Meaningful referenda

datePosted on 06:00, February 5th, 2009 by Anita

Later this year we will have the opportunity to vote on a referendum asking:

Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in NZ?

There are two pretty serious problems with the question. Firstly, it has rolled two ideas together but we only have one vote. What say I believe one should not criminalise good parenting (“No” to the explicit question) but I believe that smacking is not good parenting and should be criminalised (“Yes” to the implicit question)?

Secondly, if the referenda succeeds what should the government do? The referenda is intended to be about repealing the current section 59 and replacing it with an explicit permission to use physical discipline for correction, but that’s not what it says. The government would be entirely justified in saying that the law as it stands is not criminalising good parents.

So we have a question that is not straightforward to answer and which doesn’t actually say what it wants.

I believe we should change the process for setting the question for referenda so that they are clear simple questions which provide an unambiguous direction to government. This probably means groups providing a description of the issue as well as possible questions if they wish then the Office of the Clerk getting the possible questions checked or new questions drafted so that the group can be given a choice of questions which are simple, clear and directive.

12 Responses to “Meaningful referenda”

  1. BeShakey on February 5th, 2009 at 08:29

    The law as it stands does a fairly similar thing (although it clearly isn’t working). This is from the Ministry of Justice’s website:

    Stage 2 – Question and Petition Form Approval

    If all the steps in stage 1 are correctly carried out, the Clerk advertises the proposed question in the Gazette and major daily newspapers. The public then has at least 28 days to make written comments to the Clerk on the wording of the proposed question.

    The Clerk will determine the wording of the question to be asked in the petition by:

    * considering your written proposal
    * considering the public’s comments
    * considering any other relevant matters
    * consulting you and other people.

    The Clerk has three months to determine the wording of the question. The wording of the question needs to:

    * show clearly the referendum’s purpose and effect
    * ensure that only one of two answers can be given to the question (for example, yes or no).

    Arguably the purpose of the referendum and it’s effect are not clear. More importantly, it seem the yes/no provision is being interpreted in a fairly loose way. I don’t see any reason why the Office of the Clerk couldn’t have required this question to be more along the lines you’ve suggested. What might be more useful is if the referendums actually contained the change being proposed (eg either “repeal XXX”, which would be straightforward, or replace/add “XXXXXXX” to…”). Then the debate could be about the effect of the proposed change. It would also mean that parliament had a pretty clear idea of what implementing the changes would require.

  2. Graeme Edgeler on February 5th, 2009 at 08:36

    Secondly, if the referenda succeeds what should the government do?

    They could amend section 59 of the Crimes Act to read:

    A smack as part of good parental correcting is not an offence.

  3. BeShakey on February 5th, 2009 at 09:30

    They could amend section 59 of the Crimes Act to read:

    A smack as part of good parental correcting is not an offence.

    Which would then leave it up to the police (and then the courts) to decide what good parental correction entails. I suspect that would be a result that all sides would consider unacceptable.

  4. Anita on February 5th, 2009 at 09:48

    BeShakey writes,

    Which would then leave it up to the police (and then the courts) to decide what good parental correction entails. I suspect that would be a result that all sides would consider unacceptable.

    Even the groups that opposed Bradford’s bill thought that the existing s59 was too unclear. I think everyone wants clarity – we just don’t agree on what should be clear.

  5. Ari on February 5th, 2009 at 10:17

    I was pretty surprised (and annoyed) that this question got through too- it seems like it does not meet the criteria and would give no mandate for government action.

  6. BeShakey on February 5th, 2009 at 10:42

    I was pretty surprised (and annoyed) that this question got through too- it seems like it does not meet the criteria and would give no mandate for government action.

    I suspect the problem may be systemic, given the notorious problems with the 1999 referendum. The rules seems clear enough, and could be applied in a way that avoids all these issues. I think its most likely the case that the application of the rules is at fault. Given that the current system makes it easy for politicians to claim that they have responded to a referendum result without actually doing anyting there isn’t much incentive for them to fix it.

  7. Anita on February 5th, 2009 at 10:53

    Ari writes,

    I was pretty surprised (and annoyed) that this question got through too- it seems like it does not meet the criteria and would give no mandate for government action.

    My grapevine understanding is that there was an argument put forward by another agency against that phrasing during the decisionmaking period. I’m having difficulties confirming that so didn’t want to put it in my post.

    Hopefully I will be able to dig up some info about what was suggested and why nothing was done about it, but my substantive point is that the criteria should be simple unambiguous questions and directive outcomes.

  8. jcuknz on February 5th, 2009 at 14:20

    Reading the text of this ref suggests to me that refs are designed to confuse the public and a case of divide and conquor … each side can take what they want from it, and nobody knows how to vote, as Anita’s dilema. As did the earlier one which encouraged/aparently edorsed the heavy hand on crims. A pretty senseless activity legitimising revenge rather than trying correct the unsocialable.

    Having during my childhood been on the receiving end of both good and bad smacking I am all for smacking as quite an efficient way of making known to the receiver that what they were doing is unacceptable. I wish more parents were able to control their children when out in supermarkets et al.
    But with memory of some pretty pointless punishments, “for the good of the others”. Fortnightly tests resulted in me being either bottom or next bottom of class, quite ignoring that I had spent considerable time in school hospital without any tuition. Getting away from that place I was only caned twice, twice once, accepting that punishment was better than upsetting a nice scam I was operating on my parent :-)

    So I am all for discipline but fully against abuse. The foolish repeal of section 59 did no good at all.

  9. Graeme Edgeler on February 5th, 2009 at 17:01

    Which would then leave it up to the police (and then the courts) to decide what good parental correction entails. I suspect that would be a result that all sides would consider unacceptable.

    What good parental correction entailed, yes, but the law would not be completely void of guidance. Anything that wasn’t a smack would certainly be illegal.

  10. Quoth the Raven on February 5th, 2009 at 21:14

    Graeme – So what about a clout, hit, pat, slap, tap, &c.

  11. George Darroch on February 6th, 2009 at 12:05

    Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in NZ?

    This statement is particularly ambiguous. It could easily mean that smacks used as part of the good correcting of parents be legal.

    For the record, I don’t endorse that either.

  12. Graeme Edgeler on February 8th, 2009 at 23:04

    Graeme – So what about a clout, hit, pat, slap, tap, &c.

    If that clout, hit, pat, slap, tap, &c was also a smack, and used as part of good parental correction, under that law it would be lawful.

Leave a Reply

Name: (required)
Email: (required) (will not be published)
Website:
Comment: