23 Jun 2009

Rankin spoken to over smacking referendum

5:43 pm on 23 June 2009

Prime Minister John Key and the Social Development Minister have spoken to Families Commissioner Christine Rankin warning her against campaigning for the "no" vote in a referendum on smacking.

The referendum will be held in July regarding changes to the Crimes Act in 2007 that removed the defence of reasonable force for anyone accused of assaulting a child.

A campaign was launched on Monday to urge people to vote against the law in the referendum.

The referendum question asks: "Should a smack as part of a good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

In an article in Investigate magazine, Ms Rankin criticises the child discipline law, saying it has had a hugely damaging effect and has made parents afraid.

That view differs from the official position of the Families Commission to support the law as it stands.

Mr Key and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett say they are satisfied Ms Rankin was expressing a personal opinion, not as a member of the Families Commission, and that is acceptable.

However, both have reminded Ms Rankin that she should not be taking an active role in campaigning before the referendum.

Individual views allowed, says commission

The head of the Families Commission says commissioners can speak out against views held by the organisation, but only in an individual capacity.

Organisers of the Vote No campaign suggest Ms Rankin has been muzzled.

Chief commissioner Jan Pryor says the organisation often has very robust debates before agreeing to take a position on an issue, and commissioners can not speak out against what is agreed.

But Dr Pryor told Morning Report on Tuesday that commissioners can express opposing views if they make it clear if they are not speaking in their capacity as a family commissioner.

Dr Pryor says the commission welcomes diversity and there has never been a problem with commissioners speaking out as individuals.