I would like to be among the first to congratulate the new Children’s Commissioner John Angus for coming out so clearly in this morning’s New Zealand Herald supporting the section 59 law change.
It is great that Mr Angus is not shying away from being the advocate for children that his new role demands, rather than taking the kind of risk adverse approach one might have suspected from a former senior bureaucrat in the Ministry of Social Development.
What a relief it is that Christine Rankin did in fact decline the Government’s evident offer of the post of Children’s Commissioner because, as she said in the Dominion Post of 12 May (not available on-line):
I was talked to about (the children’s commissioner job) but I have not applied for that role.
I have a really successful business in Auckland that I love and I don’t really want to live in Wellington.
Instead – as we all know – she took up the post of part time Families Commissioner.
She and her fellow new Commissioner Bruce Pilbrow started work in their $565 per day roles last week, on 1 June.
It will be interesting to see what happens to the Families Commission now, with one third of its six part time Commissioners – Pilbrow and Rankin – opposed to the law change which now sees children offered the same legal protection against assault as that enjoyed by adults.
The Children’s Commission has had a lucky escape, at least for now.
On the other hand, the future of the Families Commission is decidedly murky.
It is difficult to see how an organisation set up to advocate for the wellbeing of all New Zealand families will work around the fact that two of its Commissioners have actually campaigned to restore the ‘reasonable force’ defence for child discipline.
The role of Social Development Minister Paula Bennett in all this is not 100% clear either, but the evidence so far points to the fact that she is a key Rankin supporter and that she has done a lot to ensure Rankin ended up with a key role in at least one of these two organisations.
My real worry here is that the Minister may in fact be an opponent of the s59 law change herself, despite the fact she voted for it in 2007 – especially in the light of comments she made on a radio talkback show last week:
Asked for her view on the referendum question, “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” she said, “No, I don’t, I believe that actually good parenting should be left to do that in their different ways in their different homes and I don’t have an interest in going into people’s homes and telling them how to parent.”
I hope Ms Bennett will soon release a statement unequivocally supporting the s59 amendment, especially with voting in the postal referendum on this issue starting at the end of July.
It would be sad indeed for the children of this country if we had not only two Families Commissioners but also a Minister of Social Development who actually believe that there should be a legal defence available when parents hit, whack or smack their children in the name of discipline.