NZ Mike Moore On Smacking
Mike Moore: Smacking-referendum hoax John Key’s biggest mistake
By Mike Moore
The expensive, puerile, futile controversy over the ill-considered anti-smacking legislation is a monument to political cowardice and opportunism.
The legislation was never going to achieve what its promoters claimed, and was never going to send good parents to court, as its opponents suggested. Monsters who harm babies are not going to consult the Law Library, and no sane court is going to convict a parent because of a gentle, corrective pat.
Why the multimillion-dollar political hoax of a referendum? Because a series of dreadful child abuse cases hit the headlines and some politicians needed a headline and wanted to be seen to be doing something.
The tears of some politicians on television would have shamed a weeping crocodile. So, someone reached for the law book, wound up the lobby groups and the media.
Thus, there was little robust argument, because to oppose this unworkable law was to be seen to be in support of bashing children.
No one supports bashing, or even smacking, what they are worried about is making light, corrective patting a crime.
Emotional, even hysterical, political blackmail ensued, which is typical of attention-seeking politicians, and a function of the tyranny of the minority which is MMP.
Adult politicians knew this was nonsense but needed to hold together a Green coalition, and wanted to share the glory of the headlines arising from some shameful, gory events.
The airwaves were alive with the sound of foam-mouthed advocates demanding action. It was pathetic that, in defence of the legislation, many claimed it would not be implemented because the courts and the police were too sensible to interpret their legislation with vigour, thus we were to be saved from their decisions.
The pressure groups used another piece of opportunistic legislation, our non-binding referendum process, to force a vote on a meaningless question. The last Government, not wanting to confront the issue during an election campaign, decided to push the referendum away until after the election.
Both party leaders, knowing that the question put to the people was fraudulent, didn’t vote and were proud of it. The people didn’t speak, they screamed, they didn’t want the law to define smacking.
The people are always right, even when they are wrong they are right. Referendums carried out in the passion of the moment can be dangerous.
Jim Bolger, when Leader of the Opposition, after a particularly evil murder of a child in Napier, promised a referendum on capital punishment. It never happened, the passions cooled.
Now both major parties are ignoring the expressed will of the people, because the voice of the people arose out of a fundamentally flawed process.
People are further outraged at what they see as politicians ignoring them, and they are right.
This has been Prime Minister John Key’s biggest misjudgment so far. Phil Goff, the Leader of the Opposition, missed a golden opportunity for Labour to distance itself from its earlier craven, busybody opportunism. What if he had said the “clause” goes, and let’s replace it with something that is understood?
This brings up a wider question; we have the fastest law-making system in the West. If there is a problem, we demand the Government take legislative action. The melancholy truth about law-making is that 90 per cent of our repressive laws are passed to cover the actions of less than 10 per cent of the people.
We now have unaccountable, well-funded commissions on just about everything. These commissions pump out recommendations that are always costly and seek law changes.
They have compliant accomplices in the media who demand accommodating politicians make these priorities theirs. I coughed my coffee through my nose when I heard the Law Commission release the stunning revelation that young people ingest alcohol late at night. All this time I had thought they drank booze.
The tradeoffs between personal liberty, collective guilt, and the need to satisfy special interests, has not abated nor been debated. The view that we should be left alone because most people are not the problem is swamped by a tsunami of advocates.
This forces the politicians to respond. They must be seen to be doing something.
I could drop our road toll by 90 per cent but you would have to drive an armoured car that couldn’t go faster than 30km/h. People won’t accept that, but they will accept seat belts and helmets for motorcycles, if it’s explained with respect.
Most people behave well, they are just sick of a political culture where you expect, at any moment, someone to intrude on your television set and tell you to sit up straight and not to eat too much meat.
Much of this is worthy and possibly even good. Esperanto and vegetarianism are probably good ideas, too.
* Mike Moore is a former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.