The truth behind the lobbyists who want the right to hit kids

New Zealand First’s Tracey Martin was on Q&A on the weekend floating the idea of a referendum on the old section 59 of the Crimes Act, i.e. the one about when it’s “reasonable” to hit your children. I’ll put my cards on the table straight away by refusing to call it that name – you know the one – because let’s be honest, the reason people call it “smacking” is so it sounds different from “hitting”, and the reason I call it “hitting” is because, like Sue Bradford, I refuse to draw lines about where or with what or how hard it’s OK to commit physical violence against children. The language I use may be loaded, but it’s no more than the other side’s.

Unsurprisingly, Family First were on the bandwagon before it even started rolling, with a typical Family First all-hat-no-cattle statement. Their “evidence” that the law isn’t working can be summarised as:

  • There’s more reporting of violence against children therefore more violence against children is occurring (not, “we have greater awareness that hitting kids is bad and thus more reporting is happening”)
  • The Police and CYFS/Oranga Tamariki are investigating a lot of reports of violence against children and choosing not to act on them (which is for some reason terrible)
  • A lot of people still don’t like the law (which definitely has nothing to do with Family First continually spinning bullshit about it)

Family First provide zero evidence that “good parents” are being prosecuted, much less convicted, for “just” a smack. Their assertion, now as it was 10 years ago, is that “good parents” – parents who want to hit their children – don’t like the law saying they shouldn’t. “Good parents” don’t like having the someone checking that their hitting of their children isn’t abusive, even though in the vast majority of cases, no further action is taken.

It feels a bit snarky of me to keep putting “good parents” in scarequotes, but they’re not mine, really. They’re Family First’s.

It’s very interesting when you look at their statements on parenting, and children, and violence, when they’re not discussing section 59, how certain themes come up again and again: poor people are abusers; brown people are abusers; the “real causes” of violence against children are drug abuse and solo mothers and working mothers (under the heading, “breakdown of family structure”) and those things exist in a vacuum.

While protesting against criminalizing some types of violence against children – where Good Parents are asserting their Rightful Authority over children who Need A Stern Lesson, and  exhortations to crack down on real abuse, Family First copy-paste articles from media sources like this one comparing long stints in daycare to child abuse, or this story from Vice, about five people in the Netherlands creating a co-parenting agreement.. Bed-sharing is child abuse too, and isn’t it convenient how that’s less culturally acceptable in Pākehā society, and sometimes the only option you have if you’re poor and living in a small, cold, damp rental?

Family First take articles like this one from Jarrod Gilbert in the Herald about the causes of child abuse, and conveniently cut it off right after the paragraph about 41% of child homicides being committed by mothers, but before the possible explanations for this and well before the conclusion that we aren’t focusing enough on prevention – say, by ensuring that our social services are able to be notified and investigate reports of “low-level” violence against children before situations escalate.

They stick headlines like “Child abuse out of control” on top of articles which specifically state increased numbers of notifications to CYFS may be because people feel more confident seeking help. While panicking about “good parents” having the authorities show up on their door, they positively salivate about “bad” parents having children removed from their care.

That’s the crux of it: the state cannot be swift and harsh enough in its treatment of those parents, those poor and/or Māori and/or unmarried parents who you know are abusing their kids, I mean just look at them; but it is a violent transgression to so much as question a good, white, Christian, married parent whose teenager was totally being disrespectful.

While clamouring for a crackdown on our culture of violence, it is simply impossible for Bob McCoskrie et al to consider that one key way we address a culture of violence is by not having a law which says that violence is okay. Because when people like him are doing it, it’s not violence at all.

I know a lot of genuinely well-intentioned people think this issue is more complex than I do. I appreciate people have different perspectives to me. And yes, if you want to throw that particular stone, I’m not a parent.

But the vital point is that groups like Family First do not want genuine constructive discussion about parenting, and physical discipline, and child development, and how the law sends signals about what is or isn’t socially acceptable. They just want to push a narrow-minded vision of what our society should look like. And if you aren’t the white, middle-class, patriarchal hetero monogamous Christian family unit they hold up as the ideal, they are not going to be here for you.

The disappointment is that their rhetoric gets taken at face value, and they have such a disproportionately loud voice in New Zealand politics. Because we cannot have serious conversations, about difficult topics, with them sitting at the table holding a megaphone to shout everyone else down.

Tweeting for The Nation

I was well stoked to be a member of The Nation’s Twitter panel this morning with Jenée Tibshraeny.

Naturally the big story of the day was the Budget, along with Michael Morrah reporting from South Sudan and Kenya. Here’s the official Storify recap, and you can catch a replay on TV3 tomorrow morning at 10am or check out the interviews on their website. A few highlights:

I’m pretty sure Child Poverty Action Group understand Working for Families.

Don’t drink at 9:30am on a Saturday, kids.

