That ridiculous referendum

Well, look what turned up in my letterbox yesterday…


I was at a loss to understand how such a poorly worded referendum question could be approved. There are three obvious flaws in this referendum question:

  • It is a leading question, in that it predisposes the reader to a particular response. People find it diffficult to associate “good” with “criminal”, so the wording itself encourages people to respond “No”.
  • It is a misleading question. It implies that giving a child a smack is likely to result in a parent becoming a criminal. The evidence is that it is not.
  • It is an ambiguous question. The term “smack” is not defined in law, so the question will mean different things to different people.

So I took a look at the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act, under which this referendum has been proposed.

The Act provides that “The Clerk of the House of Representatives shall determine the wording of the precise question to be put to voters in the proposed indicative referendum”. But it gives the Clerk no guidance as to how the referendum question should be worded, and it seems that in this instance the wording proposed by Larry Baldock has been blindly accepted. Hence, it seems, a question that is deliberately designed to elicit a particular response can slip through the system.

It really is appallingly drafted legislation that can allow $9 million to be spent on a referendum question as biased and confusing as this one is.

As for how to vote, and despite the wording of this ridiculous referendum question, I’ll be taking my lead from the people at The Yes Vote:

  • A ‘yes’ vote is a vote to retain a law that is working well.
  • A ‘yes’ vote is a vote to protect children from assault.
  • A ‘yes’ vote is a vote for positive parenting.
  • A ‘yes’ vote is supported by Barnardos, Plunket, Save the Children, Unicef and many other respected child-focussed organisations.

Update: I see Danyl is taking the piss on the referendum as only Danyl can over at The Dim Post.

7 thoughts on “That ridiculous referendum

  1. Pingback: Child beating lobby finished at The Standard

  2. Good analysis Toad.

    The question is also misleading in that it pre-assumes that smacking is part of ‘good parental correction’.

    It makes me angry that such a loaded and confusing question was ever allowed .

    Maybe we need a law change to ensure that referendum questions meet clear criteria ie are unambiguous, clear and not a waste of public money.

  3. Yes Mojo, that too. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Lady P: It doesn’t take a lot to confuse John Boscawen.

  4. Pingback: Our friends in the Blogosphere | The Yes Vote - NZ Referendum on Child Discipline 2009

  5. Thank you for the analysis … well done. I too looked at the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act and I note that the Clerk of the House of Representatives must advertise ‘the proposed referendum question’ in the govt gazette and newspapers and consider submissions before confirming the wording of the question. I wonder if anyone saw the gazette notice or public notice in other papers??

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