In 1986, according to some, New Zealand faced the end of Civilisation As We Know It.
The Homosexual Law Reform Bill was before Parliament, and opposition to reform was loud and active, by (some) christians; (some) conservatives, and homophobes in general. Society in New Zealand was in imminent danger of ‘collapse’, and the “Coalition of Concerned Citizens” mounted a petition against the Bill.
It was presented to the House on 24 September 1985,
Twenty six years later, and we’re still here. Civilisation survives! Hurrah!
Fast forward to the year 2007AD: by an overwhelming majority, Parliament had just passed the “Crimes (Substitution s59) Amendment Act 2007″ – the so-called “anti-smacking” Bill.
“Section 59 of the Crimes Act provided a statutory defence for every parent of a child and every person in place of the parent of a child to use force by way of correction towards the child, if the force used was reasonable in the circumstances. The purpose of the Amendment Act is to amend the Crimes Act to make better provision for children to live in a safe and secure environment free from violence by abolishing the use of parental force for the purpose of correction.” Source
In effect, the amendment of Section 59-Defence denied parents and guardians of children the statutory defence of correction, if they physically abused their children. Contrary to popular mis-conception (and promoted by various conservative organisations, politicians, and lazt media), the repeal of Section 59-Defence was not a blanket, 100% ban on the use of physical punishment on children.
As this Police press release explained, in June 2007,
“New Section 59
Section 59 states:
“(1) Every parent of a child and every person in the place of a parent of the child is justified in using force if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances and is for the purpose of –
(a) preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or
(b) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or
(c) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or
(d) performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.
(3) Subsection (2) prevails over subsection (1).
(4) To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child or person in the place of a parent of a child in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child, where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.” ” Ibid
Once again, conservative elements in society, along with (some) fundamentalist religious groups; right-wing “Think Tanks” and pressure-groups; and the ACT Party, predicted the demise of New Zealand society.
For example, in their submission to the Justice Select Committee, the Maxim Institute stated,
“In addition, Maxim Institute submits that the Bill will have far-reaching and
negative consequences (many unintended), including damage to the family unit, the
creation of unworkable law, undue interference in the parent/child relationship, an
undemocratic transfer of decision-making power to the police and the criminalising
of the vast majority of parents.” Source
“…damage to the family unit…”
“…an undemocratic transfer of decision-making power to the police …”
“…criminalising of the vast majority of parents…”
Has it happened? Has society collapsed around our ears? This recent report in the “Dominion Post” may answer that question, and address the Maxim Institute’s concerns,
So in four years, we’ve had the following results,
“Police have laid charges against a person for smacking a child, making them the fifth to be prosecuted since the anti-smacking law came into effect four years ago…
…Police investigated 18 acts of “smacking” and 58 “minor acts of physical discipline” during the review period.
Eight people who were investigated for “minor acts” were charged with Assault Child (manually) and one woman was charged with Other Assault on Child (Under 14 Years).
These cases involved six fathers, two mothers and one grandmother slapping their relatives across the face or on the head.
One man received nine months supervision for slapping his son on the face three times with his open palm after his son told him he didn’t want to go to school.
The others were awaiting sentencing, had their charges dropped due to lack of evidence, were discharged without conviction or successfully defended the charge.” Ibid
Hardly “an undemocratic transfer of decision-making power to the police” or “criminalising vast majority of parents”.
If we are witnessing “damage to the family unit”, one could point to high unemployment and easy availability of cheap liquor which would be morely to be prime factors in dysfunctional families. After all, we’ve had dysfunctional families for much longer than the repeal of Section 59-Defence.
Strident critics of the repeal of Section 59-Defence point to the continuing numbers of child abuse in New Zealand as some kind of “evidence” that the Act does not work. They ignore the reality that laws are never designed to physically prevent criminal and anti-social behaviour – they are intended as sanctions – punishment – should one transgress. Otherwise, why have laws against murder, rape, burglaries, etc?
From 2008 to 2010, there were 163 murders; 8,471 sexual assaults; and 873 cases of abduction/kidnapping. Source. Does this mean that laws against murder, sexual assaults, and abduction/kidnapping do not work and should be rescinded? (The Sensible Sentencing Trust might have something to say about such a proposal.)
As with the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform Act, civilisation has not collapsed after the repeal of Section 59-Defence. New Zealand society continues to function and – as our Prime Minister is fond of saying – is “muddling along”.
Something to remember the next time New Zealand is faced with socially-progressive legislation.
Society does not break down into anarchy and chaos every time social reforms are undertaken. After all, women won the right to vote in New Zealand on 19 September 1893.
I haven’t noticed Civilisation collapsing.
For a better New Zealand…
~ Cleaner rivers
~ No deep-sea oil drilling
~ Less on Roads - more on Rail
~ A Living wage at $19.25/hr
~ Marriage equality - Yay! Got that one!
~ Strong, effective Unions
~ No secret free-trade deals
~ Breakfast/lunches in our schools
~ Introducing Civics into our school curriculum
~ Cut back on the liquor industry
~ A fairer, progressive tax system
~ Fully funded, free healthcare
~ Ditto for education, including Tertiary
~ Fund Pharmac for Pompe's Disease medication & other 'orphan' drugs
~ No state asset sales!
~ Rebuild public TV broadcasting!
~ Keeping farms in local ownership
~ Reduce poverty, like we reduced the toll for road-fatalities
~ Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!
~ Being nice to each other
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