Emotional politics at Labour’s 2017 Congress

I popped into Labour’s Congress yesterday to catch up with a few comrades who were down for the big event. Literally everyone was buzzing about a couple of the speeches which had been delivered earlier in the day, from Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern and Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson.

Jacinda’s speech was livestreamed, and it’s well worth a look:

The full text is here. Some highlights:

Generation Y are the product of social breakdowns and two decades of rapid economic and global change. And what did that mean here in New Zealand? It meant that basically, they are the product of a time where WE, politics and politicians, told young people we didn’t owe them anything.

We sold their assets.

We told them their education wasn’t a public good anymore.

We traded on our environment while we polluted it for those who follow.

We stood by while home ownership amongst young people halved in a generation and is now the lowest it has been since 1951.

Generation Y have been the ones to watch inequality rise, they have been the ones to watch poverty rise, and they will be the ones who’ll see it compound even further as those who have become those who inherit.

This generation may not be having the same experiences as generations past, but just because they are different, doesn’t make them indifferent.

I was only 13 years old when my best friend’s brother took his own life. I had just started high school and was waiting for class to start when I heard the news. I can remember exactly where I was standing, just outside the science block.

Every single thing about it seemed unfair, and still does to this day. Even at my friend’s wedding just a few years ago, the sense of loss, of there being a missing member of that family, hung in the air.  He was just 15 years old when he died.

There should be no politics in addressing an issue like this, there should only be one thing- the value we place on new Zealanders of all walks of life having a sense of belonging, a sense of support, and a sense of hope. And none of that is more true than for our young people.

Grant also spoke very well. The text of his speech is here. He said:

When Andrew asked me to take on the Finance portfolio I was clear with him that I did not view the job as one that was just about spreadsheets and statistics, or share markets and currency movements.

Don’t get me wrong, those things matter.  But they don’t matter as much as people.

I still cannot get out of my head the story of TA, an eleven year old girl who was looked after by Te Puea Marae last year.  She was living in a van with her other six family members.  She was trying to do her homework by torch light.

Delegates, New Zealand is not at its best if there are children doing their homework by torchlight in a van.

Mr English and Mr Joyce, hear this- you cannot raise a family in a car.

Hearing so many of the Labour whānau rave about these speeches reminded me of last year, when I attended the Party conference up in Auckland, and the speech of the weekend was Justin Lester’s. He brought the entire room to tears talking about the benefit cuts of the nasty National government of the 1990s – not just materially, but psychologically. The son of a solo mother, he found himself adopting the beneficiary-bashing narrative of the day, and blamed his mum for not doing a good enough job. He cried. We cried.

This is what politics is missing. Genuine passion. Real stories of real people affected by politics. It can’t be any wonder that a lot of people don’t vote, and think politics isn’t relevant to them, when every discussion seems to be about costings and Budgets and abstract arguments about the role of government. But when we’re talking about young people being able to feel like they have a shot at a good life or families raising kids without enough money or workers getting a fair deal, it’s real. When our politicians show that they give a fuck about other people’s lives, in concrete and real terms, not as figures on a spreadsheet or projections in a Treasury forecast, it is immensely powerful. The right know this. That’s why they sneer at any hint of emotion in politics, and try to spin passion as a negative with their “Angry Andy” memes.

We should not be ashamed to be angry when young people are killing themselves and children are doing their homework by torchlight and mums and dads can’t even pay the rent when they’re working three different jobs. We should be proud of that anger, because it shows we care. Because it shows we don’t see politics as a fun game to play in between tobacco lobbying and seats on the board of Air New Zealand. Because people want to know we give a fuck. That’s when they’ll start to think that there are politicians worth voting for.

I aten’t dead

April 2017: a hell of a month offline, so damned quiet around here. But I’ve managed to do a bit of writing elsewhere, so don’t fret!

Today at The Spinoff: Enough bullshit. After all these years the Pike River families deserve answers

Something you notice about with the Pike crew is how they speak in the abstract. “Our boys.” “Our men.” It’s a natural coping mechanism. No one could survive six years with no closure, no justice, and very little hope, feeling every bit of the grief you’re entitled to when your husband or son goes to work one day and never comes home. Fighting just to get a basic investigation of the crime scene where he died, and accountability from the people whose inaction or negligence or outright greed killed him.

I got involved early with Stand With Pike, by virtue of being the closest millennial to hand when the crew were trying to get the word out about their picket, battling West Coast cellphone drop-outs and Facebook’s clunky Page Manager app. Contrary to the fever-dreams of Matthew Hooton, I’m not paid for it. It’s just the right thing to do. Because it’s so counter to every value I hold, that after six years, no one has been really held to account for letting 29 men die. Anna and Sonya and Dean and the others should not still be fighting for answers and justice. They should never have had to fight for it at all.

