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Q + A: Paul Holmes interviews Cheryl Savill and Bob McCroskie
Sunday July 26, 2009
At a glance…
Referendum sponsor only ever used “a light smack” on hand or bottom; thinks it only works for children aged 2-9
Savill: Smacking in anger is “wrong” and should not be legal
McCoskrie: More parents being investigated for smacking, police time being wasted
Savill: “The government is not representing” the view of most parents
McCoskrie: If New Zealand votes yes in the referendum, supporters will accept result and stop campaigning
- WATCH the video (13:09)
PAUL Well now we come again to the lingering painful ongoing issue of smacking children, we’re about to take part in a non binding referendum initiated by a mother of two, Cheryl Savill. The question on the referendum is ‘should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand’. Now one thing you might not realise the law specifically says at the moment, it is legal to smack a child still of they’re about to harm themselves – if they’re about to run on to the road or put their hand on a hot stove or over the fire and so forth, so why the outcry. With us then Cheryl Savill, the originator of the referendum and Bob McCroskie – welcome both of you. Cheryl you are a Mum two kids, how old are the kids.
CHERYL Ten and twelve.
PAUL And do you smack them?
I have smacked them in the past, and I found it effective when they were younger?
PAUL How often would you have smacked them?
CHERYL Actually it differed between the two children, they’re quite different little characters, and one of them is quite a strong willed character and it’s interesting to point out that discipline is on the things and correcting a child is when we’ve used smacking, so when it’s you know you’re not to touch something and they’ve gone to touch it, well I have one of them that would actually eyeball me and be quite defiant in her behaviour so smacking was effective, a little light smack on the hand.
PAUL So why are you so passionate about the right to use physical violence against children?
CHERYL Well I don’t think it’s a right, the terminology there, the right to use physical violence. Smacking is one of the things that parents can use as a technique to help discipline their children.
PAUL But why do we want to allow violence against children, I mean if an adult smacks, let’s use the word smack, if an adult smacks another adult it’s considered unacceptable, in fact it’s probably criminal, why should it be acceptable for a big person to assault or to smack a little child?
CHERYL Well it’s quite a different relationship between a parent and their child than between adults. So a parent’s responsibility is to raise their child to become a responsible loving productive member of society, and that’s what I think is the issue here, the parenting role is very different to the role that we have as adults in relationship to each other.
PAUL The trouble with smacking with most people is that most times it would happen in anger wouldn’t it?
CHERYL Anger’s a very dangerous area to get involved with. When parents smack out in anger that is wrong, I mean we have to be really careful and I think education on it is a big issue.
PAUL What did you use, a wooden spoon or the hearth brush or what?
CHERYL No I used a smack on the hand like that, or a smack on the bottom. When you actually show the footage often you’ll see a parent grabbing the child by the arm and whack, whack, whack, whack and I don’t agree with that I think that’s going too far. So I need to really clarify that.
PAUL At what age do you think is a suitable age for a child to be smacked?
CHERYL I think around from two or three year old toddlers who can get very stroppy and a quick light smack on the hand really does stop their naughty behaviour, up until they’re maybe at primary school age maybe eight or nine, at that stage just in those years where children are learning and they’re defiant or playing up, sometimes that’s when it’s really important.
PAUL But at the moment the law does allow it if the child is heading into harm, so why rock the boat?
CHERYL It is allow it for harm.
PAUL But it’s also if they eyeball you and you want to break them?
CHERYL Well correcting and discipline is the area that I’m really concerned about.
Well can I just clarify that, if you smack a child as they’re about to touch that’s preventing bad behaviour, but if they do it, if they do something naughty, and then you say you’re not to do that again I’m going to give you a smack don’t do that again, that is correction, that is illegal, and this is the minefield that parents are going through that you can smack to prevent that behaviour but not to correct.
PAUL Nobody’s going through a minefield Bob.
BOB Well they are.
PAUL Parents are very calm, can I suggest to you everyone agrees, the Police, the government, both major parties, Barnardos, Plunket, everyone agrees….
BOB Every government funded group agrees with the government but parents don’t.
PAUL No, they agree that the law is working well.
BOB No they don’t, 30% increase in Child Youth and Family notifications and yet the number of cases requiring further investigation is dropping, and in a six months Police review period a 200% increase in parents being investigated, but the prosecution rate was 6%, the Police are wasting their time on 94% of non abusive parents.
PAUL No they’re not, Police are using their discretion, and there is discretion in the law, you know that.
BOB CYFS don’t have the discretion.
PAUL The Police can use discretion but what the Police can do is say look we’re not going to necessarily prosecute you, we think you might have gone a little bit too far here but we’ll have CYFS have a look.
BOB Well we’ve put cases in front of John Key and also the Minister of Police of parents getting prosecuted for smacks, light smacks, open hands, and look a cop turning up on your front door step, being complained about, we’ve had kids who have rung the Police to say I’m being smacked simply because they didn’t like being grounded. That’s unacceptable, it’s affecting the psyche of parents and in the Herald poll yesterday the interesting significant aspect Paul was that even amongst parents who chose not to smack, two thirds of them didn’t think it should be a crime.
PAUL Yes but also in the poll there’s this huge drift over the past couple of decades, three decades, away from smacking, probably because people realise it’s not good to do that.
BOB No no, there’s been a huge push not to do it.
CHERYL I actually think it’s quite interesting that there has been this move away from smacking or from actual violence which we don’t agree with, you know anger in action.
PAUL Smacking, hitting, what’s the difference Cheryl?
CHERYL Well a big difference, you know there is a seriously big difference, if a child gets bruised that’s too far.
BOB Same with time out Paul, there’s appropriate time out, but locking your kid in a dark room for three hours is child abuse.
