NZ First MP Tracey Martin told TVNZ’s Q+A programme that the law change has had a “chilling effect” on NZ parents including herself.
“Well, we’ve always argued, for 25 years, around binding a referenda on issues like this, where our citizens need to speak. We have a representative democracy. 113 temporarily empowered politicians decided this for all the parents of New Zealand. The parents of New Zealand need to be able to speak on it,” said Mrs Martin.
“I remember me being a parent when this bill went through, and I felt that the language that was being used, the politicians that were telling me that if I lightly smacked my child, I was then committing abuse. I found that personally offensive. It had a chilling effect on my parenting. And I believe other parents out there feel the same,” she said.
However, Former Green Party MP and the architect behind the law changes Sue Bradford disagrees.
“For New Zealand First to want us to go backwards on something that’s so important for our babies, children and young people, I just find incredible.”
“From the point of view of protecting our children and babies and saying actually our young kids should have the right to grow up without violence,” says Mrs Bradford.
CORIN I should clarify – you would put up a referendum.
TRACEY That’s right – a binding referendum.
CORIN And why would you do that 10 years on from an issue? That’s been sorted, hasn’t it?
TRACEY Well, actually, I think that’s really interesting, because it is 10 years on, and it hasn’t necessarily been sorted. It is simmering away underneath.
CORIN Is it really?
TRACEY It is. It is. It absolutely is. It’s simmering away underneath. I think the evidence is in every day, we’ve got parents that are saying to us and to others that it’s had a chilling effect on their parenting. It’s had a chilling effect on what they believe is their ability to actually feel free to raise their children. And all we’re saying is after 10 years–There were some really good reasons why Sue put up the bill. Let’s not take away from that, and you’ve articulated them. But after 10 years, we think there’s an opportunity for a binding referendum, and then we’ll go with what the public vote.
CORIN But is there really a chilling effect? Between 2007 and 2013, I think there were eight prosecutions, and they were for people who got hit in the head.
TRACEY Those are prosecutions. And I think what the difference is because that Article 59 is still there, and Sue’s got different wording that’s been put into Article 59. But what it did was the police were always involved; the courts had to always use discretion. But CYFs became involved with the changes 10 years ago. So while there may be only eight prosecutions, how many investigations have there been? How many families?
CORIN Well, not many from our research. And, in fact, CYFs’ advice is light smacks are not going to get parents in trouble. Is that right, Sue Bradford?
SUE That’s certainly my understanding. But I think the fact that cases of violence against children are reported to CYFs and the police when that happens, that’s actually a good thing for our kids, not a bad thing. And I’m actually still quite in a sense of disbelief that NZ First would put this policy up. In March, Winston Peters just said straight out that NZ First would repeal it. It sounds like since then, they’ve decided they’ll do it through a referendum.
CORIN What’s wrong with putting it to the people? If there is a simmering concern, what is wrong with giving it to voters to decide?
SUE I think it’s really tragic for our kids that a major political party like this would open this whole issue up again and basically say to those people who still think they should have a right legally to hit and strike their children and assault them in various ways– It’s like giving them licence again to say this political party here, including- I find it really hard, Tracey, because I know you’ve done amazing work in the local community with schools and children through your life, that someone who has such a good understanding of children and young people would actually support laying this all out into the public arena again, basically saying to all the people that–
CORIN But the polls have shown there is quite a lot of support for repealing this law.
SUE They may do, but from the point of view of protecting our children and babies and saying actually our young kids should have the right to grow up without violence, what this does is – NZ First actually did this – it’s saying to those people, ‘We believe you should have a licence.’ We’re opening it up to say you should have a licence to assault your children again, and that’s tragic.
CORIN Is that what you think, Tracey?
TRACEY No. That’s unfortunate. And it’s the use of words that has actually continued to mean that parents have looked at what Sue was trying to do with changes to Article 59 in this way as a threat, right? Because, actually, if you look at Article 59, subsection 1 and the four bullet points that you put in that piece of legislation, and if you took away subsection 2 and subsection 3 and left just the four bullet points you placed in that legislation, I believe parents would be absolutely comfortable with what had been put forward 10 years ago. It’s subsection 2 that overrides everything.
CORIN People aren’t worried about subsection 2. They are worried about the overall message.
TRACEY That’s the bit that says you cannot discipline your children.
CORIN What is the overall message?
SUE By physically assaulting them.
TRACEY That is the bit and that is the problem – subsection 2.
CORIN What is the overall message you are sending to New Zealand, to New Zealanders and the rest of the world if you were to repeal that act and allow someone to get off using a defence when they’ve whacked someone with a horse whip?
TRACEY Nobody should ever have got it. If we have a problem with our judges and the outcomes with how they were interpreting that law, we have a problem with our judges, not with–
CORIN But they can only interpret the law that parliament gives them.
