Smacking referendum: No vote wins

01:09, Aug 27 2009

Almost 90 percent of people who participated in a referendum asking New Zealanders whether smacking should be illegal have voted no, preliminary results show.

A total of 1,622,150 votes were cast with 87.6 percent in favour of repealing the controversial new law.

The preliminary results from the $9 million citizens-initiated referendum which asked: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" have just been released.

The Chief Electoral Office said it would now complete checks and count voting papers still to be received, before releasing the final result.

Based on the preliminary results there was a 54 percent voter turnout.

Prime Minister John Key said he had listened to the result of the referendum and plans to take some proposals to Cabinet on Monday.

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Mr Key refused to tell reporters in Australia what those initiatives were but said they fell short of a law change.

“I think they will give New Zealand parents added comfort that the law is working and that the law will be administered in a way they have resoundingly demonstrated through the referendum that it should be administered.”

Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden said the final result would be declared after the deadline of noon on Tuesday 25 August for voting papers to be returned.

The preliminary results from the $9 million citizens-initiated referendum which asked: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" have just been released.

RESULT 'NO SURPRISE'

Both sides of the campaign had earlier admitted this was the more likely result.

No Vote campaigner Bob McCoskrie of Family First said he was “absolutely stoked” with the result.

“I think it was a better result than we expected,” he said.

“The bottom line is that New Zealanders don’t agree with or want this law.”

He praised Sue Bradford for her commitment to the new law but said she was “fundamentally wrong” on this issue.

The leader of the Kiwi party and petition organiser Larry Baldock said he was ecstatic at tonight’s result.

He said tonight’s resounding result was a victory for many New Zealanders.

“There are an incredible number of people all over the country tonight who will be feeling really great about what they helped bring about with their vote.”

He said he hoped the result would send a strong message to Prime Minister John Key that the current law was not working.

This was a sentiment shared by Joseph Rebello who was at the No Party Headquarters in Auckland.

“He’s got to listen to the people 87 percent of the people have spoken out – he can not ignore these numbers.” Rebello said.

“We are totally opposed to child abuse of any form, but a short sharp smack is not abuse.”

Yes Vote coalition spokeswoman Deborah Morris-Travers said the low voter turn out suggested it was not an issue that New Zealanders felt that strongly about. “I think that it’s very telling that the turn out is reasonably low,” she said.

She said a lack of knowledge and attempts to educate the public about the law had proved frustrating but they would continue to try and raise awareness.

“We will continue our work to ensure that the law remains in place and also to better inform people about the law,” she said.

Labour deputy leader Annette King said the referendum had allowed everyone to have their say.

“It's now up to the Government to determine what the next steps are. Labour is yet to see evidence that the current Act needs to be changed. It is going to be reviewed at the end of the year and we will wait to see the outcome of that."

REGIONAL SUPPORT

Waikato voters were the most in favour of repealing the law with 92.64 voting against it while Clutha-Southland and Hunua voters were close behind on 92.58 percent.

Of the 70 electorates, 29 had more than 90 percent support to repeal it.

Wellington Central and Auckland Central voters were the most in favour of retaining the law with 35.9 percent and 28.84 percent respectively voting to keep the new regulation.

The referendum followed 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.

Those leading the "Vote No" campaign had argued the law had achieved nothing and was not targeting the real causes of child abuse in New Zealand.

The "Vote Yes" advocates wanted the law to be kept, saying fears that innocent parents would be criminalised had not eventuated and that children deserved the same protection against physical harm as adults.

Both Prime Minister John Key and opposition leader Phil Goff have indicated they were comfortable with the law and the referendum would not necessarily change that.

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.

- With CLIO FRANCIS in Auckland and COLIN ESPINER in Australia.

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