Kia kaha Sue, we will miss you
On Friday Green MP Sue Bradford announced her retirement from Parliament. While she expressed a little regret she that she would not have the opportunity to change things for the better as Minister of Social Development or Minister of Housing, I hope Sue leaves Parliament with her head held high.
Some ministers manage to go through their entire ministerial career without even passing one significant bill. Some even manage to pass no laws at all. Yet Bradford as a backbench MP, introduced three private members bills in one parliamentary term, and succeeded in having all three passed into law. Bradford proved you didn't have to be a minister to get things done.
A significantly greater number of 16 and 17 year old workers will now be paid adult rates for an adult job, following Sue's bill that sought to remove youth rates. The bill as passed got very close to achieving its goal, despite significant opposition from senior Labour party ministers. Again, thanks to Sue, mothers in prison will now be able to keep their babies with them for up to 2 years.
Her most controversial and significant achievement is the Child Discipline Act which removed the defence of 'reasonable force'. Child abusers were using this defence in court as an excuse for excessive violence towards their kids. In the future I suspect many will look back at this debate in bewilderment and wonder how on earth a small number of small minded (so called christian) conservatives were so successful in hijacking the debate over the 'anti-smacking' bill. Bradford's opponents were never challenged on their wider agenda - promoting a narrow view of family values where the wider community has no say in the education and development of the value systems of children (this aids indoctrination).
In an interview with Katherine Ryan on Nine to Noon on Friday, I thought Sue identified a key insight about this debate. Radio NZ only keep interviews on their website for a week, so I retyped Sue's words as I thought they deserved more than being wiped off the internet after only a week. When asked how being on the front line of the debate over Section 59 bill had affected her Bradford said:
"I have no regrets, I am really honoured that I was able to play the role in this very deep controversy."
"It has hurt me and saddened me. I think what has affected me most, when I think back on again quite recently, is the violent minds and natures of some of the people who are so keen to retain the legal right to assault their kids as part of bringing them up, that that kind of psychological violence is then directed at people like me who are the champion of the other side."
Bradford confirmed she had received death threats and "really nasty emails". She also expressed some dismay that:
"(In) our country, so many people are so fundamentally violent in the way they see the world; and the way this reflects on how they view their children as property. Anything I've done to be able to help to begin to shift that culture seeing our children as property, seeing our children as worth less than us adults to see our children as less than human in some way that we should be able to legally hit whack them etc as part of bringing them up. I just hope we continue to change that culture."
It is an irony that in the same day Bradford spoke these words, the right wing of the blogosphere went out of their way to demonstrate their accuracy. Just take one look at Whale Oil or the comments on Kiwiblog to see violent minds at work. That said, its good to see both Farrar and Whale Oil have spoken out against the death threats.
While Bradford was talking about the controversy over the Child Discipline Bill, I could not help but think her words are also relevant to the issue of Palestine. In defending the right of the Israeli state to make indiscriminate and disproportionate war on Palestinian civilians, there are indeed some who appear to direct psychological violence against those who dare to question the motives behind Israel's actions, and highlight the daily injustice metered out to the Palestinian population. Responding with an accusation of 'anti-Semitism' in this context is nothing more than the actions of a psychological bully who in practice is cheapening the cause of genuine cases of anti-Semitism in this world.
PS: I would have posted this in the weekend but for losing the first version of this post thanks to a computer crash, arrghh!