Editorial: Labour's lesson in innovation

21:38, Feb 17 2009

When  Christchurch musician Jimmy Mason "flicked" his three-year-old son on the ear he thought he was giving him a lesson about road safety. Don't ride your bike near the road when you're told not to. What he was actually getting was a firsthand look at the Government's anti-smacking legislation in operation, The Dominion Post writes.

A nearby teacher took umbrage at his actions, an off-duty policewoman rang the office and, minutes later, Mr Mason found himself surrounded by six police officers.

"They were going to arrest me and were trying to ascertain whether it was safe for the kids to go home with me," he said. "It was pretty bizarre."

In time Mr Mason may discover, like many parents before him, that there are other, more effective ways to discipline his children and keep them safe.

If the anti-smacking legislation, championed by Green MP Sue Bradford, hastens that process it will have served a useful purpose.

But just as there is no such thing as a perfect child, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Like children, parents get tired and irritable. Like children, parents occasionally do things they later regret.

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But nothing that Mr Mason did appears to warrant the attention of six police officers, at least five more than the ordinary citizen can expect to show an interest when reporting a theft, burglary or assault.

Nor do his actions appear to warrant the warning that has now been placed on his record, though that could change as a result of a police review of discrepancies between Mr Mason's story and those of witnesses.

When the anti-smacking legislation was steered through Parliament last year, Ms Bradford and her Labour allies assured the public that the law change would not criminalise parents who administered a light smack to their children.

Technically they are correct in Mr Mason's case. He has not been charged. But he has been stigmatised, something that is likely to be of almost as much concern to the Government as it is to Mr Mason.

Labour believes the initial furore over the anti-smacking legislation has died down now that it has been in place for more than six months.

But publicity about such cases revives the damaging spectre of a nanny state interfering in the private affairs of citizens.

When voters go to the polls later this year they will not recall that National voted for the legislation alongside Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party as a result of a last-minute deal with its leader John Key, but that it was Labour and its allies who pushed the bill through, just as it was Labour that took the lead in legalising prostitution, establishing civil unions, banning unhealthy food from school tuckshops and outlawing smoking in bars and restaurants.

All are initiatives that fit with New Zealand's tradition of pioneering social legislation, a tradition that began when New Zealand became the first country to give women the vote.

But politicians with long careers in mind know there is only so much innovation the public is prepared to put up with.

Labour could yet pay a price for going too far too fast.

 

The Dominion Post