2009 New Zealand child discipline referendum
Results by electorate
|Source: The Chief Electoral Officer|
Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?
Voter turnout was 56.1%. 87.4% of votes answered 'no'. The result of the referendum was non-binding and the New Zealand government did not change the law in response to the outcome.
The petition for the referendum was launched in February 2007 in response to the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill, which would remove parental correction as a defence for assault against children. The petition was organised by Sheryl Savill with support from Kiwi Party's Larry Baldock. The wording of the petition was approved by Clerk of the House David McGee on 21 February 2007.
The bill, introduced by Sue Bradford, was passed its third reading in Parliament by 113 votes to 7 on 16 May 2007. Meanwhile organisations and individuals led by Larry Baldock continued to collect signatures to initiate a referendum. They fell short by about 15,500 signatures (many were invalid), and they were granted two further months to make up the difference. Eventually the petition attracted 310,000 signatures from voters, surpassing the 285,000 signatures, or 10 percent of total voters, required to force a referendum.
In June 2008, then prime minister Helen Clark announced that the referendum would not take place alongside the 2008 election as the organisers had been hoping. The decision was based on advice from the Chief Electoral Officer that holding such a referendum could lead to voter confusion. Instead, a postal ballot was selected, starting 30 July 2009 for eligible voters and closing on 21 August 2009.
In June 2009, then Prime Minister John Key said that the government would change the law if it was not working, but that he believed the current law was working well.
Criticism regarding question wording
The wording of citizens-initiated referendum questions was ultimately the responsibility of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, David McGee. Under the referendum legislation, the wording of the question is required to "convey clearly the purpose and effect" of the referendum.
[The question] "could have been written by Dr Seuss – this isn't Green Eggs and Ham, this is yes means no and no means yes, but we're all meant to understand what the referendum means. I think it's ridiculous myself."— Prime Minister John Key, 
The referendum question was interpreted by some to assume that "a smack" can form part of "good parental correction". Murray Edridge, Chief Executive of Barnardos New Zealand, claimed that the question "presupposes that smacking is part of good parental correction" which he described as "a debatable issue". Prime Minister John Key described the question as "ambiguous" and pointed out that it "could be read a number of different ways". Leader of the Opposition Phil Goff expressed concern that the question "implies that if you vote 'yes' that [sic] you're in favour of criminal sanctions being taken against reasonable parents – actually nobody believes that."
Sue Bradford introduced a private member's bill, the Citizens Initiated Referenda (Wording of Questions) Amendment Bill, designed to prevent future citizens-initiated referenda from having poorly worded questions, and the National government considered adopting it.
On this bill, she wrote:
An example of an approved referendum question that is both leading and misleading is the NZ Referendum on Child Discipline 2009 proposed by Larry Baldock.
The question approved for that referendum "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" is leading in that the use of the word "good" before "parental correction" makes a value-judgment which predetermines the answer. People answering the question will be drawn to answer "no" on the basis that what is "good" cannot be criminal.
Mr Smith says the upcoming referendum will not provide clarity on the question of child discipline, because it is possible to support the 2007 amendment while voting either Yes or No to the referendum question: Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?
However, Caritas recognises that in the political context of the referendum, a 'Yes' vote is seen to be a vote for the status quo, while a 'No' vote is seen to be a vote against the 2007 amendment.
"In this context, we recommend a 'Yes' vote, as we believe the status quo is close to the position that we recommended to the Select Committee. However, the wording of the question is so ambiguous, many New Zealanders who support efforts to reduce violence against children, may in good conscience still feel obliged to vote 'No'. It will be hard to understand what the outcome of the referendum may mean," says Mr Smith.
He says Caritas will be writing to the Prime Minister and other relevant politicians, expressing concern that the ambiguous nature of the question will result in an outcome that cannot be understood as either supporting or opposing the 2007 amendment.
The "yes" campaign
Most front-line child welfare organisations, such as Plunket Society, Barnardos, Save the Children, Unicef, Women's Refuge, CPAG, Epoch and Jigsaw, believed the referendum question was misleading, and encouraged their supporters to vote "yes". These organisations, along with many others, backed "The Yes Vote" campaign. Māori Party co-leader Pita Sharples and Green Party co-leader Russel Norman wanted the current law retained, with Norman adding he would vote Yes.
