Section 59: How did the politics get so murky?
Posted on 06:00, January 20th, 2009 by Anita
By early 2005 section 59′s days were clearly numbered. The campaign to remove it had been going over 25 years, the big family service provision organisations were backing the campaign, as were the big churches, MPs from both National and NZ First had put forward measures to repeal or limit, the government had been running a publicity campaign against physical discipline for a number of years with the intention of repeal once more change in behaviour had occurred, and the judiciary had been gradually limiting the scope of the existing section.
The final vote to replace section 59 was won 113 votes to eight. A simple clean story on paper.
The reality was very different, sometime after the 9th of June 2005 the political wheels fell off; section 59 was replaced, but the cost was huge.
I could (and will :) write a lot about the social forces, but today this is about the political forces. How and why did the politics become so ugly? I have a handful of theories, I’m sure there are other possibilities:
- It was a Green bill – that made it easier to paint as extremist.
- Labour dithered – which made it appear that this was an area of potential weakness
- National has been building links to conservative Christian churches – for example Brash spoke to a large conservative congregation (with no media present) in July 2005 about “values” and “morals” and pledged National would fight the bill.
- The “Nanny State” meme – it was an incredibly well developed attack theme against the Labour led government, and had been successful against similar governments overseas, and this issue fit perfectly.
- Cynicism – I already noted that a National MP had tried to limit s59 (Bob Simcock way back in 2001) and National voted unanimously for the bill’s third reading. But it proved such a good stick to beat Labour with, perhaps for a while their principles were traded against a chance at the cabinet benches.
- Poor communications strategies by both the Greens and Labour – something went badly wrong here, there was no comms, then too much inconsistency, and little co-ordination between the Greens and Labour. [Thanks Danyl for reminding me, I've updated this now :]