August 2003

Editorial

New Zealand might eventually become a place where physical discipline of children is regarded as unacceptable, but we still have a long way to go. Parents and the public are not yet convinced that hitting children is unnecessary and undesirable.  But there are reasons for optimism.   Positive developments over the last few months include:

Social Services Minister Mr Steve Maharey's public statements about his personal view on repeal of section 59 (he favours full repeal).  While acknowledging that the Government will not make a decision on section 59 for at least two years and has no official position on the issue, he himself supports repeal.  This view was clearly articulated recently when Mr Maharey opened the Children's Issues Centre Conference at Otago University.

Budget 2003 included over $10 million to be spent over the next four years on public education about 'alternatives to physical punishment'.

Government papers recently released under the Official Information Act, advising the Government on the implications of repeal of section 59, contained very balanced information giving serious consideration of full repeal.  They did not refer to partial reform (amendment) as a possibility.

There are signs that 'middle New Zealand' is moving on ending physical discipline and supporting repeal of section 59.  At a Save the Children membership conference recently, members from throughout the country voted on section 59.  While support for repeal was not unanimous it was sufficient to allow Save the Children as an organisation to support repeal of section 59.  Similarly, at a Royal New Zealand Plunket Society national conference for volunteers, members of the society voted strongly in favour of Plunket support for repeal of section 59.

The risks to eventual repeal lie both in traditional attitudes and in misunderstanding of the implications of repeal.  Politicians may be reluctant to make changes if there is a backlash against change.  There is a real danger that the public education campaign will not go far enough.  Mr Maharey has said that there will be no reference in the campaign to the need for law reform.