The Dim-Post

August 27, 2009

Wouldst thou have a serpent sting thee twice?

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 7:30 am

The right-wing blogs are in an uproar about Key’s decision not to support Boscowen’s bill to Select Committee – over at Kiwiblog they’re referring to the National leader as ‘Helen Key’ and confidently predicting an ACT Prime Minister in 2011. I have to admit I’m a little surprised as well. John Armstrong writes:

[Key] would have been walking away from his personal investment in the existing law, of which he is part-architect as a result of his efforts to find a compromise back in 2007 to save Sue Bradford’s ground-breaking amendment to the Crimes Act from ending up on the scrapheap.

That’s how Clark would have seen things – if She changed her mind She would be admitting She was wrong, And She Is Never Wrong – but I don’t think Key works like that. Here are my speculative theories as to the PM’s motives:

Market Research: Key seems awfully confident about his direction here. I suspect he’s had some research company – maybe even the dreaded Cosby/Textor! – poll and focus group the issue and found that support for the current law is deeper than the referendum suggests, or that people are not opposed to the law so much as they fear the misapplication of it.

Prescience: Once you pass a bill defining the use of force allowed against children you ‘own’ the court cases in which it is used as a defense. This bill could result in some high profile cases in which people prosecuted for assaulting their children defend themselves on reasonable force grounds and, juries being what they are, possibly recieve not guilty verdicts for serious child assaults at which point public opinion could turn VERY quickly.

Ancient History: Key might see this as a done deal, something he simply isn’t interested in revisiting. He’s stated that he doesn’t want Parliament ‘derailed and consumed’ by the debate, which is, after all fairly trivial when compared to some of the other challenges facing his government. They want to reform the tax system next year, not spend months bickering about the definition of a light smack.

Enmity: Or maybe he just finds the pro-smacking lobby and the people behind it too distasteful to give them any more oxygen. Baldock and McCroskey have run a highly successful disinformation campaign in which they’ve flat out lied about the law and its effect.  I think it’s safe to say that most pro-smacking parents want to be able to give their child a smack on the wrist in the supermarket without being arrested, while Baldock et al seem to see beating children as a rather core part of parenting. Could be that the PM simply doesn’t want to hand these idiots a win.


  1. You can’t be that surprised Dim, you predicted it in your previous post.

    I’m running with D. Plus I think it’s smart politics. Once the 25 loonies at Kiwiblog get over themselves (gosh the shrieking is quite something to behold) they’ll realise they voted for ACT anyway, and this’ll win over a few centrists who feel more than a little uncomfortable with Baldock and the Family Fist crowd.

    Comment by Guy Smiley — August 27, 2009 @ 8:37 am

  2. it’s fascinating in a a way to compare how this issue has been kicked into touch with how abortion was finally sorted out.

    In both cases the resolution was a fudge – untidy legislation which somehow gets us out of groundhog day culture wars.

    Comment by Neil — August 27, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  3. In reference to your Prescience section:

    It might go the other way. The current law does allow “reasonable force” for everything except correction, and the law is badly written enough that there is reasonable confusion between prevention and correction.

    One good court case where someone uses “reasonable force + prevention” to justify excessive violence and suddenly everyone who has been defending the new law might look a bit stupid.

    Comment by Thomas Beagle — August 27, 2009 @ 8:45 am

  4. especially if it was trial by jury.

    which was the initial problem – a small number of juries made some very bad decisions. Which is always going to happen with a jury system. Odds are that every so often a jury will be entirely comprised of people with dubious decsion making abilities.

    But that all got lost when somehow smacking got to be the central emotive issue.

    Comment by Neil — August 27, 2009 @ 9:04 am

  5. People forget the current law was the compromise that made John Key look like a PM in waiting. It is as much his baby as Sue Bradfords. I thought everyone was getting far to obssessed with the “gaming” around this issue. Once the law was passed, there was no way in hell it could be repealed. The message it would send domestically would be open season on kids and given the negative headlines the refendum result generated off-shore, the impact on our reputation would have been considerable. Tourism is our biggest foreign exchange earner. At a time when it is all about cuddly, adventure loving hobits in clean, green, 100% pure New Zealand then big hits on our “brand” matter.

