Saturday, August 22, 2009

Losing 40-nil and blaming the ref

A few thoughts about the provisional result of the anti-smacking referendum ...

Sue Bradford says it’s inconclusive.

No it’s not. A “no” vote from 87.6 per cent of respondents, in a poll that 54 percent of enrolled voters participated in, is about as a conclusive as you can get. That level of participation is considerably higher than the number of voters who took part in last year’s local government elections. It’s probably a bigger “no” vote than the backers of the referendum dared hope for.

Bradford is reported as saying: “When you add the yes vote and the spoilt vote to the number of voters who didn’t vote at all the figures are about even.’’ But she can indulge in mathematical contortions until the cows come home. It won’t alter the fact that the result represents an overwhelming rejection of her amendment to Section 59 the Crimes Act.

The sanctimonious coalition of Wellington-based organisations that mounted a concerted propaganda campaign against the referendum is having trouble accepting the result too. They’re still whingeing about the wording and trying to discredit the referendum by suggesting people didn’t understand the question.

This is like a rugby team being thrashed 40-nil and blaming the ref. It won’t wash.

The words “sore losers” keep reverberating. The backers of the “yes” vote – Bradford, Barnardos, the Parents Centre and others – would be well advised to pull their heads in, show some humility and gracefully accept that they lost. They might also show a bit of respect for the democratic process and perhaps ask themselves how they managed to get so far out of step with the communities they ostensibly serve.

Bradford claims people who wanted to vote “yes” voted “no” because they were confused, but she doesn’t produce any evidence. Like many left-wing politicians who know what’s best for everyone else, she inadvertently displays a very low regard for the intelligence of her fellow citizens - to say nothing of her apparent lack of respect for public opinion.

Claiming the referendum question wasn’t understood, after all the debate that has raged for the past few months, is an insult to voters. Few issues have been thrashed out more thoroughly. The news media, while displaying a marked bias in favour of the “yes” vote, did exactly what the media in liberal democracies are supposed to do – namely, provide a forum in which the protagonists could argue their cases. It was a textbook case of the “marketplace of ideas” – a concept that is anathema to the neo-Marxist academics who furtively read this blog – in action.

One last point. I heard a talkback host, clearly disgruntled with the referendum result, suggesting that religiously motivated “no” vote proponents had hyped up the smacking issue to the point where it seemed the very future of Christian civilisation was at stake.

Well, it’s possible that some Bible-inspired advocates of the right to smack defined the issue in those terms, but I don’t think ordinary New Zealanders were remotely influenced by extremist positions. New Zealand, after all, is one of the most secular societies in the world, with a marked aversion to theocratic tendencies.

No, the issue was much simpler than that. Many of those who voted “no” wouldn’t have been seeking the legal entitlement to physically chastise their own children (many, like me, wouldn’t have children of smackable age), and they certainly wouldn’t have seen it in terms of a God-given right. It’s my guess that many of the “no” voters would have felt distinctly uncomfortable about being in the company of religious fundamentalists, and would have winced – as I did – at some of the ill-chosen cases highlighted as examples of supposedly “good” parents being punished under the new law (like the moron who repeatedly pushed his small son to the ground because he refused to play rugby). But they voted “no” nonetheless, because they saw the referendum as a litmus test of the extent to which an increasingly intrusive state should be allowed to trespass in areas historically regarded as the domain of the family and the individual.

Chris Trotter, in a perceptive and eloquent column in the Dominion Post yesterday, saw this perfectly clearly. Sue Bradford should read it.


Country Bumpkin said...

Truly said, Karl. There remain a few people like your fellow blogger David Farrar who think some kind of compromise law is required to allow the police, for God's sake, to decide what is fitting correction of a child, and what is not.

The truth is that the law should be silent on the business of bringing up kids. The present situation is the same as if we had a law compelling us to brush our teeth twice a day.

Furthermore, the prime minister hasn't the faintest clue whether "the law is working." It's none of his business, and none of parliament's and one would have thought the message of this referendum and all the polls on the subject which preceded it might have penetrated the heads of the politicians.

it seems quite possible too that having a law on the books which is unenforceable and which has no measurable effect, could be unconstitutional.

But I suppose it's too late to invite John Key to show a bit of courage and earn a few brownie points while he's at it. That's a scary thought all by itself.

David Farrar said...

I am confused. Is Country Bumpkin saying there should be no section 59 at all in the Crimes Act - ie parents have no defence.

or is he/she saying that any amount of force should be allowed by parents against children?

Country Bumpkin said...

I'm quite sure DPF isn't the least bit confused.

There is plenty of law on the books to prosecute and punish people who criminally beat or kill their kids. But it is plain idiocy to legislate against a parental act that is part of every child's upbringing, and has been since homo sapiens first walked upright.

Leaving aside whether the law needs a S.59 to provide a defence against normal acts of upbringing, a refreshing return to common sense would be nice. I, for one, would have thought the referendum result was as good a symbol of common sense as any.