In a counter to last year's repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act, the ACT party's John Boscawen is introducing a private bill to ensure 'it is no longer a crime for parents or guardians to use reasonable force to correct children'. Boscawen claimed that the repeal 'simply criminalised law-abiding parents and removed their freedom' (although his media release didn't give any instance of a law-abiding parent being convicted for the light smacking he advocates).
Under all the heated rhetoric the smacking debate has unleashed, pro-smackers seem to reason as follows: kids aren't fully mature or rational, you can't always reason with them, so you should be able to hit them instead to make them behave. I don't agree with this (for example, most people don't think it's OK to hit an elderly person with dementia, who also is not fully rational) but at least I can see the logic.
Yet, I seem to remember that, during the 90s, ACT went to the polls with a policy of lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12. So a few years ago, ACT thought of children as calculating, rational and culpable creatures that needed to be called to account in the dock. Now, they're dumb things that need to be hit so they can learn.
Another inconsistent idea about young people appears in ACT's current law and order policy, which advocates 'more secure, more humane, cheaper prisons. Young taggers don't progress to worse crimes'. Leaving aside the contradictory comments ACT has made about prison safety, we now have a view that young people can be influenced into bad deeds if we don't keep them safe. Clearly, this implies a duty of care towards young people, including a responsibility to keep them safe from violence. Welfare dependence should be ended because 'it is wrong to impose rules that make it rational for adolescents and adults to behave in ways that destroy their future' - now we're somewhere between young people (and adult beneficiaries) as calculating abusers of the system, and hapless victims of a callous welfare regime.
Despite a recent press release release condemning the actions of two toy-gun wielding private schoolboys, much of ACT's policy isn't aimed at young people at all. It's aimed at young poor people. ACT policy wants to comfort middle-aged people on the North Shore, hiding behind their Venetian blinds for fear that young brown hooligans are roaming the streets. It's a desire to control the hordes, dressed up with inconsistent arguments that veer between the outright punitive and faux paternalism. Much as they might protest otherwise, no member of the ACT caucus would be comfortable seeing their child in the same prison van in which Liam Ashley's short life was ended. And should an ACT MP's child end up in jail, I've got a feeling that MP would be less glib about prison rape.
Sigh. It's enough to make you want to lightly smack some consistency into the ACT party.