There's a good deal that can't be said about the so-called "Timaru Lady", whose Section 59 acquittal on charges of assaulting her son with a riding crop and a cane really began the recent smacking madness. The permanent suppression order the followed her acquittal has seen to that.
But I can say that she has an older son in Auckland, with whom I have occasionally been in contact. His first email to me, last year, included this passage:
Let me start by firstly saying I left home during high school because of the physical abuse and have nothing further to do with my mother other than through countless family court hearings with me trying to get my brothers and sisters removed from her care.
Anyway the point of my email is that I talked to Family First several times years ago and they were aware of [redacted]'s past and I even gave them more informed details but they were more than happy just to brush it over and use her as a political catalyst. It makes me really angry and I did fire back at them at the time they were supporting violence against our children. But however. You will find a couple more organisations such as Anti-Cyfs organisations .... that fully support her. I really think someone should bring this to light.
There are problems with bringing it to light, including the fact of the name suppression (imposed, ironically, to protect the woman's children) and, as the son put it in a later email:
It would be nice for a media outlet to maybe blow the case open, but most that I've talked to only will if I put my face on the TV and talk which well not really prepared to do. I have taken myself completely out of a situation surrounded by abuse/drugs amongst other things, put myself through uni and now live in Auckland so don't want to have to drag myself back through it all.
I'm excerpting these emails because I (with permission) put them in front of Larry Baldock on Media7 last night. I gave him the main one before the show, because I didn't think an ambush would be fair. My point was to do with the dangers of minismising the actions of these parents, and of allowing and encouraging them to become media stars. Jimmy Mason, who lapped up media attention and negotiated a soft exclusive with the Sunday programme – despite having been found to have punched his small boy in the face – is another example.
Students of these matters will recall that Bob McCoskrie made a media star of the "Timaru Lady": he flew her to Auckland to appear on his radio show and promoted her as a good parent done ill by the socialist nanny state. When that perception finally became untenable, McCoskrie tried to pretend he'd had nothing to do with it. The young man's email suggests an appalling moral lapse at Family First, which, as we all know, is basically McCoskrie himself. Baldock is not McCoskrie – as he was keen to point out – but they did work together soliciting votes for the referendum.
You can see Baldock's response on the show tonight, TVNZ 7, 9.10pm. I should say that I respect the fact that he came on the show, and I think he put his case well – although there was an audible gasp in the room when he told me he smacked his grandchildren. (Which may simply prove that the room was full of the very same liberal media elite who got their come-uppance in the referendum.)
Anyway, a last word to the son, from an email yesterday on the topic of the withdrawal of the Section 59 defence:
My point is that the removal of the defence stops parents passing off abuse as discipline (reasonable force) - and it is a classic case of the minority affecting the majority. Jaywalking is technically illegal and so is smacking, but you won't be tried for it (case law is yet to prevail with smacking) but it means that some of our kids are protected by those that used to abuse the loophole.
It's a simple enough point, really.
Also on the show tonight: Tracey Barnett and John Dybvig (who should hit the road as a double act) on the US healthcare reforms and Bevan Rapson on the new, sensibly-sized Metro magazine.