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Jim Anderton Speech On "Anti Smacking" Bill

Madame Speaker,

I know parents don't want the state intruding into their homes. But we do it every day to protect people; we do it when we protect Mum from being hit by Dad. We do it when we set limits on the use of violence against children; the change I want to see is to set the limit at zero. That is no more of an intrusion in the home than we already make.

Someone in my electorate has been sending out a letter comparing my support for this bill to the Nazi state as an example of intrusion into the home.
That is the hysterical extent people will go to defend their right to hit children. Well they could not have picked a less favourable example for their cause.

The root of Nazism and all hatred is the use of violence and bullying by one group of people who feel they have a moral claim higher than those of others.
Without violence, hatred cannot flourish. And that is a strong reason why we should strip violence out of homes.

I want to address the people who have turned to scripture and recite misplaced lines such as 'spare the rod, spoil the child.' I caution anyone about trying to set the quality of their faith above that of others.

The message in scripture is not literal, it is much more powerful, more eternal, more meaningful and more encompassing. The message is that humans should love one another. Violence is not loving, and can never be loving. I am not in the practice of reciting articles of faith in this House; but anyone who seeks to invoke the name or teachings of Jesus in the cause of beating children has not understood his message.

Time and again in recent years I have come to this chamber and asked the House to protect our young people. Time and again I have heard this House mouth platitudes about the importance of protecting our young and then declining the opportunity when they were presented with it.

Time and again this House has exposed young New Zealanders to risks we know will harm them. Now we are being asked again. Now we are once more deciding whether this House will stand up for young people and protect those we can.

We are being asked to stop violence against children. We are being asked to send a message that our children should not be hit or brutalised. And there is no room for equivocation here. I will vote for the amended bill because it is the best way to ensure we make some progress. But I want to say I would support a straight repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act.

This House should be sending the strongest and clearest message that we won't condone physical violence against children. Repealing Section 59 would send the strongest possible message that it is not okay to hit or beat children.

I believe in the persuasive power of this House. I believe changing the law can help to change anti-social attitudes. I believed that when I voted for homosexual law reform in the eighties. And the supporters of that initiative were right; our social attitudes changed.

I believed it when we passed the anti-nuclear legislation and made our proud moral stance a cause which all New Zealanders could be proud of. And I believe we have a responsibility to lead public attitudes now.

Leadership is something this House has a poor record when it comes to protecting our young. This House declined to show leadership over the drinking age when members knew the very young have very easy access to alcohol and the results are causing mayhem. This House refused to show leadership when it made prostitution a career option for young people. This House is again failing in its duty to show leadership because this Bill has been watered down and still allows children to be hit.

It is against the law for Dad to hit Mum. Why is it not against the law for Dad to hit the kids? There is no 'reasonable force' defence for Dad hitting Mum. Why should there be a reasonable force defence for hitting children, who arguably have even less ability to defend themselves? It's One Law For All!

I support one law for all: One law that says - no hitting. Loving parents will still be able to change their children's nappies when they're struggling against them. They will still be able to stop their kids from running out onto the road. They will not be able to beat their children with a stick, or with their belts, or with their fists.

Our community used to tolerate men hitting women. Attitudes, thankfully, have changed. But our community still tolerates adults hitting children. It is time for that attitude to change too. The law has never supported the use of violence between adults. It's time for violence to be removed from the home altogether. It's time to send a message that physical discipline of children is unacceptable.

I believe New Zealand has one of the best records in the world in respecting international conventions. When the world looks around at the most humane, most lawful, most civilised countries in the world, I want to stand up proudly and say: Our law is faultless. But our treatment of children is a glaring scar on us. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international standard setting out the way we should treat our children. And until Section 59 of the Crimes Act is repealed, we will not comply with it.

International law and international conventions are a friend to New Zealand. They are the only tool we have to repel bullying and might-is-right; If we want to thrive as a small, proud, independent and sovereign country then we need to respect international law and conventions with every tool we have. So our breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child tears at the fabric of our respect for international law.

Just as an assault against one of us, adult or child, is an assault against all of us - which is why we prosecute as a society and don't leave remedies to civil courts any more - so too a breach of the convention is an assault against all the authority of international conventions we ask others to respect. I want us to raise healthy adults. And they are raised in a culture of respect, care and protection for our young.

Time and again this House has declined the opportunity to step in to protect our young when we could. And I say do not let them down once again. Do not send a message that violence and physical discipline against children is okay.

I am disappointed we are not going to pass the whole repeal of Section 59 today, but I believe the amendment makes significant progress and I will support it for that reason.


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