PM warned over smacking referendum

BY GRAHAME ARMSTRONG
Last updated 05:00 09/08/2009
ROB KITCHIN/Dominion Post
HITTING KIDS: John Key has said the law will not be changed back unless it can be shown that good parents are being prosecuted for light smacking.

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ACT Party leader Rodney Hide has warned Prime Minister John Key of a public backlash if the government ignores the result of the controversial smacking referendum.

Snubbing the referendum result sends a message that politicians know what's best for the people and that the government is running a "nanny state", Hide wrote in a letter delivered to Key's office on Friday.

The referendum question asks: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand." The postal ballot, which is voluntary, opened on July 31 and closes on August 21. As of Thursday, chief electoral officer Robert Penden said 570,300 people had voted.

Those who believe parents should be allowed to smack their children have campaigned strongly for a "no" vote. They want to repeal the 2007 law that removed the defence of reasonable force in child-assault cases.

Key, however, has said the law will not be changed back unless it can be shown that good parents are being prosecuted for light smacking.

He described the referendum question as "pretty weird" and a case of "yes means no and no means yes".

"It could have been written by Dr Seuss," Key said.

The referendum has also been controversial for its $9 million cost.

In the letter to Key, Hide, who said he had been shocked by the number of parents who had been unfairly treated under the new law, urged the prime minister to act on the result of the referendum, a sign that the "no" campaign believe they will score a decisive victory.

Hide told Key the law change two years ago had driven a wedge between parent and child and although some people might disapprove of the way others behaved, it did not give them the right to make the others criminals, "unless their behaviour is demonstrably causing harm".

Hide said one of the reasons Labour lost the last election was because people were sick of being told how to live their lives by politicians and "it would be a tragedy if, six months into your government, a nanny state tendency emerged once again in ignoring the clear wish of the people... "

"The referendum gives an opportunity for the public to speak. Their views must be respected."

But the "yes" campaign says the government and parliament should wait for a review of the new law, due to be completed this year, before it responds to the referendum.

Spokeswoman for the Yes Coalition, Deborah Morris-Travers, said the new law had drawn a line in the sand to say that children should be able to live free of violence. She likened the current debate on smacking to protests years ago against the introduction of child-safe seats in cars.

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