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Wednesday 10 November 2010

Analysing 'Parental' Rightists

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 12th October 2009

Could the right-wing backlash against banning the physical punishment of children repeat itself in the context of adoption reform? We need a tactical analysis to avert that.

Successful social reforms usually occur with two primary components- a mass social movement and strategic professional allies who corroborate one's case with evidence-based research. Section 59 abolition was an unusual case because it had strategic professional allies in abundance- but little sign of a mass movement behind it.

By contrast, the Christian Right was at its belligerent, populist worst. It was allowed to get away unchallenged with trivialising the issue as an 'anti-smacking' bill and few media outlets bothered to engage in in-depth analysis of the case for children's rights and abolition of belting. Indeed, tabloid media like Investigate and talkback radio actively aided and abetted the Christian Right. Bob McCoskrie emerged as a 'family' spokesperson, despite the absence of any qualifications in any child welfare field. Still, child health, development and welfare professionals were on side, and the reform did pass eventually. However, the populist opposition continues to clog public debate with the issue.

The pro-belting lobby resembles another rightist and populist cause- that waged against the MMR vaccine and vaccination programmes by another 'parents rights' lobby group. Just like New Zealand's pro-belting movement (and most other Christian Right pressure groups), their 'case' is based on denial of expertise, based on scientific illiteracy and aided and abetted by a collection of scoundrels that include opportunist US personal injury litigators, tabloid media, right-wing hack journalists and similarly opportunist politicians. Just like the pro-belting lobby too, the anti-vaccination lobby parrots fragments of 'science' bit tabloid media coverage does not go on to cover the full complexity of the issue in question.

The anti-vaccination case is primarily based on the discredited work of an unscrupulous British medical researcher who had his work published in a mainstream medical journal. However, it was subsequently found that there were undeclared conflicts of interest and that the research could not be replicated- he turned out to be an advisor to personal injury lawyers. Unfortunately, vociferous US tabloid media outlets distorted the story, focusing only on claims that the MMR vaccine ensemble "led" to child autism. An aggressive and unrepresentative "parents rights" lobby has arisen, ironically hamstringing real services to families with autistic members in the United States through diverting funds and attention from the hard work of service provision.

Can we do something to prevent something similar happening with adoption reform and same-sex parenting?

Fortunately, yes.

We should not allow the Christian Right or its fellow travellers amongst tabloid media outlets and right-wing journalists any leeway in spinning family policy their way over these issues. We need a family diversity lobby group to counter Family First. We need strong professional strategic alliances. We need to prompt mainstream media outlets to engage in diligent research about same-sex parenting issues well beforehand. We need preparation. We need surveillance of the opposition to reform. We need prepared rebuttals to their propaganda. We need discipline, strategy and focus.

Above all, we need to prepare, now, for whenever the adoption reform debate does happen.


Paul Offit: Autisms False Prophets: New York: University of Columbia Press: 2008.

Beth Wood, Ian Hassall and George Hook: Reasonable Force: New Zealand's Journey Toward Banning the Physical Punishment of Children: Wellington: Save the Children: 2009.

Craig Young - 12th October 2009

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