Hard News by Russell Brown

362

Compromise

Sometimes the bleeding obvious needs to be stated. And thus it was. The Child Discipline Bill is to gain an amendment making it clear that the police will not be expected to prosecute minor events in family life. This was always going to be the real-world effect of the law, as it has been in every other country where similar laws have been passed.

Would it all have been simpler if such a statement of the bleeding obvious had been included in the bill at a much earlier juncture? My oath it would.

The Prime Minister's office could have thought of it months ago. John Key could have thought of it last week, instead of proposing an amendment that he knew would ride right over the philosophical basis of Sue Braford's bill, which would have been undone by any attempt to define an acceptable level of violence against a child.

Still, at least someone thought of it. So that's another chocolate fish this week. Some people think it's a victory for Key. Others see it as a National u-turn. Interestingly, not only are a good many Kiwiblog commenters venting fury John Key in this trainwreck of a thread, but so are roughly as many of the people moved to write to the Herald's Your Views column. Any concerns the police might have had appear to have been eased.

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn, ever the useful citizen, has written up notes on the speeches from MPs of all parties at last night's reading. Interesting reading.

Confusingly, "Bishop" Brian Tamaki was outside Parliament loudly telling his flock they had won a "glorious victory", but later Simon Barnett was on Close Up condemning the compromise and predicting the falling of the sky.

Perhaps I've missed some comments, but I've been struck by the way that Barnett, who rarely misses a chance to remind us of his parenting credentials, has equally rarely granted that the present law needs changing at all, despite it being absolutely evident that a great many kids suffer much more than the "light smacking" that has become the most overused catchphrase of the whole debate.

Yes, Mr Barnett, we understand that you only ever smack your children briefly, lightly and lovingly, but it would be nice to hear you condemn parents who believe they have a legal and moral right to thrash their kids on a regular basis. The fact that you don't - and instead seem to regard society taking an interest in those homes where those thrashings take place as a much greater evil - makes me think ill of you.

Some pretty weird people have been drawn to the flame of this bill. And that was no doubt in John Key's mind when he made his decision. He'd wound up on the same side as the moral conservatives, the angry and resentful, the fundamentalist Christians who Don Brash was happy to indulge, but who Key hardly wants being the face of his National Party.

But I'm also much inclined to do Key the credit of believing he was doing the right thing. I'm impressed that he was prepared to forgo destructive political advantage. The man whose apparent philosophical emptiness we enjoy pointing out, might just have acted on principle here. Lord knows he probably didn't get this one from a focus group.

It strikes me that I've got what I ask for in my more exasperated political moments. The leaders entrusted with votes by the great bulk of voters in the last election have actually been able to work together rather than fight each other as if the fight was the only thing that mattered. Would a little of the same on monetary policy, housing and exchange rates be out of the question now?

Anyway, I'll serve up a steaming feast of links tomorrow - none of them about smacking - but in the meantime I think I'll conclude with the tardy but eloquent contributions of Paul Litterick on the issue.

He wrote a spirited and thoughtful post that concluded with the plain conclusion of the American Psychological Association:

Until researchers, clinicians, and parents can definitively demonstrate the presence of positive effects of corporal punishment, including effectiveness in halting future misbehaviour, not just the absence of negative effects, we as psychologists can not responsibly recommend its use.

And he followed it up after today's announcement with one that ended this way:

What matters is that it will no longer possible to defend beating your children with a riding crop or similar instrument. What needs to be done now is to create a culture where such barbaric practices will be unthinkable. That may take a little time and a lot of consensus.

PS: Just to completely the change the subject, who'd like a double pass to see Dimmer at the San Francisco Bathhouse tomorrow night? First to reply and tell me Shayne Carter's middle name gets it. Update: It's gone! Danyl wins the prize! The answer is "Peter"!

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