CHERYL But what I was going to say is it’s interesting that these latest statistics have shown that the rates of smacking have come down, but over the past 30 years our rates of child abuse are still going up because we’re not addressing the real issues of child abuse, and that’s something else that I’m really concerned about, and it’s the drug and alcohol, the stress, the poverty, family breakdown, those are really important.
PAUL Well that’s not going to be addressed in this pointless referendum is it?
CHERYL Well those are the things that need to be addressed because that’s what needs to happen.
PAUL What is your smacking history Mr McCroskie?
BOB I was smacked, and it did me the world of good. There was nothing wrong with it.
PAUL Did it? Do you remember what you were smacked for?
BOB Oh no, but I don’t remember what I was rewarded for either, I simply know that my parents were non abusive parents and they gave me a smack and usually I deserved it and it did me no harm. Paul if smacking was that bad and led to so much violence the current generation and our grandparents would have been an horrendously violent nation, we’re not, we did pretty good well didn’t we?
PAUL Well it was a simpler world perhaps, but go back to a situation that obtained before we amended section 59, kids in New Zealand were the only kids not protected from physical violence. They did not have the same protections afforded to adults and animals.
BOB Yes they did, they were protected because the smack had to be reasonable and for the purpose of correction within the parent child relationship, so kids were protected from violence, if a parent went too far they were prosecuted.
PAUL And they got off Bob.
BOB One or two got off, there were a couple of exceptions.
PAUL A couple of very brutal incidents.
BOB And that’s what we wanted to do was to amend the law, we agreed with Chester Burrows amendment, we agree with John Boscawen’s member’s bill, which simply more clearly defined what was reasonable and what was not, it was a win win situation, that’s what parents want, they want certainty in the law. At the moment we’ve got this mish mash, parents don’t know where they stand.
PAUL Well at the moment you’re going to get nothing, because what you’ve committed us to is a nine million – in the middle of a recession Cheryl – nine millions dollars on a referendum that’s going to get us nowhere, John Key says he’ll only change the law if it’s not working, as far as he sees it is working well.
BOB No we’ve given him the evidence that it’s not working and yesterday his comment in the Herald suggests that he wants it improved.
PAUL Can I suggest to you there’s no political will whatever to change things?
CHERYL And that’s really concerning me. We have over 300 thousand people in New Zealand that signed this petition and want this referendum to go ahead. Now the fact that the previous government chose not to do it at the elections has caused this cost of nine million dollars, it wouldn’t have cost this much and that’s the politicians’ decision, it’s not my decision, but the voice of New Zealand and in a democratic society, the government who are sposed to represent us, the parents and the people of this country, are not representing our view.
BOB And this is why I challenge people to get out and have their say, whether they’re going to vote yes or not, I’d encourage them to vote no, but I want them to have their say, because who should determine how parents raise their kids, should it be politicians and government funded groups or should it be the mass of parents as a group defining what is best for kids as a society. I say it’s parents and I encourage people to vote.
PAUL Well yes but we have a system that appears, according to so many of the agencies which deal with children, to be working well.
BOB And the worst families we should be encouraging them to identify the real causes, drug and alcohol abuse, family breakdown.
PAUL But isn’t it strange that in this day and age we’re having a debate about whether we should be able to assault children?
BOB No it’s not about assault.
PAUL Come on!
CHERYL It’s not assault. Assaulting children – in fact actually the footage that you showed of whacking a child over and over and over again, I don’t agree with that, that’s not what I’m saying, and that’s what – I talk to hundreds of parents, I talk to parents in the school ground all the time, and they say to me this is crazy, what’s going on with the law.
PAUL The question has attracted a lot of attention, who came up with the question?
CHERYL Well the wording of that question a few people were involved with that, but it had to be clarified.
BOB It was mainly through Larry Baldock, but Paul one interesting thing, people don’t like the definition of good parental correction in the question, but the law which is currently implemented has an outclause which says good care and parenting, so they use the same phrase, so one minute it’s okay in the law but it’s not okay in a referendum question it’s a smoke screen.
PAUL What is your involvement in this, I know that you’ve worked for Radio Rhema which is a religious radio station, is this driven by religion?
BOB No it’s not, it’s driven by a passion for families. Look 85% of families.
PAUL Is this driven by adherence to the old biblical saying that to spare the rod is to spoil the child? Do you believe that?
BOB No I think we be disciplining kids, I think we should be bringing them up, we should be training them and they should have clear boundaries, they should be surrounded in a loving family and the question is should a parent who’s bringing up a loving family, is loving the kid, doing all the things right, and chooses to use a smack, should they be criminalised, I would say no, it’s as simple as that, 85% of New Zealanders are saying that.
PAUL In the end masses of New Zealanders are not being turned into criminals.
BOB Well they are…
CHERYL The fact that CYFS and Police are coming into parents’ homes, good parents that have used smacking.
BOB And what a waste of their time.
CHERYL A waste of time and money.
PAUL Let me just finish this. If you lose the vote, just say you lose the vote, is that the end of it? You go away and leave us alone.
BOB You go with democracy.
PAUL And if you win the vote then what?
BOB Well the campaign will continue. The referendum is just part of the process, we will continue to fight for this issue just the same Paul as if somebody suggests that we should ban time out, and some people have said that. If somebody said let’s ban time out because it causes isolation and withdrawal from kids and it’s unfair on kids and it breaches their rights on the convention of Rights of the Child, we’ll fight for that as well, we’ll fight for the parents.
PAUL Thank you both very much for coming in.
Up on Ration Shed; with thanks to Paul-H, Bob-M, and Cheryl Savill
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Onward – Jim