Far right christianists are about to stick New Zealand taxpayers with a $9 million bill for a referendum that will change absolutely nothing—which they knew all along. They don’t care about that—or about soaking taxpayers—they want to grandstand on the issue and have someone else pay for it.
Sound like a harsh assessment? Then consider this: They tried to get their referendum on the ballot for the last general election because they knew it would draw more anti-Labour voters. The Chief Electoral Officer, who knows how much referenda screw up vote counting in general elections, wanted a postal ballot instead, which is what we’re getting.
In New Zealand, these “citizen-initiated referenda” are advisory only and Parliament is free to ignore it, as they almost always do. The far right know that, but huff and puff about “the will of the majority of New Zealanders” and about “criminalising good parents”.
Far right christianists deliberately wrote the question to get the result they wanted: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" As Opposition Leader Phil Goff and Prime Minister John Key have both noted, the wording is ambiguous, at best. NO ONE is for criminalising good parents—and the law doesn’t do that—but that doesn’t mean they’re opposed to the law altogether as a no vote would imply.
Labour Leader Phil Goff plans to boycott the referendum altogether, and I kind of think he’s right: Voting in the far right’s vanity vote would give legitimacy to what’s an entirely illegitimate question. If they were serious, they could’ve asked if the law, or parts of it, should be repealed. But that wouldn’t give them the opportunities for PR, marketing or the self-centred, arrogant self-righteousness that this meaningless referendum will.
New Zealand has shocking rates of violence against children, and obviously too many people clearly don’t know the difference between “good parental correction” and violence against children. New Zealand would be well-served by moving away from the christianist encouragement of violence against children, and—in part thanks to the law—it seems it may be doing so. The Prime Minister has said he has no plans to revisit the law, which he helped draft and pass, when it clearly seems to be working just fine.
And that, ultimately, is the real verdict—for free.
Update August 22, 2009: The results are in.