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Domestic CP - July 2002

The West Australian, Perth, 12 July 2002

Change smack law: group

By Gareth Malpeli

MELBOURNE: A NATIONAL children's charity has launched a campaign to remove a parent's right to use discipline as an excuse for hitting their child.

Australians Against Child Abuse has begun a national inquiry into community attitudes towards corporal punishment after a Victorian survey showed 75 per cent of people supported smacking a naughty child. But those surveyed were overwhelmingly against parents using implements like wooden spoons or belts to hit their children or for children under two to be smacked.

Under WA [West Australia] law, parents can smack their child for chastisement if the force is reasonable. Provisions in the Criminal Code outlaw excessive force against children.

But AACA wants laws to remove a parent's right to use the legal defence of reasonable chastisement if they are charged with assaulting their child.

AACA chief executive Joe Tucci said the charity was not trying to have smacking outlawed. He said a parent who injured their child while punishing them could be acquitted of assault charges if the judge or magistrate accepted the child was hit for disciplinary reasons. "It's not about trying to criminalise the parent who gives their child a smack on the back of their hand." he said.

"I'm sick of seeing kids who are referred to our services receive extensive injuries as a result of parents in the name of discipline.

"The difference is not about whether parents should smack or not smack - this is about the law and whether parents who have caused an injury to a child under the name of discipline should be held accountable," he said.

WA Law Society president Clare Thompson said there was no need to remove the reasonable chastisement defence because the laws were up to date. She said a judgment in a 1998 case effectively restrained parental punishment, with force used being appropriate to the child's age and done only for correction and not retribution.

"We don't see the need for reform in this area," Ms Thompson said.

Mr Tucci said he believed Australians had hardened their attitudes towards corporal punishment of children, saying people preferred discipline that did not involve force.

"There are more and more people believing children need to be disciplined but they need to be disciplined in a respectful and positive way and definitely in a way that doesn't lead to them being harmed in any way," he said.

AACA, with Monash University and law firm Herbert Greer and Rundle, have called for public submissions on the issue, and will contact State premiers and ministers as part of the campaign.

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