Big News + Extra: The Right To Smack & ACC Failure

Published: Mon 14 Oct 2002 11:23 AM
Big News with Dave Crampton
Why Should It Be A Crime To Smack Your Kid On The Hand?
The Government is pushing to repeal Section 59 of the Crimes Act, which gives parents the right to smack their kids. If that push becomes law, it would be a criminal offence to use loving discipline by smacking a kid on the hand, bum, or anywhere.
Social Services Minister Steve Maharey has said he wants to repeal the law because it gives parents a defence against assault charges when they physically discipline their children. What he really means is that he doesn’t trust most parents to appropriately discipline their kids – so he wants to tell them how not to do it by banning physical discipline.
Yet Section 59 states “reasonable force” must be used. A discussion and definition of reasonable force is what is needed before making it a criminal offence to discipline kids by smacking them once on the hand – which most people consider to be “reasonable force” as opposed to abuse.
Sure, smacking may lead to abuse, which should not be tolerated by anyone. Abuse is not reasonable force, either.
Yet advocates who publicly desire to repeal Section 59 are less public about a distinction between abuse and discipline and their definition of “reasonable force”. So they want to repeal the whole section because it is easier than suggesting amendments in order that reasonable force can be tolerated, and abuse outlawed.
One definition of reasonable force has been suggested by Justice Minister Phill Goff; smacking with an open hand. He didn’t mention how hard, how often or where.
What is interesting is that many who publicly call for a repeal of Section 59, such as Steve Maharey, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Dame Sylvia Cartwright, and Helen Clark, do not even have kids.
Last year Mr Goff released a Justice Ministry survey that found 80 per cent of people agreed parents should be allowed to smack their children. Most of those polled on the issue defend the right to smack, including last weeks poll on the Stuff site, which had one of the highest participation rates.
So if the Government does decide to repeal Section 59 it will be legislating against public opinion, rather than reflecting it. Not for the first time, either.
Others, such as MP John Tamihere (five kids) and CHP leader Graham Capill (nine kids) consider what goes on in their homes is their own business and the state should not interfere.
Just under a year ago Mr Maharey said any law change would have to be preceded by extensive public education. He’s not saying that now. Perhaps that education should extend to any MP’s who consider that ‘reasonable force” includes discipline by thrashing kids with jug cords, resulting in bruises, as NZ First MP Brian Donnelly seems to think Section 59 extends to.
Yet one person with a full quiver of kids who opposes smacking is Green MP Sue Bradford. She’s got just one thing in common with John Tamihere – 5 kids. She won’t deny ever hitting them, but wants to emphasise non-violence as she maintains Section 59 legitimises assault and leads to a “culture of violence”. But it must be difficult being in the Green Party and supporting Section 59 when it is a Green party policy to have it repealed. Likewise United Future MP’s want the status quo.
But why change the law? Will a law change mean you have to close your curtains before smacking your kids so that the police can’t catch you in the act?
Perhaps it will mean that it will be illegal to smack your kid on the hand in the supermarket car park. But a few years later the police may be able to get away with whacking that same teenager in the head with a baton, thus breaching the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
If parents do not legally have the option of physical discipline in the home, and do not want to break the law, the state will not only be setting the laws regarding discipline, it in some cases may be dishing out much harsher discipline to kids later in life.
If a repeal of Section 59 becomes law, I’ll happily commit a criminal offence by smacking my misbehaving kids on the hand every now and then – but I’ll have to get some new curtains first.
Big News extra
ACC don’t just use medical reports to kick people off the scheme
Revelations by the Sunday Star Times confirms what many of us already know: ACC aims to kick as many people off the scheme by asking for reports that assist in that aim. However medical reports are not the only criteria used to do this – the Corporation also uses assessments to work toward the aim of removing 1500 people a year from the scheme. They also use time sheets: If, say, a builder is working part time as an office temp, he could be kicked off the scheme, even if there is no medical report or ACC assessment backing up his fitness for work.
ACC managers have always said that an ACC assessment of a claimant is used to determine a person’s need for assistance and to determine a persons inability to work. It is clear that these assessments and medical reports have more to do with finding a way to kick claimants off ACC and onto the invalids benefit to satisfy target mutually agreed between ACC and the Government.
The Corporation often goes shopping to get medical opinions and assessments it wants to back up decisions to refuse compensation. If Case Managers don’t believe one assessment or medical opinion, they get another. If claimants don’t attend assessments, it does not only negatively affect their overall treatment plan, it also means compensation may be stopped. There may also be a delay in issuing a decision letter which means any subsequent reviews are also delayed.
Yet what treatment plan is there if the non attendance of an assessment delays it? Surely a delay in rehabilitation means that there is no rehabilitation at all.
What then happens is that people are kicked off the scheme after not receiving their entitled rehabilitation, only to be declared fit to work. A builder could be classed as fit to work – but in an office environment. This results in a former claimant having no job and no income – except perhaps an invalids benefit.
No wonder ACC is the most complained about organisation with the Ombudsman - greater than IRD. It also runs second in the number of complaints at the Privacy Commission, behind the police.
Claimants may be wasting money spent by ACC when they miss medical appointments. Yet ACC may also be wasting time when they send letters out for appointments and demand that the claimant turns up at the appointed time. Whether or not it is inconvenient to attend an appointment is irrelevant to ACC.
Yet if ACC were so concerned about saving money, they could count down on the number of unnecessary and unsuccessful review hearings by doing the job properly in the first place.
This includes reviews resulting from inappropriate rehabilitation and assessments and filming for possible fraud using tax payers money.
- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at

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