A petition signed by thousands of Kiwis seeking to repeal child discipline laws may have been lodged too late for a referendum to be included in this year's election, Prime Minister Helen Clark says.
Organisers of the petition handed to the Clerk of the House yesterday their second attempt to gather the required number of signatures to force a referendum.
Kiwi Party leader Larry Baldock delivered more than 390,000 signatures backing the call for a referendum on the question: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"
The petition was originally handed to the Clerk on February 29, when 285,027 valid signatures – 10 per cent of registered voters on that day – were needed. It failed because many were ruled to be invalid.
The petition was submitted again yesterday as police issued data showing that one year on from the "anti-smacking" law they had yet to prosecute anyone for smacking.
The passage of the legislation on June 21 last year prompted critics to predict good parents would be criminalised by the removal of the defence of "reasonable force" in disciplining children.
Asked if there would be time to include a referendum on ballot papers, Miss Clark thought it unlikely. "Just in terms of sheer organisation I don't think that is possible."
Election officials indicated they believed it would be difficult to hold a referendum at the same time as the election.
The Government has yet to announce a date for the election, but it must be before mid- November.
Justice Ministry guidelines on referendums initiated by citizens show the Clerk has two months in which to check the petition has been signed by at least 10 per cent of all eligible voters. The Speaker then must present the petition to Parliament, after which it goes to the governor-general, who has another month to specify a date.
The referendum must be held within 12 months of the petition being handed to the Clerk, but can be delayed for a further year with the agreement of 75 per cent of MPs. Even then, the result is not binding.
Miss Clark believed the legislation was working and still had the support of most people. "There is very little evidence that I can see of good parents being dragged before a court."
The bill's architect, Green MP Sue Bradford, said the new law was working well and should be left alone. Her legislation amended section 59 of the Crimes Act to remove the defence of reasonable force for parents who physically discipline their children.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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