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Child Discipline Law Opponents Gain Referendum Victory

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, Aug 21 NZPA - Almost 90 percent of people who participated in a referendum asking New Zealanders whether smacking should be illegal have voted no, preliminary results show.

Family First is urging the government to respect public opinion and act on the result while others argue that the question was confusing and some people who voted no may have thought they were supporting the status quo.

The $9 million referendum asked: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

Voter turnout on the initial results was 54 percent. There were just over 1.6 million votes cast.

In the last general election 2.3 million people voted -- representing 79.46 percent of registered voters.

The no camp recorded an impressive result of over 1.4 million, or 87.6 percent, in the preliminary count, while the yes camp was under 200,000 or 11.81 percent.

The final result will be declared on Tuesday.

The referendum by organised by opponents of a law change sparked by Green MP Sue Bradford's member's bill in 2007. That bill resulted in an amendment to the Crimes Act which made it illegal for parents to use force against children for correction but also allowed police the discretion not to prosecute inconsequential cases.

The referendum result is not binding on the Government but Family First director Bob McCoskrie said the government should act immediately to amend the law to allow light smacking and for a royal commission of inquiry into child abuse to be set up.

"(Prime Minister) John Key cannot ignore this result," Mr McCoskrie said.

"The attempt by politicians to dismiss the referendum as `ambiguous' and irrelevant has also been rebuked by the voters."

Those who voted no were not seeking a right to assault or beat children, he said.

"They are simply kiwis who want to tackle the tougher issues of family breakdown, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, violence in our media, poverty and stress, and weak family ties."

Yes vote coalition spokeswoman Deborah Morris-Travers told NZPA the group was unsurprised by the result.

"We always expected it would go in favour of the no vote because of the way that the question was phrased -- it was loaded and misleading, suggesting first of all that hitting children was part of good parenting practice and secondly suggesting that good parents are being criminalised when in fact they are not."

Police statistics showed only serious cases were pursued and parents who lightly smacked their children were left alone, she said.

Research showed more and more parents resisted smacking, she said.

"But there is still a lot misinformation about the law and how it's working."

She said the relatively low turn out showed for a lot of New Zealanders the referendum was irrelevant.

Mr McCoskrie argued it was still a substantial sample.

"A 54 percent response rate in the referendum is still significant especially when compared to just 47 percent voting in the recent Mt Albert by-election, an average of just over 40 percent voting in the recent local body elections for their mayors and city councils, and a 55 percent response rate which changed our whole voting system to MMP."

This morning Ms Bradford said not too much should be read into the result.

"I would have a much greater respect for the referendum result if it was based on a clearer question," she said.

"The `Yes' vote is a vote for keeping the law as it is, providing children with the same legal protection from violence as adults.

"Even a large `No' vote tonight won't be a clear mandate to the Government to act in any particular way," she said.

Ms Morris-Travers said the law was to be reviewed later in the year.

"That review will provide parliamentarians and all New Zealanders with a more accurate view of how the law is actually working."

She did not think there would be "a mad rush" to amend the law.

Mr Key has consistently said the law is working in the way that it was intended to, and he would not change it unless it stopped working.

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