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Cabinet Agrees To Ensure Smacking Parents Not Criminalised

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
John Key
John Key

Wellington, Aug 24 NZPA - Changes to the way welfare officers handle complaints about light smacking are likely, Prime Minister John Key said today.

Cabinet today considered Friday's resounding referendum victory for opponents of the 2007 child discipline law change.

Mr Key said the message was that parents were concerned about being treated like criminals by police and Child, Youth and Family (CYF) officials for inconsequential smacking for the purposes of correction.

"I am not going to allow that to happen to them and if the law shows through its application that New Zealand parents are criminalised, or their children are taken off them in some bizarre case for what could only be described as minor or inconsequential smacking, then the law has to be changed," Mr Key said.

But he said the facts showed that people were not being prosecuted, and he wanted to find ways to reassure parents it would not start happening.

Cabinet had agreed to ask police and CYF to review their procedures to ensure good parents were not treated like criminals for light smacking.

An independent person would assist in the review, which would be completed by December.

A report on the effects of the law would be brought forward from the end of the year to late September/early October and police would continue with their ongoing reviews of the law.

Mr Key said looking at the policies of referrals between police and CYF would make sure they were operating as intended by Parliament.

New police operational guidelines had been, but this hadn't been in done in the case of CYF.

"It is my view you will see change to policies and procedures," Mr Key said.

This could mean formalising or raising thresholds for investigations and what complaints were followed up.

Statistics showed there had been 33 complaints in what could be regarded as light or inconsequential smacking and no prosecutions, compared to 83,000 about domestic or family violence.

Mr Key said CYF faced a tough balancing job as the department often came in for criticism for not following up enough on child abuse cases.

He did not believe his actions today would satisfy all of the supporters of the referendum, but was doing everything in his power short of changing the law.

Changing the law was not an easy process and it would threaten to dominate politics when there were bigger issues to deal with, such as the economy and protecting people's jobs.

"In my view it would consume and potentially derail Parliament over the next 12 to 18 months. It would be major a issue that Parliament would have to consider," he said.

"Right now the loudest voice is the no camp, but if there was a proposed law change you might find that changes very dramatically."

The measures were unlikely to placate those who supported the right to smack, and who wanted the law changed to explicitly allow light smacking.

The referendum was organised after Green MP Sue Bradford's member's bill was passed in 2007. That law change amended the Crimes Act to remove the defence of reasonable force when an adult was charged with assaulting a child.

Ms Bradford said she congratulated Mr Key for resisting pressure from those who wanted to "re-legalise assault" on children.

Time was needed to allow the law to bed in.

"Steps to increase people's comfort with, and understanding of the law -- while keeping the law intact -- are an appropriate response to the referendum result," Ms Bradford said.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad would happily provide further reviews and he believed police were doing a good job in enforcing the law.

The latest review released today showed that over two years, police had prosecuted one charge that could be considered smacking, but withdrawn the charge.

There had been 13 other cases of smacking with aggravating circumstances which had been prosecuted with minor or no sentences handed down.

Family First director Bob McCoskrie, which backed the no vote in the referendum, said MPs had today been flooded with messages calling for a law change.

"The referendum wasn't about recommendations, guidelines or comfort -- it was about a law change," Mr McCoskrie said.

Preliminary results of the smacking referendum found 87.6 percent of those who voted ticked no to the question: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

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