The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back [PDF] on the Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill. According to their press release (a press release from a select committee! They should do this more often), they have recommended that the bill proceed,
but with some amendments to clarify that reasonable force can be used when a parent is protecting a child from harm.
However, looking at the actual report, the bill has been watered down so much that it is practically homeopathy. The key problem is that rather than repealing s59, they are replacing it with a clause setting out when parents (and those in the place of parents) may use force against children. The replacement clause would allow "reasonable force" for the purposes of
(a) preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or
(b) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or
(c) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or
(d) performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.
The first of these is both clearly reasonable and redundant - s41 of the Crimes Act allows the use of "reasonably necessary" force in order to prevent conduct amounting to suicide, or "the commission of an offence which would be likely to cause immediate and serious injury to the person or property of any one" (which would include the child themselves). Section 48 allows the use of reasonable force in self-defence or the defence of another. The second is reasonable, but at the same time allows force to be used against children where it would not be allowed against adults; there is no blanket defence to assault of "preventing a crime", and defence of property is limited to reasonable force provided you do not strike or harm the person. As for the third, "offensive" or "disruptive" behaviour? How does allowing force in these circumstances differ from allowing it "by way of correction"? This undermines the entire purpose of the bill, and will allow parents to continue to beat their children for being rude ("offensive") or for crying in the supermarket ("disruptive") with impunity. And thanks to that handy "acting in the place of a parent" clause, so will schoolteachers. So much for the ban on corporal punishment in schools.
(The fourth is a catchall clause which pretty much allows anything. Again, how is this different from allowing force "by way of correction"? Is it simply a matter of timing?)
This is a crock, and I'm surprised Bradford agreed to it. It makes things actively worse than the status quo in some respects, while offering no real improvement. If sections 59 (c) and (d) were dropped, I could be persuaded to support it - but as the bill stands at the moment, it does not deserve to pass.
Update: it seems the Children's Commissioner shares my concerns:
"We need to repeal Section 59. Full stop. We don’t need to substitute it with another section that still allows the use of reasonable force under a list of still unclear circumstances that are open to interpretation. Even though a new subsection says that force cannot be used for the purposes of correction, I believe that the parental control definitions will lead to more confusion and argument about what is reasonable and what is not. This must be debated more fully at the second reading of the Bill."
And, ideally, corrected before the bill passes.