    But also at the end of the day a democracy is not just about preventing the tyranny of the few over the many. It is also about guarding the few from the tyranny of the many. Every reputable chiild agency in the country supports the repeal of S59. Maybe that fact, and that 120 out of 124 MP’s support the now status quo, indicates that they are just doing the right thing.

    Comment by Tom Semmens — August 27, 2009 @ 9:09 am

  6. Hang on: A Prime Minister being reasonable and placing trust in the intelligence of the electorate? How long does Key think he’ll last if he keeps this up?

    Comment by Ataahua — August 27, 2009 @ 9:27 am

  7. I dislike Key and his sliminess as much as the next filthy pinko but I gotta say I’m impressed that he’s done this. Until now I thought he’d been nothing but a populist but perhaps he’s not.

    Either that or he’s just done some forecasting and realised he’s better off in the long run…

    Comment by david c — August 27, 2009 @ 10:32 am

  8. they’re referring to the National leader as ‘Helen Key’

    It’s the ‘Neville Key’ jabs that really piss me off — even if we weren’t a week away from marking the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, the comparison is seriously fucked up in all kinds of nearly Godwin-worthy flavours of dumb.

    Comment by Craig Ranapia — August 27, 2009 @ 11:24 am

  9. There’s also the possibility that Key based his determination that the law, as is, is working on the advice from the Police (that well known breeding ground of pinko-tinted Political Correctness). He read it, had no reason to doubt its veracity and decided legislative intervention was not necessary. Which is, one might think, what actual evidence-based, cautious, not swayed by the polls or mass sentiment conservatives actually do.

    Comment by Craig Ranapia — August 27, 2009 @ 11:29 am

  10. I’m with David C. He’s kind of starting to win me over with all this being sensible stuff.

    Comment by Boganette — August 27, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  11. What Key loses on the swings he’ll gain on the roundabouts. I’m really pleased he has shown leadership here.

    I’ve really enjoyed your comments on this issue at Kiwiblog and elsewhere Craig.

    Comment by Ruth — August 27, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

  12. It’s the ‘Neville Key’ jabs that really piss me off … the comparison is seriously fucked up in all kinds of nearly Godwin-worthy flavours of dumb.

    Think it’s only big bruv who’s using that one over at Kiwiblog, and he’s been doing it for some time – and not just on this issue.

    Comment by toad — August 27, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

  13. Maybe John Key can replace Phil Goff as leader of the Labour Party and keep everyone happy.

    But seriously, Key’s bloody-mindedness on this is baffling.

    There’s obviously some sort of long-term strategy at play but it’s high-risk stuff that really only appeals to people unlikely to vote National anyway.

    His play back in 07 to get the Bradford bill passed made huge sense. Key looked good while Clark looked weak and in need of his help. Now he just seems to be digging a deeper hole.

    Comment by Lawrence Hakiwai — August 27, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  14. Anyone else see Adolf’s accurate-as-ever prediction yesterday over at kiwiblog?

    My bet is at 4.30 Mr Key will announce National’s support for the first reading. He has sat back, sat back, watched, watched and he will strike when he sees maximum advantage. I suspect that time is now.

    Comment by mjl — August 27, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

  15. aS i PREDICTED, Baldock is losing the plot.

    “… it would seem reasonable then that I may have been invited by you to discuss some proposals to address the widespread concerns of the majority of this country’s citizens. In contrast, I have learnt from news reports that, prior to the referendum results being announced you have been involved in discussions with those we discover now only represent just fewer than 12 percent of the Referendum vote, such as Sue Bradford and Deborah Morris-Travers. In fact it seems that advisors from the ‘Yes” vote coalition are literally crawling all over our ‘House of Representatives.’”


    “..Because the purpose of the law is to ultimately stop parents from using any force for the purpose of correction!”


    “Prime Minister I have no personal interest in becoming your enemy, but I will speak up on behalf of 87.4 percent of Kiwis who voted ‘No’.”


    “…A recent survey confirmed a reduction in the number of parents using smacking for correction, which is not surprising given that it has been a criminal offence for the last two years. Unfortunately, such a decline has not resulted in a less violent society. I guess this does reveal though, that the law is indeed working, but is that what you and the National party were committed to?”


    Comment by Tom Semmens — August 27, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

  16. “…Baldock et al seem to see beating children as a rather core part of parenting.”

    I must have had my tv switched off when he made that statement.

