Anti-smacking side concede loss likely

13:26, Aug 26 2009
Larry Baldock
HOT ISSUE: Larry Baldock with boxes of petitions in 2008. The petition, circulated nationwide, led to the referendum.

Campaigners on both sides of the smacking debate believe a referendum result due out tonight will be a victory for those who opposed a controversial 2007 law change.

Stuff.co.nz will bring you results of the referendum as soon as they are available this evening.

Preliminary results from the controversial $9 million citizens-initiated poll are due at 8.30pm this evening  although they are not binding, and the government has not signalled any intention to act on the result.

Those behind the referendum, which asks: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" believe the majority of respondents will have voted no. As of last Friday, 1,330,900 votes had been cast.

"I've been working on this for 32 months and to get the final result it will be great," Kiwi Party leader Larry Baldock, who initiated the referendum, said.

"I think it will definitely be a majority no vote."

The referendum follows a controversial law change in 2007 led by Green Party MP Sue Bradford which repealed Section 59 in the Crimes Act, a clause which made it legal for parents to use reasonable force to discipline a child.

The law change made it illegal for parents to use force against their children but affords police discretionary powers not to prosecute where the offence is considered inconsequential.

Mr Baldock said the 2007 Act should be repealed, and is so confident the majority of Kiwis feels the same that he has already organised a party at an Auckland motel for supporters, where they will gather to await the result.

Vote Yes spokeswoman and former NZ First MP Deborah Morris-Travers said the group that opposes smacking did not expect the vote to go their way.

"We've always expected that the majority vote would be a No vote because, of course, thats how the question is put. It's a loaded question."

However, she said the campaign had allowed them to educate people about the law and address some of the misinformation that surrounded it.

She pointed to the latest police statistics which, she said, proved concerns in the community that large numbers of parents would be criminalised for smacking were unfounded.

The figures from the latest six-month review showed police attended 279 child assault events in the six-month review period between last October and April.

Of those events, 39 involved "minor acts of physical discipline", with four resulting in prosecutions. Eight of those involved smacking.

During the previous review period, police attended 258 child assault events of which 49 were "minor acts of physical discipline" and nine involved smacking.

Police said there had been little impact on their workloads since the law was enacted.

"It's hardly thousands and thousands of parents are being criminalised because they are absolutely not," Ms Morris-Travers said.

She said she had detected a sea change in people's attitudes and New Zealanders needed to give the law a chance.

"They can have confidence in [the law] and they can have confidence in the way the police are administering the law," she said.

The No campaigners would be making recommendations on how the law should be changed and hoped Prime Minister John Key would act quickly, Mr Baldock said.

Mr Baldock said little had been gained from the legislation so far.

"If you look at all the time and money and, you know, angst thats been expended on this for the past three or four years and for what gain?" he said.

However, both Mr Key and opposition leader Phil Goff have said they are comfortable with the legislation as it stands and a No vote would not change that.

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