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School CP - February 2001
Waikato Times, 19 February 2001
The chicken that came home to roost
Many would consider Paul Hogan got what he deserved. He called his teacher "a black bastard" and got three straps on the hand for it.
That was 17 years ago. But the 30-year-old former Catholic schoolboy got the last laugh when he was awarded a massive $NZ3.1 million payout for the beating. An Australian jury found it was neither moderate nor reasonable and ordered the Catholic Church to pay up.
The award is likely to be appealed by the Church, which sees the sum as manifestly excessive and opening up the way to a host of litigation from other victims of corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment was permitted in New Zealand schools until 1990 when Parliament, on a conscience vote, abolished the practice. Most MPs, and schools, had already decided that corporal punishment was an archaic way of dealing with misbehaviour. In 1985 a survey showed that 75 per cent of schools had already decided to stop using the cane. They had found that other methods of enforcing discipline were just as effective and didn't involve violence.
Today most New Zealanders now consider violence to children to be abhorrent and in most cases counter-productive. There are better ways to encourage good behaviour, and adults who beat youngsters are now likely to end up in court.
But the climate used to be a little different. Most of those at school until the 1980s would have come into contact with the cane or the strap at some stage. It was the norm. Corporal punishment was considered acceptable -- and accepted by most who received it. Six of the best or a strap across the palm was a short, sharp shock, the bruises worn as a badge of courage, more notches on the belt.
For others, though, it was humiliating and unfair, no doubt affecting the way they felt about education and authority for the rest of their lives.
Most people never forget an injustice against them. One retired Taranaki farmer found that to his cost in December last year. He was successfully prosecuted for raping his sister-in-law more than 50 years earlier, the oldest case ever taken to court in this country.
The Taranaki action, the Australian strapping case, the continued pleas by former World War II prisoners of war for compensation from the Japanese are proof that time doesn't necessarily heal if the wound is deep enough. The Waitangi Tribunal has been dealing with grievances from Maori that go back generations.
New Zealand has no statute of limitations so there is no automatic cutoff point for prosecutions. Like Paul Hogan there is bound to be someone somewhere in this country who still feels aggrieved about a caning or some other incident that happened in the past. Hogan's success in the Australian courts could be sufficient encouragement for them to bring a similar action on this side of the Tasman.
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