    Comment by radar — August 27, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

  17. I don’t mind the reference to us as a right-wing blog but I’m not in uproar about this. I think it hands ACT a perfect platform for 2011. Anyway, I’m kinda sick of the whole debate and in a way I’m glad it’s been kicked for touch, for now at least. My post was more an attempt at humour than anything else: that sometimes gets missed around the ‘sphere.

    Comment by Gooner — August 27, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

  18. I think it hands ACT a perfect platform for 2011.

    How large a platform the smacking thing is used as by ACT may depend on how much they want to piss off Roger Douglas – he has implied a few times that he has bigger fish to fry*. And if this is stomped on before SC stage then the electorate may be a bit wary of opening it up again come 2011.

    *That may have been a reference to perk-busting now that I think of it, but i’m sure he’d rather make ACT’s platform tax/government reform etc than these pesky social issues.

    Comment by StephenR — August 27, 2009 @ 2:46 pm

  19. . . . how much they want to piss off Roger Douglas – he has implied a few times that he has bigger fish to fry.”

    Douglas may be attempting to reinvent himself as some kind of Gordon Ramsay crossed with Alison Holst, but he’s not frying anything.
    He’s baking a cake:

    Comment by joew — August 27, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

  20. Can’t blame him for trying something new if the impassioned speeches aren’t working.

    Comment by StephenR — August 27, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

  21. ““..Because the purpose of the law is to ultimately stop parents from using any force for the purpose of correction!””

    I wonder how the referendum would have gone if the word “smack” had been replaced with “force”.

    Comment by llew — August 27, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  22. “I wonder how the referendum would have gone if the word “smack” had been replaced with “force”.”

    No difference. Its just that 80% of people don’t want to be criminalised for the actions of a handful of people.

    More importantly, it sees a clear distinction between smacking and the approx. 117,000pa complaints to CYFS of child abuse and neglect.

    Would that our politicians did.


    Comment by JC — August 27, 2009 @ 5:53 pm

  23. I have resisted buying into much of the nonsense spoken in this debate in the blog world, but since Danyl you ask some questions about what possibly is going through Key’s mind I would like to point out some basic facts.
    Assault under New Zealand law has been illegal for a very long time. I think the 1961 act is still the basis, but the legal definition of assault means the act of applying, attempting to apply, or threatening to apply force, either directly or indirectly, by action or gesture, all of this is against the law.
    To keep it simple, you can’t hit or push anyone or even threaten it.
    (Call me a wishy washy liberal, but I think it is right that the law says I have a right not to be beaten up or threatened because someone doesn’t like me or something I do)
    Under our law we allow defences for assault (most obvious being self defence) or areas where it is acceptable and the police won’t get involved I guess under common law or police practice.
    (Every Saturday on every rugby field the law of assault is ignored, because technically tackling in rugby is the application of force and if even you miss the tackle the threat of force)
    Section 59 used to allow a defence for reasonable force when charged with assaulting a child.
    Bradford put up an amendment removing that defence. Her argument being it allowed some horrific beatings to
    take place and the accused to get away with it.
    As those who opposed the law change correctly pointed out, it also removed any parent’s defence against an assault charge if they smacked their kid no matter how light or how hard that smack was or even the reason for it.
    After much fuss Key and Clark agreed on a compromise that would put in law what an acceptable assault on a child was (Or if you see it from another way allow good parental correction).

    This has since morphed into an argument about “nanny state” and the right to bring up your kids without state interference.
    That is where the politics have gone, but on the law side it is very simple. You can’t assault your kids without good reason and I do accept the No vote argument that most people want the right to smack their children for good parental correction and not face the courts.
    Most of them are good people, but some of them are bad.
    But why did Key do what he did?
    Because it is quite sickening to spend the next 18 months arguing over what is acceptable assault on a child or a smack as a good part of parental correction and he has better things to fight about?
    Maybe he just didn’t want to be the PM that defined the limits on hitting children?
    Or maybe he was diverting attention from the recent law change allowing him take the first born child from every house to join his vampire/zombie army

    Comment by Ian Llewellyn — August 28, 2009 @ 12:48 am

  24. […] later National and Key are more popular than any other government in our modern political history. I wrote about Key’s motivations at the time, speculating: Key seems awfully confident about his direction here. I suspect he’s had some research company […]

    Pingback by All that is solid melts into air « The Dim-Post — October 21, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: