30 Oct 2017

Minister for Children wanted to repeal anti-smacking legislation

From Checkpoint, 5:15 pm on 30 October 2017

The Minister for Children, New Zealand First's Tracey Martin, says her party's policy to hold a referendum on repealing the child smacking law did not make it through coalition talks.

The law was passed in 2007, removing the defence of reasonable force in cases of child abuse.

New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin tells the Justice and Electoral committee the words chosen to title a bill are crucial to outlining its focus.

Tracey Martin Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

New Zealand First campaigned in 2014 on holding a referendum to repeal the law, saying it was passed in 2007 despite overwhelming public opposition.

Ms Martin told Checkpoint with John Campbell that the law had had a chilling effect on parents, including herself.

She said she used to smack her children sometimes if they simply refused to listen.

"A smack on the hand, a smack on the leg, I absolutely did yes.

"Normally it was when one of my children would decide they weren't going to listen to me, they weren't going to follow my instructions, and so it was a stand-off between myself and a child and I'd got to the stage where I'd explained myself for a number of minutes and now we were in a situation where I was saying 'you need to do as you are told'.

"And if the answer was still 'no' then it was a smack on your leg and go to your room and then we'll talk about it later once you figure out that I'm the parent and you are the child."

Tracey Martin said once the law was changed, her children were older anyway.

But she said the world had moved on, and her party had moved on.

"If I can find a way without coalition partners, to improve that legislation to make it clearer in law, then we will do that.

"With regard to the referendum on section 59, that did not survive negotiations."

Ministry for Vulnerable Children title a 'mistake'

Ms Martin said she believed that the previous government made a mistake calling what was CYFS, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki, since there had been a lot of advice saying 'let's not stigmatise these children in that way'.

But she said changing its name was not a decision she could take on her own and there would need to be discussion with Cabinet before any name change.

Ms Martin said $46,000 was spent on rebranding for items such as letterheads and $6000 on signage.

"I can appreciate a lot of money was spent, but I would say this: 'If somebody makes a mistake, should we just not undo it because it might cost us some money?'"

Ms Martin said setting up a separate agency was a step in the right direction since it was obvious what was being done under CYFS was not working due to things such as resourcing and case load issues which needed to be quickly addressed.

She said she hoped to bring a European and Māori understanding to the job and although she was a sixth generation New Zealander of European descent, her mother had been whāngai (adopted or raised) in the Māori world.

There had not been enough conversation with Māori organisations, such as the Māori Women's Welfare League, when around 60 percent of children in state care were Māori, she said.

Ms Martin, who is also Minister for Seniors, said she was happy to have both ends of the spectrum because she wanted to work to bridge any divide between the two groups.

"We have older people who are under stress and we need to look at the rate rebates levels and other rebates levels for some of our older citizens."

She said older people needed to be considered when decisions were being made in areas such as housing and social support.

Ms Martin said she was very aware of the responsibility that she and other coalition members had taken on.

"It is just a real commitment to get across my portfolios as fast as possible, to work as hard as I can to make a positive change and positive outcome for those affected by my portfolio areas."

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