Cablegate: Contentious Legislation and Police Abuse Bring Trying Times

DE RUEHWL #0284/01 1000243
R 100243Z APR 07






E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) These are trying times for PM Clark, despite near universal
kudos for her performance during her March trip to the U.S. Her
Government is fending off widespread public dissent over legislation
to ban the use of physical force to discipline children. Growing
evidence of sexual abuse and corruption by former and current
officers has provoked a storm of concern, even though the Government
has not been criticized directly. Clark still remains in control,
but these issues have created an unprecedented challenge to her
personal popularity from opposition leader John Key, who continues
to gain in political opinion polls. End Summary
Government spanked for trying to regulate smacking
--------------------------------------------- -----
2. (SBU) A bill currently before Parliament which effectively seeks
to outlaw the use of physical force to discipline a child has
ignited fierce debate throughout New Zealand. PM Clark and many
child advocacy groups regard the bill as means to lower the
incidence of child abuse. However, a vast majority of New Zealanders
object to what it sees as a ban on disciplinary smacking (spanking)
that creates an assault on family values and an unwanted intrusion
by the state into family life. A recent poll found that only 18% of
Kiwis support the bill.
3. (SBU) Although the controversial bill is a "members bill"
sponsored by a Green Party MP, the public associates it with PM
Clark and her Government. Prior to the last election, Clark
denounced any attempt to outlaw the use of physical force to
discipline a child. Some analysts suspect that Clark's about face is
tied to a post-election cooperation agreement she made with the
4. (SBU) Desperate to take the heat out the debate, the Government
has tried to speed up the bill's passage through Parliament. Labour
MPs have told us this is so that the public can see that the
legislation will not result in law-abiding parents being sent to
prison. The Parliament only considers members bills only once a
month on average. In its first attempt to speed things up, the
Government tried to push the bill through Parliament "under urgency"
- an extraordinary sitting of Parliament called by the Government in
which bills are rapidly moved through all remaining stages until
completed irrespective of how long it takes. After receiving flak
over the tactic from the public and Labour's support parties (United
Future, NZ First, and the Progressives), the Government pulled back.
It is now contemplating taking outright ownership of the bill by
putting it on the Government legislative program. This will mean it
would become a Government bill allowing for a quicker passage
through Parliament than a members bill. Labour's coalition partner
parties still publicly voice support for the bill, and at present it
has enough support to pass by a thin margin. Yet some of these
support parties (notably Foreign Minister Peter's NZ First) are
split over whether to continue support a bill that is so clearly
against the will of the majority of Kiwis.
5. (SBU) The Government has announced that the next step is a PR
blitz to turn around public attitudes on the bill and mitigate any
further damage it has caused. However, as long as the bill remains
before Parliament, and it is set to do so for a while yet, it will
continue to cause the Government much angst.
Government acts to restore eroding faith in NZ Police
--------------------------------------------- --------
6. (SBU) The New Zealand Police Force is facing a loss of
credibility and public trust following the exposure of instances of
misconduct and abuse of power, mainly of a sexual nature, over the
past 20 years. A recently released Commission of Inquiry,
instigated after a succession of high-profile cases of sexual abuse
and a few cases of high-level cover-ups by former and current police
officers, found a litany of police misconduct. As a result of these
cases and the report findings, which prompted an unprecedented
public mea culpa from the Police Commissioner, public faith in NZ
policing has been eroded. The Government has moved swiftly to
restore faith in the police by promising to implement the
recommendations of the report. PM Clark has publicly urged women to
come forward if they are the victims of police sexual abuse.
Comment: Kiwis warming to John Key as their next PM?
--------------------------------------------- -------
7. (SBU) PM Clark is still firmly in control of her party and
Government, but the anti-smacking bill and police cases appear to be
taking a toll on her popularity. Recent polling to measure who Kiwis
prefer as their PM shows that opposition National Party leader John
Key's popularity has continued to climb steadily at the expense of
PM Clark. Since Clark became PM in 1999, there has always been
daylight between her and the next person in preferred PM polling.
However, the latest Colmar Brunton and 3 News/TNS polls show that
although Clark still remains the top choice the gap between her and
Key is now close to within the margin of error (between 3 and 8
percent). The Government's missteps seem to have played into Key's
efforts to portray Labour as tired and out of touch. Key's efforts
to court moderate, urban liberals - traditionally Labour supporters
- may also be beginning to reap dividends. While Clark's successful
Washington trip in March received widespread and positive media

WELLINGTON 00000284 002 OF 002

play, it does not appear to have outweighed public dissatisfaction
with the controversies that surround her. End Comment

© Scoop Media

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