campaigning against child abuse in this country. I acknowledge Brian Donnelly for some of his excellent early work and for articles he has written about this bill being anti-hitting. This bill is against the hitting and beating of children. I acknowledge my good colleague from the Waikato, Doug Woolerton, for his contribution to the debate.
In the time I have left in the short call I have been allocated, I particularly wish to acknowledge the work and guidance I have received from wonderful campaigners for child welfare in my own city of Hamilton. I acknowledge particularly former Parentline Director Maxine Hodgson, and the Director of the Institute for Child Protection Studies, Anthea Simcock; also the wonderful work done by the Hamilton Abuse Intervention Project; they have politicised the issue of child abuse in Hamilton and are supportive of this bill tonight. I acknowledge the former mayor Margaret Evans for her very positive leadership, along with many others in my community. I went to them for guidance. They gave a very clear message, along with other groups working in the area of child welfare.
I commend this bill tonight. The bill will not criminalise ordinary, law-abiding parents, but it raises the bar against those who have previously used horse whips and blocks of wood, etc., to correct and hit their children. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
SUE KEDGLEY (Green) : The Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill has been a difficult bill—indeed, a painful bill—for Parliament and for the whole of New Zealand to debate. No one likes talking about beating our children or about the violence and abuse that children endure every day in this country. So it is no wonder that the whole issue of parental violence against children has been something of a taboo—a subject so sensitive and painful that we would prefer not to talk about it.
In debating this bill up and down New Zealand, on talkback radio and so forth, we have lifted a taboo and brought the whole issue into the open, and we have confronted our shadow, if you will—a dark side of New Zealand society. I believe that it has been an incredibly healthy, although difficult and painful, process for our society. Dozens of people have talked to me—and, I am sure, to many MPs—about the violence, abuse, and thrashings they endured as a child. They are people who had never been able to discuss the trauma and terror they experienced as children who were regularly abused by their parents, but they have finally been able to share their secrets and talk about their experiences. I think that has been incredibly healing and healthy.
The most important aspect of the bill is that we are standing as an almost united Parliament in protecting our children from abuse. Before the previous election, all political parties in this House pledged to the lobby group Every Child Counts that we would put children and their needs at the centre of legislation. In passing this bill today we are honouring that pledge and sending a message that we do not condone or tolerate violence against our children and that it is not acceptable or excusable to hit, brutalise, or abuse them. We are sending a message that as a culture we need to move beyond physical punishment and abuse as a way of disciplining our children—just as we did a few decades ago when we made corporal punishment illegal in schools. We recognise that it will not be easy for many parents to make this change and that they will need help in doing so. We are pleased that the Government has committed to providing that help.
I note that Gordon Copeland said in a release today that this bill was a “gross perversion of the democratic process”. I disagree. I believe that the bill is actually a triumph of the democratic process. Parliament has recognised and demonstrated that it can work together and reach a consensus on contentious legislation. I think it is sad indeed that Gordon Copeland felt so passionately about the right of parents to hit their children that he resigned from his party. That is a sad consequence of legislation that I am certain will come to be viewed as historic social legislation—right up there along with the Homosexual Law Reform Act and the end of capital punishment.
Finally, I salute Sue Bradford for her courage in bringing this bill to the House. She hoped the bill would be, as she said, “like motherhood and apple pie”; instead, it has been like riding a wild, wild tiger. She has never flinched and never shirked from the task in the face of intolerable abuse and violence. I suspect that others may have given up along the way, but never Sue Bradford. I give thanks to all the non-governmental organisations, to the MPs in this House who have put principle ahead of politics—Jim Anderton, Peter Dunne, Chester Borrows, and members of the Labour Party and the Māori Party—and to Helen Clark and John Key for their leadership.
NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) : As many members have said during this debate, being a parent is hard. At times it can be a hell of a struggle, but it is worth every second of it. Becoming a father has given me a new respect for single parents, who do not have the option of saying: “Enough!” and handing over a child when their patience is stretched too thin. And it has given me a new contempt for those who attack single parents as an easy way to score political points. Because parents’ patience does get stretched thin, sometimes it snaps. I cannot promise that I will never whack my child, but I will never be proud of doing that.
Some people opposed this Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill because they claimed that it would criminalise parents for lightly smacking their children. It never would have, and it was never intended that it should have. The bill is aimed at stopping serious child abuse perpetrated under the guise of discipline, and it directly challenges the view that whacking children is somehow a duty, a right, and a thing to be proud of.
Judy Turner raised concerns about Child, Youth and Family’s interventions. The Green Party is also concerned about a number of specific actions made by Child, Youth and Family, but we also acknowledge the enormously difficult and thankless work its staff does. We do not agree that this bill will affect that agency’s policy or its level of intervention. Child, Youth and Family already investigates allegations of child abuse independently of criminal proceedings, and that will continue.
Some have said that they agree with the bill but that it is premature—that we need a public education campaign first to give parents the tools they need to maintain discipline without violence. In fact, we already have a TV campaign. It is fully self-funding and enormously popular, and it is called Supernanny. People watch Jo Jo because they are hungry for information—because she gives practical tools for dealing with even the most unruly children, and because those tools work. For those who think that discipline is synonymous with a whack, I tell them to get this: she never smacks! In fact, she chastises parents who yell, smack, or otherwise lose control over themselves, and therefore over their children.
Smacking is not—at least, not very often—the calm, measured response to an infraction of rules that some would have us believe; in my view, it would probably be worse if it were. It is almost always a lack of control. I do not judge parents for that, but neither do I congratulate them.
This bill is an important statement for this country. It says that we no longer condone, through an Act of this Parliament, the use of violence against children. It removes the notion that somehow discipline justifies beating our young. Given our shameful child abuse statistics in this country, it seems remarkable to me that this legislation is even contentious.
I sincerely thank Sue Bradford for making New Zealand face this debate squarely. I thank all the members of this House and people outside this House who have put themselves on the line for this issue, and I thank all members of this Parliament for their contributions to it. Kia ora.
|Ayes 113||New Zealand Labour 49; New Zealand National 48; New Zealand First 4 (Brown, Donnelly, Stewart, Woolerton); Green Party 6; Māori Party 4; United Future 1 (Dunne); Progressive 1.|
|Noes 8||New Zealand First 3 (Mark, Paraone, Peters); United Future 1 (Turner); ACT New Zealand 2; Independents: Copeland, Field.|
|Bill read a third time.|
RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that it is important to check that no one is carrying a proxy for Mr Copeland. It seems odd for someone to resign from his party over an issue and then not to vote. I am sure a proxy is being held.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank Mr Hide for raising that. Those who are in the House are in the House, and the proxy has not been exercised.