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 Brexit

I was discussing Brexit with a group of Wellington lefties last night over a few craft beers* and was dismayed to hear some of them applying the analysis that it was the result of the masses acting out of uneducated racism.

That’s an analysis that’s not just wrong, and a little classist, but – if it is the final analysis social democratic organisations fall back on – extremely dangerous.

With the Brexit referendum the Government foolishly gave the nation the opportunity to raise a middle finger to a political and financial establishment that they have been systematically estranged from. And the nation took that opportunity.

Much as they took a similar opportunity when they voted Corbyn in as Labour leader, and much as their brethren across the Atlantic did in voting up Trump as a candidate and in getting a septuagenarian socialist within cooee of taking the Democratic candidacy.

In a smaller way there was an element of that reaction against the establishment in the election of the last two Labour leaders here in New Zealand – neither of whom were caucus’ first choice.

These are lessons it’s important for the establishment to learn. Particularly the social democratic establishment. Representative democracy fails to maintain legitimacy when it is no longer representative of the people. And in an interconnected world in which the most successful businesses and movements are those that give voice to their customers and members, the insular paternalistic liberalism of late 20th century social democracy no longer provides enough sense of such voice.

The Brexit failure of David Cameron notwithstanding, the right have generally adapted better to this new electoral environment, perhaps because it reflects an atomised and individualised customer environment they have been dealing with through business for some time, perhaps because they take a more cynical and expedient approach to politics than your average wonky lefty.

The danger is that by not taking this lesson on board, and instead dismissing the electorate as ignorant or racist, social democratic organisations in particular would move further away from their traditional base and cede even more ground to the right. Because people can sense when you don’t like them and they don’t support people who don’t like them.

An even more dangerous situation would be these organisations mistaking the symptoms – anti-immigration and other reactionary positions – for the cause and trying to regain currency by triangulating these positions. That would be a serious error – the electorate is extremely clever, not in a delving-into-debate-about-policy-detail way (really, who has the luxury of time for that kind of thing?), but in their ability to recognise when people are being inauthentic. And there are few things as inauthentic as a triangulating social democrat.

A much better reaction to Brexit and to what now appears to be a wave of anti-establishment reaction across western democracies, would be for social democratic political parties to look for ways to reengage with the electorate, and particularly the working class, on progressive issues.

That means seeing the parliamentary left not as leaders of the debate but as an equal part of a broader progressive movement. It means giving more authority to rank and file party members (it’s no coincidence that people joined NZ Labour and UK Labour in droves when they had a meaningful opportunity to make a choice of leader), it means working alongside democratic organisations like unions and NGOs as a parliamentary cog of the progressive movement rather than acting as defacto leaders of it.

Ultimately it means acknowledging that representing people in the 21st century means opening the doors to them, not just “looking after” them from within the inner sanctum. That shift was what Corbyn was signalling when he let the people have his parliamentary questions to Cameron, it’s what Sanders was showing with his mass rallies and campaign advertising focused on other people’s stories, and it’s what has worked best for New Zealand Labour when they have done it.

Even in opposition, social democratic parties and non-parliamentary organisations have incredible opportunities to make change. If there’s one thing they should learn from Brexit it’s that they need to work with the electorate as equals to do it. That’s how you re-engage people, and it’s how you build the trust that allows them to feel you are fit to lead on their behalf.

~

*there you go, Paddy.

The flag and democracy

The results of the first flag referendum has really thrown up some bizarre perspectives on democracy in New Zealand.

Like the person I jostled with on a mutual friend’s Facebook page who said he “feared” people voting to keep the current flag because they didn’t like the blue Lockwood design. Apparently this would be ignoring the wishes of the majority who had voted for it.

Or this – somewhat joking, I guess? – editorial on Stuff which argues that it’s just time for a change therefore you must support change because the only reason you could possibly vote to keep our current flag is because you’re childish (or an old RSA fogey, or Winston Peters, which I suppose are kind of the same thing.)

Now, I’m not particularly thrilled by our current flag. I absolutely agree that it’s time to move past the symbols of our colonial masters, as part of a serious process of acknowledging that that colonial past is still very much with us.

