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.

On the M.O.U.

I’m a bit late to the party on the Labour/Greens M.O.U. but letting the dust clear a little before passing judgement is perhaps not such a bad thing.

The M.O.U. had to happen. And the sooner the better. Not because it means a lot in terms of the Green and Labour working more closely – they already were – but because that relationship is now publicly codified and it’s now very clear that there’s a forty-percent-plus block that balances out National’s vote.

Some in the commentariat have made a big deal about how this is Labour giving in.

It isn’t.

If anything it’s Labour getting stronger. It’s a given now that not only will Labour’s machine work to make Andrew Little the next Prime Minister, but the Greens’ machine will as well.

Effectively Little is now leading a voting block that is within striking distance of becoming Government.

And that’s something Winston Peters is now going to have to deal with.

Because despite the pundits claiming this makes Peters stronger, what it actually does is put him into a corner. When, for example, he dogwhistles against a minority such as Muslims, he’s whistling in the wind – because whatever argument he’s making goes nowhere if it’s not backed by either Labour/Greens or John Key’s National party.

A Labour party at 29% could feasibly kowtow to Peter’s cynicism (I don’t think they would, but desperation makes anything possible). But a Labour/Greens block at 43% doesn’t have the same pressure. When you represent nearly half of all New Zealanders it’s much easier to say no. And it carries a lot more weight.

That creates an uncomfortable situation for Key. The numbers are most likely going to mean a fourth term National Government will be a National/NZ First coalition – that’s received wisdom.

That means that if the Green/Labour block – particularly Andrew Little – knock back Peters’ headline grabbing, there’s going to be more and more pressure on Key to engage with it. That’s pressure Key doesn’t want or need – he’s busy enough trying to put some shine back on his ailing liberal brand without getting caught up in debates about Muslims, or Asians, or Māori or whatever drum Peters is banging for attention this week or next.

Now I know there’ll be some within Labour who are afraid of upsetting Peters by pushing back on him occasionally, but they need to get over themselves and start thinking like price makers instead of price takers. Headline-grabbing cynicism aside, New Zealand First’s policy platform aligns a lot more closely with Labour and the Greens’ platform than it does with National. And Peters is a professional – he’s been around and he’ll make the decision on who he goes with based on the numbers post 2017 and what leverage they give him to get what he wants.

Anyone who doubts that should remember that it was only a few years ago that John Key’s dirty politics team ran a rabid and personal attack campaign on Peters that saw him exit politics for a term. A campaign that presumably had the Nats’ sign off. Key’s people humiliated Peters yet Winston can’t and won’t rule out going with them – if he did he’d lose the illusory power he has.

Things have changed with the M.O.U. They’ve changed because Andrew Little has re-staked his claim as leader of the opposition and has brought together a power base that rivals the Prime Minister’s in terms of the number of New Zealanders it represents. Having watched Little throughout his time in the union movement and in politics, I’m expecting he’ll use that power well to create change – it’s something he’s always done.

What that all adds up to, despite what some pundits have claimed, is a harder time for Winston and bad news for Key.

Rob Egan is an ex-senior advisor to two Labour leaders and co-owner of public relations firm Piko Consulting.

Hekia Parata challenges the gender pay gap!

It’s great to see a senior Government Minister addressing serious issues of inequality and structural discrimination in one of our most important professions:

“I’m interested in how we attract the best and the brightest into teaching… I haven’t focussed very much on whether they’re men or whether they’re women but if it is a higher-paying profession, I think that will attract more men,” she said.

She’s got a really good point. Work which our society views as “women’s work” – usually involving caring for others, or children, or more “domestic” duties – is systemically underpaid compared to equivalently-skilled “men’s” work. Primary school teachers start on a whopping $46,000 after doing a three-year degree. Probationary police constables who have undergone 19 weeks’ paid training and need NCEA level 2 math and English get $58,584 more.

I’m not entirely comparing apples with apples there, nor am I saying that police officers don’t deserve to be paid well for doing a vitally important job (would be nice if their senior officers stopped mishandling sexual violence cases, but you know.) But Parata has a really important point: if teaching paid better, it would probably attract “the best and brightest”, and some of those would undoubtedly be men.

Wait … sorry, I’ve got it all wrong. Tracey Martin of NZ First informs me that Parata actually said,

“..if it is a higher-performing profession, I think that will attract more men,” she said.