The "no" campaign
The "Vote NO" campaign website was launched on 22 June 2009. The campaign was supported by Simon Barnett. ACT leader Rodney Hide said he would vote no, believing parents have the right to lightly smack their children. Family First and The Kiwi Party also supported voting 'no'.
|Invalid or blank votes||12,106||0.72|
|Registered voters and turnout||3,002,968||56.09|
|Electorate||Party holding seat||Yes(%)||Yes(num)||No N (%)||No N (num)||Informal votes||Invalid votes||Turnout|
|Bay of Plenty||National||7.32||2,210||92.27||27,844||122||9||66.75|
|East Coast Bays||National||10.24||2,742||89.24||23,907||141||17||59.63|
|Te Tai Hauāuru||Māori||11.17||1,362||88.25||10,758||37.36|
|Te Tai Tokerau||Māori||10.70||1,344||88.77||11,148||37.87|
|Te Tai Tonga||Māori||14.40||1,791||85.40||10,580||38.86|
Prime Minister John Key promised to bring forward the planned review of the law.
John Boscawen's private member's bill
By coincidence, Government coalition and ACT MP John Boscawen had a private member's bill legalising smacking drawn from the ballot less than a week after the referendum. Prime Minister John Key said his National Party would vote it down, with the Labour Party and Green Party also opposed making it likely to be lost after the first reading of the bill. In September 2010 the Bill was in fact defeated 115–5 on its first reading in Parliament.
Dissatisfied with the government's response, the Kiwi Party has put forward another referendum to make referendums legally binding. The question "Should Parliament be required to pass legislation that implements the majority result of a citizens initiated referendum where that result supports a law change?" was approved by the Clerk of the House on 17 December 2009. However, the petition failed to gain sufficient signatures and subsequently lapsed.
A protest against prime minister John Key's response to the referendum was held on Saturday, 21 November 2009 in Auckland. The New Zealand Herald estimated that between 4,000 and 5,000 people attended.
On 24 March 2017 it was reported that New Zealand First and Winston Peters will take to the election a policy of repeal the anti-smacking law passed by the last parliament despite overwhelming public opposition. They went on to state that they will not enter any coalition or confidence and supply agreement with a party that wishes to ignore the public’s clearly stated view in a referendum on that issue after the 2017 New Zealand general election.
Note: Percentage figures are rounded.
|Source||Date||Sample||Yes||NNo||Don't know/won't vote|
|TVNZ/Colmar Brunton||3 August 2009||1000||13%||83%||5%|
- Crimes Act 1961, the Act that was amended
- Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 the amending Act
- Crime in New Zealand
- Corporal punishment in the home
- Pede, Robert (25 August 2008). "Citizens Initiated Referendum 2009 – Final Result" (Website). Ministry of Justice. The Chief Electoral Officer. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
- 2009 Citizens Initiated Referendum[permanent dead link], Elections New Zealand.
- Collins, Simon (1 November 2008). "Campaign targets pro-smack petitioners". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- Collins, Simon (23 February 2007). "Petition offers voice against Bradford bill". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- New Zealand Gazette, 1 March 2007.
- "Smacking petition falls short". The Dominion Post. 29 April 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- Trevett, Claire (26 June 2008). "Smack referendum next year, says Clark". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- "Key, Goff won't vote on smacking referendum". The New Zealand Herald. 16 June 2009. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993, section 10.
- Trevett, Claire (23 June 2009). "Key sees merit in Greens' referendum bill". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- "Anti-smacking debate goes to referendum". 3 News. 15 June 2009. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- "Nine-to-Noon", Radio New Zealand National, 16 June 2009.
- Young, Audrey (17 June 2009). "Big two coy on smacking vote". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- "Citizens Initiated Referenda (Wording of Questions) Amendment Bill". Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. Archived from the original on 23 July 2009. Retrieved 21 July 2009.
- "Bradford introducing bill on referendum wording". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. 17 June 2009. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- "Caritas says child discipline referendum will not provide clarity", Press release, 15 July 2009.
- "The Yes Vote (Campaign website)". Retrieved 10 June 2009.
- "Vote NO Referendum Website Launched", Family First Press Release, 22 June 2009.
- "Final Result by Electorate for the Citizens Initiated Referendum 2009 on the question "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"". Elections New Zealand. 25 August 2009. Retrieved 3 October 2009.
- Young, Audrey (25 August 2009). "PM: Smacking law review gives parents 'comfort'". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- Audrey Young (27 August 2009). "Key scuttles move to change smacking law". The New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 6 September 2009.
- The Kiwi Party (5 September 2009). "New petition will be launched says Kiwi Party". Scoop.co.nz.
- "CIR question approved by the Clerk". Scoop.co.nz. 17 December 2009. Retrieved 9 February 2010.
- "One arrest as thousands join 'March for Democracy'". The New Zealand Herald. Auckland. NZPA. 21 November 2009.
- "NZ First Repeal of Anti-Smacking Law Welcomed". 26 March 2017.
- "Poll finds smacking OK with most Kiwis". One News. 3 August 2009. Retrieved 30 October 2011.