But it’s a bit bloody cheeky for this government, who actively reintroduced archaic rubbish like knighthoods (and gave one to Peter Talley) to wax lyrical about our need to rebrand as a modern global nation by scrapping the union jack. It’s a bit cheeky for anyone who isn’t actively advocating republicanism to say “getting rid of the Union Jack is the most important thing” when the Queen will still be on our currency, the Governor-General will still rubber-stamp all our laws in her name, and probably most importantly, we’ll still be pointlessly sending our soldiers into overseas conflicts because the UK told us it was a family event and it wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t dying there too.

I think the blue Lockwood flag is ugly. I think it looks horribly corporate, horribly 90s, and just boringly obvious. It’s not a surprise it won this referendum because it’s comfortably bland. Even if Helen Clark had overseen this process, I would not vote for this flag.

Because we only get one shot at this. If we change flags now, we probably won’t have another chance in my lifetime. If we keep the current flag, for now, there’s an opportunity for a different government to run a proper discussion about our identity as a nation – not one orchestrated by a Prime Minister desperate for ~a legacy~ in cahoots with a panel stacked with stuffy old white men, ~business gurus~ and reality TV producers.

New Zealand could easily become a republic in the next 10, 20 years. I can wait.

And here’s the ultimate irony. There’s a strong meme going around that Red Peak fans are being bitter and nasty and childish about their #1 pick not being the winner. But the only nastiness I’m seeing is from people who like the blue Lockwood (or like the idea of John Key getting that legacy), sneering that we must accept the ~wishes of the majority~ … by not exercising our votes in the second referendum – not in a way they don’t want.

Democracy, chaps. It works both ways.

Women of #nzpol: on the #nzflag challenger

The women-of-#nzpol Twitter roundup is brought to you in the interests of amplifying women’s voices in the political debate and also because:

addams family misandry

Well, that was disappointing. Not surprising, just … disappointing.

First, the facts, because the journalistas of Twitter are quick off the mark:

And then, the reaction.

I think that’s a “no” from the admittedly selective group of women on my #nzpol list, then.

Flag referendum 1

I’m a politics nerd, so of course I was excited to receive my voting papers in the mail for the first part of the flag referendum – despite strongly disagreeing with the way it’s been conducted, the fact it’s a smokescreen for the Key government’s third-term flailing, the bankruptcy of the “design process” and lack of genuine public debate, and of course what a gigantic waste of money all of the above entails.

On the other hand … boxes to fill in! Options to rank! I’m so easily pleased in some regards.

Ooh yeah, democratic participation

A post shared by @msstephaniecatherine on

If you have serious questions about the voting process, Graeme Edgeler seems to have covered everything off over at Public Address. If you have uncovered the truth about the flag referendum and need to tell the world about DUE AUTHORITY, the TPPA, the constitutional importance of the Union Jack, or the two-year time limit which will allow John Key to personally change the flag without a further ballot if the number of formal votes exceeds the number of informal votes … please form an orderly queue to see Dr Dentith.

Having previously said I think the first referendum is essentially rigged in favour of John Key’s put-a-fern-on-it preference, I’m still going to rank the options I like and leave the ones I don’t. The received wisdom is we’re going to reject a flag change in the second referendum anyway (which would really show what a farce the whole process has been) but I want to do what I can to make sure our current flag is at least up against an alternative I like.

You, personally, get to decide what you want to do with your vote. Not voting is always an option.

The only thing I’ll say is that trying to “send a message” by not voting or spoiling your ballot is an uncertain game. Yes, a low turnout could say that we the people reject the process – or it could, and probably will, be spun as “we’re all pretty relaxed about the process.” High numbers of informal/spoiled votes could say that many of us think the process is corrupt – or it could, and probably will, be spun as “those weirdos on the Left who hate democracy” or “see, we told you preferential voting systems just confuse people, let’s try to resurrect FPP again!”

If you want to send a message, send that message. Sign a petition which clearly states your view, or write a letter to the editor, or take to the streets, or tweet it. We live in a world dominated by spin, marketing and short attention spans – we have to work extra hard to make sure our opinions are clearly stated and not open to mischievous misinterpretation for other people’s ends.