Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Politics of Smacking

Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett has called for an independent inquiry into smacking and (parental) discipline, and any link it might have to child abuse.

His call comes after New Zealand passed legislation banning smacking of children, and reports that the number of reported cases of child abuse in 2005-2006 has doubled since 1999-2000, to 266,000 reports across Australia. There are several things we, as a society should know, in order to put this in context:

  1. ANY child abuse is abhorrent; and it is right that we should address the problem.
  2. The responsibility for reporting falls to each State. ie each state has its own laws that govern when a report of child abuse is made.
  3. Media outlets have simply reported raw statistics about the doubling of the number of reported cases from the (Federal Government-run) Australian Institute of Family Studies. Media have not bothered to even check the website. There they would have found the following statement:

    "Some of this increase reflects changes in child protection policies and practices in the jurisdictions." (

    They would also have found a site dealing with Comparability of Data, at:

    There appears to have been no investigative aspect to media reporting - just tabloid repetition.

  4. 2007 is an election year, and it was no surprise that politicians of the major political parties were keeping a low profile on the issue. There are at most 6 months before an election is held, possibly less, and political parties do not want to antagonise any section of the voting public.
  5. Senator Bartlett called for an independent inquiry. I can't remember the last truly independent public enquiry established by a Federal Government. The current government, under John Howard, has removed all the Senate Committees it does not control, and the most recent inquiries likely to be remembered are the inquiry into Nuclear Power and the AWB Royal Commission. The inquiry into Nuclear Power was run by John Howard's good friend and confidante, Ziggy Zwitowski; and the AWB Royal Commission was excluded from making findings about politicians and their public servants.
In short, this is such an important social issue we do need an independent enquiry, or a serious piece of proper investigative journalism. The chances of the Federal Government commissioning a truly independent public inquiry are NIL. Any inquiry, like other government enquiries, will occur because it suits the party; will have a controlled outcome that favours current government policy; and will be timed to run well past the Federal election.

It is a shame that our politicians duck for cover, when some form of leadership is needed.

The Analyst