Yes, the problem is actually that men’s standards are just too high. They want prestige and a sense of contributing meaningfully to their society, unlike women who clearly just want to go home at 3:30 and get really good holidays.

(I can feel every teacher in my family – and there are a few – glaring at me right now!)

If you all just bucked up, ladies, maybe the men would flock to get paid what I got as a receptionist in my first job out of uni. (Graduating in the middle of a recession is super fun.)

But that’s the National government for you, with its typical sneering attitude to teachers. Parata hasn’t quite met the standards set by predecessor Anne Tolley – who once read a children’s book about a rat who “learned to be happy with a lot less” to a meeting of secondary school teachers right before they entered collective bargaining – but I reckon she gets a gold star for effort.

Paid parental leave back on the cards?

I suspect the media are going to get a lot of mileage out of “the Winston effect” over the rest of this parliamentary term – but you can’t blame them, because in some important ways his Northland victory is going to be a bit of a game-changer.

First progressive policy out of the blocks: a re-run on paid parental leave.

The Government has extended paid leave from 14 to 16 weeks, but Labour says it’s not enough. It’s resubmitting a Bill that would stretch it out to 26 weeks.

“We’re just going to keep going,” says Labour MP Sue Moroney.

Ms Moroney has tried and failed to pass the Bill before. But thanks to Mr Peters’ victory in Northland, she now has the numbers.

This is a damn fine policy. Paid parental leave has huge social benefits, giving babies the best possible start in life with a parent at home and able to provide them with what they need. It has huge knock-on benefits to society – healthier, happier kids growing into healthier, happier adults, less stress on new parents, saving more of those valuable taxpayer dollars spent on juvenile delinquency or healthcare.

The shame of it is that, given the nature of the Members’ Bills ballot and this government’s aptitude at running out the clock on Members’ Days, it’ll take a minor miracle for Moroney’s bill to get drawn and back through the house.

(On the plus side: a Labour-led government in 2017 will be able to pass it with no problem!)

So does this mean a Winston win is good news for the left after all? It’s far too early to say. Yes, he supports this very good progressive policy, and yes he opposes some RMA reforms, but … two and half years is a hell of a long time in politics.

Possibly too long for our Prime Minister. I don’t mean this in a Doctor Who “doesn’t she look tired?” way, but check out the video on that 3 News article. The dodging-the-question lines just aren’t as smooth as they used to be. Smiling-and-waving is being replaced with sneering-and-dismissing.

And nothing gets Winston Peters going like people trying to pretend he’s nothing to worry about.

Northland isn’t Epsom – nor Ohariu

Danyl Mclauchlan has rebutted the spin around Winston’s victory in Northland – “Labour can’t criticise the Epsom deal now! Hypocrites!” very well. (And after I’d drafted this post, Rob Salmond made one, too! Great minds, etc etc.)

I’ve been a little disappointed in how many people have basically warned the lefties they know – oooh, you’d better not say that, that would look really bad, wouldn’t it?

Northland wasn’t Labour’s to give. New Zealand First didn’t need Labour’s help. Winston certainly isn’t going to turn around to Andrew Little and say “what policies would you like me to adopt so you can pretend you don’t really want to pass them?” And Andrew Little didn’t sit down for a farcical cup of tea photo opportunity (and then try to claim it was a “private” engagement when someone recorded his foolishly-uttered words.)

Northland isn’t Epsom.

Northland also isn’t Ohariu, which got very interesting last year. National fielded a candidate who was too scared to say his own name in case people ticked it (and gave him a nice safe list position so he wouldn’t scare the horses), but despite this Peter Dunne’s once-mighty majority was slashed to 700 – one of the lowest in the country. But the “deal” there took a very different form: the National Party basically pretended that Ohariu didn’t exist. They certainly didn’t do what they did in Northland, which was see bad poll results and massively over-react to protect their preferred candidate (which ironically would have meant undermining their actual candidate.)

And thus everyone assumed Ohariu was a (sorry) done deal, to the extent that local newspapers didn’t even mention the Labour candidate (the very talented Ginny Andersen) by name in some of their coverage, and many were shocked at the comical scenes from Dunne’s victory party – populated mainly by his staff.

But a deal was (sorry) done, nevertheless, and a man whose party could barely get more than 5,000 votes, who had to resign his ministerial portfolios in disgrace over leaking a confidential GCSB report, got a reprieve from retirement and the plum role of Minister of Internal Affairs.

That’s what a dirty deal looks like.