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Minister Spoke To Christine Rankin About Investigate Article

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Christine Rankin
Christine Rankin

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, June 23 NZPA - Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has spoken to families commissioner Christine Rankin about an interview she gave criticising the so-called anti-smacking law.

When Ms Rankin was recently appointed a commissioner Prime Minister John Key said should not campaign against the law as the commission's position was to support it.

Ms Bennett said she reiterated that position when she spoke to Ms Rankin.

In the interview with Investigate magazine Ms Rankin speaks strongly against the 2007 law change, which removed the defence of reasonable force in child abuse cases.

The magazine hit shops as a campaign by opponents of the law urging voters to vote "No" to the question "should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" was launched yesterday.

Ms Rankin did not attend the launch despite earlier being listed as appearing. Organisers said her inclusion was an error.

Prime Minister John Key said Ms Rankin had not crossed the line into campaigning.

Ms Bennett said she reiterated the Government's position to Ms Rankin.

"She certainly been made very clear that we don't expect her to be actively campaigning on the no vote," she told reporters.

Ms Bennett said the interview was Ms Rankin's personal opinion.

"I think it's pretty clear that Christine Rankin was speaking as Christine Rankin and not as families commissioner and in that case I thought it was quite acceptable."

Ms Rankin was entitled to her own opinion, she said.

"I think that when she's speaking as a families commissioner then she is with them on what they are doing but I think that she's entitled to her view as long as she's not actively campaigning against the commission, and what they believe, she is allowed to put a view forward."

Asked what actively campaigning was, Ms Bennett said Ms Rankin should follow the commission's rules and policies.

In the interview Ms Rankin said the law change was traumatic for families and had had a "huge" psychological effect on New Zealanders.

"I think parents are afraid of how to discipline their children now."

She said parents were being reported to police for incidents such as grabbing a child's arm. Damage was done even if charges were not laid.

Agencies failed to get involved in cases of serious abuse while minor smacks were followed up, she said.

On child abuse, Ms Rankin said sentencing was pathetic.

"You abuse a baby but you can go on and have other babies and they'll stay in your care and CYF (Child Youth and Family) will watch and see what happens."

She also questioned whether conditions should be put on benefits.

Green Party MP Sue Bradford said Mr Key should sack Ms Rankin before she caused the government or the commission any more embarrassment.

United leader Peter Dunne, who was responsible for the Families Commission being set up as part of a post-2002 election deal with Labour, said Ms Rankin was pushing a view in opposition to the commission.

He said she should stand down. If she did not, then Mr Key should act, Mr Dunne said.

"I would have thought that the Prime Minister's view was very clear previously about what his expectations were and I think he now needs to honour those....He's got to live up to the statements he made previously."

Mr Dunne said the comments in Investigate would be interpreted as campaigning for a particular side of the referendum.

Ms Bradford agreed.

"It's (media interviews are) certainly part of what you do when you are campaigning," she told NZPA.

"It's certainly supporting the vote no campaign... I think that the best course of action that John Key could take now would be to dismiss her as a families commissioner. That's the only clean and clear course of action the government could."

Mr Key yesterday said he was relaxed about the article.

"I made it clear though that I wouldn't want to see her campaigning on the no vote and I think she's honoured that, she wasn't there today at the (launch)."

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