Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Things that are Not OK

Well, John Key has replied to the Great Smacking Referendum. He's been on every TV news programme this week, promising to "review the working of the law" (not the law itself, you'll note) and make sure that parents aren't being prosecuted for minor slaps delivered to their children. We should all be reassured, he reassures us, that the law will not be allowed to run amok.

Clearly, he's hoping to ride the whole thing out until we all get bored. I do hope he doesn't get away with it.

The referendum question, for all its many faults, was very clear on one thing: this action, whatever it is, "should [not] be a criminal offence". It's not just about being prosecuted: it's about being a criminal.

On my first visit here, in 2001, I drove most of the length of the North Island, from Auckland to Wellington. It's a long drive, involving great stretches of open road with few other cars in sight, where the speed limit is 100 km/h (a shade over 60mph). The road is single-carriageway, but it's reasonably straight and well maintained, and I fully expected to see people barrelling along it at 120 km/h or more; but I didn't.

Not once.

Kiwis, I concluded, tend to respect the speed limit even when there's no obvious reason for it.

That's not a universal trait by any means - we've got our share of lunatic petrol-heads here in Auckland, and every other major town as far as I can tell - but it's a lot more common here than it is in some places I've driven.

And so it is with smacking. What the prime minister wants parents to swallow is: "You will be criminals, but we promise not to prosecute you.".

The pro-smackers, however, are having none of this. And they're right.

For a government to criminalise a large segment of its population is bad enough. To declare that it will neither enforce nor repeal a law that it helped to put in place is truly disgusting.

As usual, I voted with the minority in the referendum. But I agree with the majority on this. It's not about keeping parents out of jail, and it's not about protecting kids - no law can do that, what we need is properly resourced education and social services. No, it's about honesty. Writing a law with no intention to enforce it - is dishonest.

And it's not OK.

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