The main problem with the process in its local implementation is that there's no check on whether the question being asked actually makes sense. Never mind whether it's based on an honest premise or not. As far as I know, all that is required is that it be answerable by "yes" or "no". So, this month's question has been framed as a very motherland-and-apple-pie type question; but, behind the words, there's a level of dishonesty about the campaign that's breathtaking, even for a local politician.
The actual question being asked is "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand". Sounds a reasonable question, doesn't it? There's never been any sort of groundswell to make smacking illegal in this country. However, what most sane people would call "smacking" isn't what's under discussion here.
First, and to make this abundantly clear, smacking is not a criminal offence in New Zealand. Nobody has ever been able to point to anyone having been convicted of a criminal offence for smacking a child (in the normal sense of the word). However, what the main voices behind this campaign call "smacking", most sane people would call "child abuse". The issue at hand is that, until about two years ago, people were using Section 59 of the Crimes Act to get off charges of child abuse by using a defence of "reasonable force". "Reasonable force", in this case, included the actual incidents referred to in this cartoon:
For example, the reference in the cartoon to "horse whips" is a reference to a case commonly known as the "Timaru Lady" case, where someone from Timaru or thereabouts was acquitted on a charge of doing just that, using Section 59 as a defence. (Some time later, the same "Timaru Lady" was jailed on further child abuse charges. It is anyone's guess as to whether a conviction on the first charge would have scared her away from subsequent episodes of abuse). (Additionally, while I have seen a name given in some reports of that case, I am still unsure whether the name was given out in breach of any suppression order, as it is not a name that is well known to the public.)
After that case, and with other cases still in recent memory, Parliament repealed that section of the Crimes Act.
Subsequently there has been shrill opposition from this repeal, mainly from groups such as Family First (quite often referred to as "Family Fist", as in the cartoon above; a reflection of the cause they choose to promote over other causes which sane people might consider more appropriate). They have constantly referred to the repeal of Section 59 as an "anti-smacking" law, despite the fact that no such thing exists.
(And, yes, there has in recent months been an apparent lawyer doing the rounds of blogs in New Zealand trying to construct a logical case to demonstrate that there is an "anti-smacking law" in New Zealand. He's entitled to do so. He isn't right, though. There's nothing wrong with lawyers arguing that wrong is right - it's all part of the judicial process testing their data until they're sure that wrong is wrong. However, while it's important that lawyers do this, in the same way that it's important that plumbers spend some of their working life walking around in shit; both groups of people, if they insist in walking around in shit, either real or metaphorical, in their own time, will find themselves without invitations to dinner parties).
On 17th June, 2009, one of the main voices in support of the "no" vote, one Larry Baldock, was interviewed by Sean Plunket on Morning Report. Asked to provide any example of a parent being prosecuted for "smacking" a child, he was completely unable to do so. Eventually, in desperation, he gave out a name: Jimmy Mason.
Mason had not been convicted for "smacking". He was convicted, by a jury, of assault, after a member of the public had witnessed him administering a closed-fist punch in the face to a four year old child in public; and, when confronted on that subject by a police officer, admitted that assault and said something along the lines of "that's what I do".
What it all boils down to is that a certain sector of New Zealand society - that sector that is of most danger to the children around them - think that this referendum, instead of being a referendum on a hypothetical smacking ban, is a referendum on the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act. At worst, the referendum is a deliberate attempt to divert attention from the very real problem of child abuse.
So that's why I won't be voting "no" to this nonsense. Because I don't think that thugs like Jimmy Mason, or the "Timaru Lady", should be able to escape the consequences of their abuse of vulnerable children.