And a few weeks back at Overland: In New Zealand, where abortion is still a crime

Today, getting an abortion in New Zealand can involve five separate medical appointments: the initial pregnancy test and referral to an abortion provider (if your doctor provides referrals), two appointments with certifying consultants (if they both approve you), an initial consultation at the abortion clinic, and the procedure itself. …

In the 1970s, the Sisters Overseas Service helped fly women who wanted an abortion to New South Wales. We like to think those days are behind us, but in 2013, a young woman from Wellington was reduced to crowdfunding $7,000 to fly to Melbourne for hers.

How have we let this go on?

Back to the keyboard …

Why fiscal responsibility is the Bog of Eternal Stench

Labour and the Greens have announced a cornerstone coalition policy for the 2017 general election: a set of Budget Responsibility Rules which will, per the Greens’ website:

… show that the Green Party and the Labour Party will manage the economy responsibly while making the changes people know are needed, like lifting kids out of poverty, cleaning up our rivers, solving the housing crisis, and tackling climate change.

It feels like I’ve been banging my head against this brick wall for a decade. The short version is this:

Labour and the Greens cannot credibly campaign on a foundation of “fiscal responsibility”. It is anathema to genuine progressive politics. It isn’t a vote-winner. It’s a vote-loser.

I’ve heard the defence: but we ARE the fiscally responsible ones! Look at our surpluses in government! Witness our detailed policy costings! BEHOLD OUR GRAPHS!

If empirical evidence worked, we’d already been in government and this conversation wouldn’t be happening, and I know I for one would be happier for it.

Everyone knows this is crap. No one really tries to defend it by saying, “but fiscal responsibility is the most important thing in government”. They say, “but we need people to believe we’re fiscally responsible.” They say, “but the media always ask how much our policies will cost!” They say, “we need to win or we can’t achieve anything, learn to count Stephanie.”

We know we’re selling our souls, but only for the right reasons. The tragedy is, we’re not. Fiscal responsibility is the Bog of Eternal Stench. Once you dip so much as a toe in, it makes everything else you do reek.

Don’t just take my word for it – after all, we’re all rational creatures making objective decisions based on evidence, right? Take it from someone who has the evidence, my favourite American Anat Shenker-Osorio:

Peer-reviewed psychological studies show that money-primed people … become more selfish. They are, for example, much less willing to spend time helping another student pretending to be confused about a task. When an experimenter dropped pencils, money-primed subjects elected to pick up far fewer than their unprimed peers. Also, when asked to set up two chairs for a get to know you chat, those who had money put on their minds placed the chairs farther apart. Money-primed undergrads showed greater preference for being alone.

The results of these experiments should give progressives pause and serve as lessons for how we do our messaging. Talking about money first makes the whole subsequent conversation start in a mean and selfish place — the last thing we want when we’re talking about the common good and our national future. …

Those politicians who actually believe in the institution in which they serve would do far better to speak of what government does for us — and trust that we’re smart enough to know that good things don’t come cheap.

If we prompt New Zealand voters to think about money first, they aren’t going to think about common good, about ensuring their neighbours have a good life too. They’re going to think “actually, getting another block of cheese each week does sound good” and the right’s fourth term is secured. They don’t even have to work for it, because when we explicitly buy into their values, it weakens our own.

It cuts out the heart of our politics. Our critics are absolutely right: Labour and the Greens are not trusted to be good fiscal managers. THAT’S THE POINT. No one wants us to be good fiscal managers – except for the right, who are thrilled that we not only want to play in their playhouse but will obey all the rules they’ve made up to ensure they always win.

It’s like some people watched Mean Girls and thought, “well of course we have to wear pink on Wednesdays and throw out our white gold hoops, how else will we get Regina George to truly respect us?”

Pink is not our colour. Fiscal responsibility is not our strength. The economy is not the most important thing in the world – HE TANGATA, HE TANGATA, HE TANGATA.

We’re meant to be the ones who care about people, and make sure everyone in our communities is taken care of, whether they’re sick, or old, or exploited by a shoddy employer or having a baby or building a life in a new country. These are the areas where we’re strong. These are the values which we must promote – not just because we hold them dearly, but because doing that is the best way to fuck up the other side’s message of greed and self-interest and exploitation of people and our planet.

People want change. They don’t want poverty and housing crises and public services stretched to breaking point. They know these things cost money! But they’ve been told for decades that government must be small, and the private sector runs things better, that the only metric that matters is that sweet surplus. They know it doesn’t feel right, but there doesn’t seem to be another way of doing things, because we keep telling them we agree with it. And they vote for the party they “know” are the better economic managers, because that’s National’s brand, and not all the graphs and spreadsheets we throw at them are going to convince them otherwise.

We’re never going to win while we keep playing in the right’s playhouse and skinny-dipping in the Bog of Fiscally Responsible Stench because we want to smell just like our enemies. We have to be an alternative. Stop talking about the bloody money and start talking about people.