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Copeland speech on anti-smacking Bill

Media statement
For immediate release
Thursday, 22 February 2007

Copeland speech on anti-smacking Bill

Following is the Hansard record of United Future MP, Gordon Copeland, in the second reading debate on Sue Bradford's anti-smacking Bill.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007 5:35 PM


Second Reading

GORDON COPELAND (United Future): This will be a conscience vote for United Future. I will be voting against the Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill*. But, should the bill pass the second reading, I will be voting for the amendment, which will replace the current wording of the bill with the alternative—and, in my view, the much superior alternative—that has been suggested by the Law Commission.

The bill as it stands, in my view, is gravely flawed. I say that because of my deep conviction that the right and the responsibility to train and discipline children belongs to parents. The role of the State should be limited to ensuring, for the common good, the safety of New Zealand children. But subject to that overriding criterion, the choice of which particular means parents use to discipline their children belongs to them, and to them alone.

This bill, in my judgment, is, therefore, a gross intrusion by the State into an area that goes way beyond its confidence and responsibility. That is why some people have labelled this bill the “Home Invasion Bill”. The State does not belong there. It would be inconceivable, for example, for this House to be passing a bill saying that all New Zealand parents must smack their children. It would not get past first base.

If that is the case, by what logic could Parliament decide that it should intervene in the child-parent relationship to outlaw a simple smack with the hand—which is all that is proposed in Chester Borrows’ amendment - in the context of loving child discipline? It is my conviction that love and discipline go together; they are two sides of the same coin. That has always been the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

Indeed, the scriptures are quite clear on the matter. They say that parents who do not discipline their child do not actually love that child. They scriptures go on to say “that of course any punishment is most painful at the time and far from pleasant, but later it bears fruit in peace and goodness in those on whom it has been used.”

This is backed up with the extensive research—including some in New Zealand—and the life experience of millions of people, who as children were smacked, within the context of a loving family environment, and grew up to be good and peaceful adults. I am one of those people.

Of course, the beating or the thrashing of a child in anger is a totally different matter. That is exactly the point. There is a dichotomy between a smack, in the context of loving discipline, on the one hand, and the beating or thrashing of a child in anger, on the other. The first should be lawful; the second is already—and should remain—unlawful. That is actually pretty simple, is it not? So why is there so much confusion? The Judaeo-Christian tradition and the Greek philosophical tradition, through people such as Aristotle, has held for millennia that children are not born virtuous; that they are designed to be trained to be virtuous.

With training and discipline they will become virtuous, because of the satisfaction that virtue itself yields in the life of an individual. That is the Western tradition. But, as some members may know, the 18th century French author Rousseau* began a reversal of that view, in relation to child discipline. He wrote an essay backwards. In his essay children were born into a wonderful Garden of Eden—literally a kindergarten—virtuous, loving, and kind from the moment they were born. It was the corrupting influence of their parents and society that then robbed them of that original state, and converted them into aggressive, angry, and nasty adults.

That thought has since penetrated deeply into Western society—and tonight’s bill, as drafted, reflects exactly that philosophical position. However, the truth is that Rousseau wrote that essay as a joke. The tragedy is that so many people in the Western World*—including some educationalists—have never got the joke, but have instead decided that his essay sets forward the truth. He never intended that. Indeed, believing that to be the truth, people are unwittingly believing a lie.

Let us move on to Dr Benjamin Spock*. His book **Baby and Child Care became the best selling book of the latter part of the 20th century. It was a great book, of huge help to countless millions of parents—including my wife and me. However, we disagreed with Spock on one point, and that was in relation to smacking. Spock opposed smacking, and millions believed him.

But it is true that Spock publicly apologised later in life, and freely admitted that he had got that particular part of his book completely wrong—something that he deeply regretted - admitting that, with the best of intentions, he had simply had a direct role in the raising of a generation of spoiled brats.

This bill is opposed by around 80 percent of New Zealand parents. It breaches the principle of subsidiarity: that political power should be devolved to the level where it coincides with responsibility. When it comes to child discipline, as I have already stated, that power belongs exclusively to parents.
We must not—and we dare not—step over that boundary. In the future, when a parent at his or her wits’ end decides to resort to a smack, and then remembers that it is now unlawful and will make them a criminal—because we are talking about the Crimes Act here—I suggest they ring a member of this Parliament and tell them to come and sort out the situation.

Parents have the responsibility at the time to take some action. It is their responsibility and we should encourage, empower, and support them in that role. That is why I will support the amendment that is to be proposed at the Committee stage by Chester Borrows, so that a smack using the hand only, and provided it results in no more than trifling and transitory injury, will remain lawful in the context of the discipline of a child by his or her parents. Implements of all any sort—wooden spoons and rulers, etc.—are outlawed under that sensible drafting by the *Law Commission.

I have no doubt that that is the right position, but I will go further. It is of fundamental importance that as a Parliament we clearly signal to the parents of New Zealand that they have the sole responsibility to discipline, train, and raise their children to be good citizens of New Zealand. They should do so with confidence, secure in the knowledge that in the complex circumstances whereby a child of theirs is throwing a fit and being disobedient and violent, etc., they can smack that child as one of their disciplinary tools. It is not compulsory; it is an option, that is all. No one is saying that people should necessarily smack their children.

But in those situations, in their judgment, we should have the confidence to say to them that they can use a light smack in those circumstances on their children. We should not even go near the point where we are going with this bill. I hear so many parents saying on *talkback radio: “Parliament is undermining my confidence. I no longer know whether or not I am allowed to smack my children. Furthermore, I am dead scared of the consequences from both *Child, Youth and Family Services and the police.” That is not the kind of nation we want, where parents live in fear. We want to instil confidence in them. We want to train them.

United Future is for every form of parental education going. We would like to see massive resources being put into it. We would like to see every parent in the country properly trained to be a good parent. But we must not overstep the mark. We must build confidence in them. *Norman Kirk would turn in his grave if knew that the Labour Party is supporting this bill, because he was very strong on that point. It is not experts who raise children. It is not teachers or social workers; it is parents, and we should be totally on their side—100 percent, without fear or favour.

I say that if misguided members of this Parliament are prepared to brand New Zealand parents criminals when they smack a child who in their judgment deserves it because of the circumstances—in the context of love, not anger—with the view of producing good citizens in this country, then we have failed them. If we brand those parents as criminals then we have failed them—and failed them badly. Thank you.


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