FAMILY Court Chief Justice Alastair Nicholson yesterday called for new laws to treat smacking a child as assault.
Chief Justice Nicholson said he was shocked that common law still allowed parents to smack their children.
"I am astonished that in this country in the 21st century it is still a defence to a charge of assaulting a child that you were engaged in reasonable chastisement," he said at a lunch for children's charity Berry Street Victoria.
"That was something that was removed in relation to women 100 years ago."
The Chief Justice said he found it remarkable that the law still saw it as harmless to smack a child when he or she stepped out of line.
"I think anyone associated with child protection would know that often a harmless smack is a lot more than that," he said.
"The fact that there is a mind set that enables parents to chastise children means some parents take that much too far."
Parents' and children's groups yesterday backed the Chief Justice's call.
"I think we should introduce legislation in a progressive way that first bans the implements against children, and the next stage in the progression of laws would then be to ban physical force against children," chief executive of Australians Against Child Abuse Joe Tucci said.
"Such legislation would be an explicit commitment by the community to the safety of children."
Mr Tucci said such legislation would not be about charging parents who smacked their children, but educating the community.
The Chief Justice yesterday pointed to Sweden as an example of a country where legislation had been used to educate the public about the damage caused by smacking.
"They weren't going around charging mothers who were smacking toddlers in the supermarket, but what they were doing was creating a climate where hitting children was regarded as socially unacceptable," he said.
Smacking children under three has also been made illegal in the UK.
But the state and federal governments have backed away from calls to use the law to stop smacking in Victoria.
"The Government believes broad community education is a better way to change behaviour than legislation," Community Services spokesman Tim Winkler said.
"We already have laws that make abuse and neglect illegal and mandatory reporting requirements for abuse and neglect.
"The Government believes the best way to help parents understand that smacking does not change behaviour in a positive way is to provide parenting education.