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Dr Muriel Newman

The Politics of Law Making

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11 August 2007

The Politics of Law Making

It is the trait of governments that don’t know what to do about a difficult problem to simply pass a law. They do this knowing that the law will not work, but at least they will be seen to be doing something. The difficulty is that not only does such knee-jerk legislation rarely solve the problem it invariably creates serious unintended consequences.

This hasty law-making also prevents genuine solutions being found as we saw last week when the government’s microchipping of dogs – a knee-jerk response to a dreadful dog attack back in 2003 – failed to prevent another child being badly mauled.

Another case in point is the “anti-smacking” bill that was recently passed by Parliament in the midst of grave concerns about child abuse following the deaths of the Kahui twins. Proponents of the bill to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act told a disbelieving public that the law change would stop child abuse. The disbelieving public responded by saying that the people who abuse children would take no notice of the law. They said that child abusers would still abuse children but law-abiding parents would face being criminalized and would become fearful of disciplining their children.

Their pleas were ignored, even though before the 2005 election Helen Clark had publicly stated: “I do not support a ban on smacking. I’m opposed to that because I think it defies human nature”. (To view click here)

Unfortunately MMP politics changed the Prime Minister’s mind: after the election, Labour needed to support of the Greens, and the Greens wanted her to support their smacking ban. The rest is history. In spite of 80 percent of the public being opposed to this blatant piece of social engineering, the anti-smacking law – which makes New Zealand parents regulated by some of the most draconian restrictions in the world – was passed by a majority of Parliament.

Meanwhile, more and more children are being killed and maimed because the government has refused to tackle the real problem and replace the Domestic Purposes Benefit, which is not only encouraging women to have children they can’t care for, but pushes a child’s natural protector – their father – away.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator is Ruby Harrold-Claesson, a Swedish lawyer who visited New Zealand last year in order to dispel the fabrication being promoted by Sue Bradford and her supporters that child abuse had virtually disappeared in Sweden as a result of their smacking ban. Deeply disappointed that the Select Committee ignored her warnings, in her article, “Smacking – those Kiwis must be crazy!” Ruby explains that a smacking ban may only be a first step:

With 11 000 reports of “child abuse per year and only ten percent being prosecuted there seemed to be a need for more stringent laws to guarantee the success of the Swedish smacking ban. So, in 1998 – 2000 the law gross disturbance of the peace – which initially was drafted to protect battered women – came to include child smacking. Since then parents are being prosecuted for gross disturbance of the peace and their children are taken into compulsory care. The difference between being prosecuted for child abuse and gross disturbance of the peace is that in the former one had to present times and dates, but in the latter the charges do not have to be substantiated.

One would hope that the government’s hastily launched domestic violence campaign – $11 million to question sick women in hospital coupled with a $14 million advertising campaign – is not a forerunner to even more Swedish inspired laws!

In her article Ruby highlights the dangerous unintended consequences of anti-smacking laws: The ideological child protection advocates claim that they are acting in the child’s best interest when they call for a total ban on smacking and heavy penalties for smacking parents. However, they fail to realise that they are the very ones who are exposing children to severe abuse. Normally, the vast majority of parents talk to their children and try to make them comply. A smack is usually administered when words and admonition have failed to have the desired effect. So, if a child is smacked for something that he/she did or failed to do, subjecting the parents to police investigations and subsequent social investigations and separating the child from its parents will be double punishment for the child. This will not only expose the child to severe trauma but also damage the child’s relations to its parents – maybe permanently. (To read the article click the sidebar link)

Dr Robert Larzelere, a leading expert on child discipline from Oklahoma State University, also came to New Zealand to try to talk sense into our politicians. He describes our new law as “the most extreme and unproven social experiment in history”.

He explains: New Zealand’s smacking ban is more extreme than Sweden’s ban in three ways. [Firstly], using force to correct children will be subject to full criminal penalties, although the government’s politically clever but inconsequential concession gives police the discretion not to prosecute mild offences. Sweden’s ban had no criminal penalty. [Secondly], New Zealand’s bill bans the mildest use of force to correct children, not just smacking. This removes most disciplinary enforcements parents have used for generations, especially for the most defiant youngsters. [Thirdly], the required change in disciplinary enforcements will be the biggest change ever imposed on parents. (To read the article “New Zealand’s Anti-Smacking Law Most Extreme in the World” click here)

Already reports are emerging of children calling 111 to report their parents to the Police after learning about their rights at school. Given that the law has only just come into force, this is undoubtedly the tip of what is destined to become a very large iceberg! (To read the article “Boy’s 111 ‘parent assault’ call unfounded” click here )

Writer and economist Thomas Sowell states the obvious truth when he says, Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late. However, by repealing section 59, our government has made the job of socialising and training children to become the hard working, contributing citizens of tomorrow even more difficult.

Meanwhile a new report from the Ministry of Justice, which shows that violent crime committed by teenagers has increased by 39 percent over the last decade, should act as a warning. Rather than discouraging the disciplining of children, we should be giving parents and teachers more powers to encourage them to do all they can to ensure young people understand consequences and learn to take responsibility for their actions and their lives. (To read the report, click here )

When governments continually introduce stupid laws and useless regulations, the end result is a general malaise within the government agencies that are charged with trying to make the unworkable work. This results in the loss of public confidence in government.

The on-going fiasco over the NCEA has damaged public trust in schools. Setting traffic fine quotas for Police has seriously undermined their role. Incompetence in Corrections has plunged public confidence to rock bottom. Dumping people off hospital waiting lists has eroded faith in the health system. The on-going and blatant abuse of benefits by people who could and should be working has undermined the integrity of welfare. The death and abuse of children who are known to the department of Child Youth and Family, continually erodes confidence in that department, and the recent scandal involving the State Services Commissioner is casting a shadow over the whole government service.

The problem is that Labour has lost sight of its purpose as a government. Governments should not be agents of social change. Instead, their role is to create a framework for citizens to prosper.

In the early days of Labour’s rule, their target was to lift New Zealand’s living standards up into the top half of the OECD. That was a very worthwhile goal. We can only look back with disappointment that they did not vigorously pursue that objective for we would have all been far better off if they had!

The poll this week asks: Do you believe New Zealand children are now more protected from abuse as a result of the repeal of section 59? And: Do you have suggestions of what should be done to stop child abuse? Go to Poll

Reader’s comments will be posted on the NZCPR Forum page click to view .

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