(Australia)The Sun-Herald, June 25, 2000

(Australia)Spare that rod-- MP's call to limit physical punishment of kids

ALAN Corbett flinches when he sees parents smacking their children. He feels their pain so much, he often intervenes.

"I hate it,” said the NSW politician. "Sometimes I will ask the parent if I can help. I remember one woman abused me and said, It’s none of your bloody business!” But Mr Corbett, who represents the Better Future For Our Children Party in the Legislative Council, has made it his business - in a dramatic way.

The Parliament’s law and justice committee is now considering his Private Member', Bill to limit the physical punishment of children to an openhanded smack below the shoulders.

Every major children’s welfare organisation, including Sydney's New Children's Hospital, has endorsed the bill. So has the Australian Medical Association, the Catholic Church and the law Society.

It has even split the Slate Opposition with former Liberal attorney-general John Hannaford supporting the Corbett Bill against most of his party. Mr Corbett has spent almost a year working with the Criminal Law Review Division of the Attorney-General's department to refine his bill, although Government is still unsure about supporting it.

He had to negotiate a minefield of ethnic and indigenous communities, with their own views about discipline, although in the end the Ethnic Communities Council and Aboriginal Legal Service endorsed the move.

For some, such as Community Services Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald, the bill does not go far enough. He would prefer a ban on all corporal punishment, “in line with international covenants on the rights of the child".

But Mr Corbett knows he is walking a tightrope with his proposed law. "1'm trying to find balance in this legislation” he said, "between the right of parents to bring up their children without undue government interference, and the right of children to live in a safe environment."

He added: "I don't use Physical punishment on my child. But the political and social reality is the vast majority of parents want to retain the freedom to smack a child.” The Corbett Bill clears up existing law by defining the meaning of "lawful correction" as a defence to assault charges.

By allowing only open-handed slaps, and outlawing the use of all implements in punishment, the bill will banish straps, whips, canes, chains, wires, ropes, birches, cricket and baseball bats, all of which pediatricians say are used to discipline children.

By limiting smacking to below the shoulders, the Corbett Rill would also do away with the almost folkloristic "clip around the ear". And that is a good move, according to leading pediatrician Kim Oates, who heads the New Children’s Hospital.

"Hitting children around the head is very dangerous," Professor Oates cautioned. "YOU can cause serious injury to the eyes. He recalls treating a child who,, father had attacked him with a cricket bat almost killing him, and inflicting severe brain damage. Psychologist Dr .lady Cashmore a former National Child Protection Council chair, urges parents to consider punishments that ` make children realise the consequences of their behaviour" or the withdrawal of freedoms or the loss, of pocket money, rather than hitting.

Existing law allows smacking that is "reasonable and moderate". The child's age, health and maturity, and where the blow is inflicted, help define what is reasonable. The,, are limits on the force that can be used but the "lawful correction" defence is vague. Corporal punishment was abolished in all NSW schools, public and private, in 1996.

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