TRACEY Absolutely, which is why subsection 1, which Sue put in, is much clearer. It’s a great clarity. But actually what we’ve got is subsection 2 makes criminals, and it causes an assault if you discipline your child.
CORIN But we’re not seeing that borne out in the numbers.
TRACEY Well, you’re not seeing it borne out in the prosecutions. But in the CYFS investigations – and I challenge CYFS numbers, I’d like to see your research. Because I’ve got people coming into my offices that are saying, ‘My child went to school. We’ve got mandatory reporting by our teachers and our doctors and our nurses.’ If a child goes to school and says, ‘Mum smacked me last night,’ they are required to report to CYFS. There’s now a CYFS file. CYFS is required to investigate.
CORIN But what CYFS are saying is that clearly, with light smacking, they’re not interested. They’re not going to investigate that. Is that right?
SUE That’s what I understand. But every case, I mean, they’ll investigate, but no prosecution will happen. I believe still that every case where parents do physically assault their children, there should be some scrutiny of it.
CORIN What, even a light smack because the kids want to run across the road?
SUE No, I am not going ever to get into defining. No, protecting children from danger.
CORIN So in that case, it’s okay to smack them?
SUE Look, throughout the whole period with this legislation, Corin, we made it very clear from the groups that support no legal violence against children that we would not get into defining the level and nature or ages of how it was okay to hit our kids. And I still refuse to do that, to say that it’s this age or it’s not around the head or it is round the body. This is a licence to torture. I believe that Tracey perhaps, because I haven’t heard her speak on this before, but perhaps that’s what New Zealand First wants is there to be in legislation a definition of the violence that it’s okay to use against our kids.
CORIN Is that the case? Do you want a definition of what’s okay and what’s not okay?
TRACEY I think that what Sue has put into legislation in subsection 1, in the four bullet points, D being that it is in the course of good and quality parenting, covers it. It is subsection 2, where Sue put in a line that says it is absolutely illegal to use any sort of physical discipline on your child – and that subsection overrides subsection 1. That’s the wording.
SUE How would you feel if we had a law like that for adults, for domestic violence against your partner? Do you think it would be okay to say that it’s okay to strike your husband or wife?
TRACEY But that’s not what your wording says. And I’m actually arguing for your wording that you put in in 2007. I’m just arguing that subsection two should be removed and that we go back to the courts have oversight, the police have oversight. And if you want to, Sue, then we’ll keep CYFS in there or Oranga Tamariki, but subsection 2 has had a chilling effect on parenting.
CORIN Okay, so there’s a referendum. If you repealed the law, would you allow the New Zealand legal system to have it again that clause that would enable someone to get off? Because wasn’t it really all about that issue, right, people getting off using the horse whips and stuff? So under your changes, if you did them, would you allow that?
TRACEY No, well, they should never have been allowed, Corin. Nobody’s arguing for that at all.
CORIN So you’d have to have some sort of a law there, right?
TRACEY Well, the interesting thing is it’s about judges and their interpretation of the law.
CORIN No, but you need some clarity, clearly.
TRACEY Because we’ve actually got court cases now where adults are getting off with manslaughter or murder. A student goes and punches another student, they die on the side of a rugby field, and they’re let off.
CORIN So you would be happy to remove that law, and then allow it to be in the interpretation of judges?
TRACEY For me, personally, I would be arguing that the original wording that Sue put in around subsection 1 stay, but subsection 2 go. That’s what I would be arguing as we go forward.
CORIN And, Sue Bradford, if that happens, do you think you’ll be returning to politics?
SUE I’m still in politics. I’ve never left. I just think it’s terrible. When this law went through ten years ago, we were about 18th in the world to get a law protecting our children giving them the same legal defence as adults, protection from violence. Now around 52 countries have laws like this. For New Zealand First to want us to go backwards on something that’s so important for our babies, children and young people, I just find incredible.
CORIN Is it populist politics at play here?
TRACEY Well, we’ve always argued, for 25 years, around binding a referenda on issues like this, where our citizens need to speak. We have a representative democracy. 113 temporarily empowered politicians decided this for all the parents of New Zealand. The parents of New Zealand need to be able to speak on it.
CORIN Is this about, I guess, New Zealand First? Does New Zealand First feel like it is being lectured to by the liberal majority of New Zealand? What’s going on here? I mean, I’m trying to get to why bring this back?
TRACEY Well, I remember me being a parent when this bill went through, and I felt that the language that was being used, the politicians that were telling me that if I lightly smacked my child, I was then committing abuse. I found that personally offensive. It had a chilling effect on my parenting. And I believe other parents out there feel the same.
CORIN Okay. We have to leave it there. Sue Bradford, Tracey Martin, thank you very much for your time.