Woman behind smacking referendum 'concerned' mum

The one woman with the power to halt the $9 million "anti-smacking" referendum is a "concerned" South Auckland married mother of two.

[comment caption=Do you think the referendum should go ahead?]

A Research New Zealand survey of 481 people released yesterday found 77 percent of respondents thought the referendum was a waste of money, 18 percent supported it and 5 percent were unsure.

Prime Minister John Key said it was up to the referendum's instigator to decide whether to go ahead or not.

The referendum asks: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?".

Opponents of a 2007 law change, which removed the reasonable force defence in child abuse cases, want the public to vote no.

Sheryl Savill, who is currently on a two-week family holiday in the United States and unavailable to media, works for Focus on the Family New Zealand - a member of the Vote No coalition - and is the instigator of the poll.

"Her role as proposer is simply because of being a concerned mum", Family First director Bob McCoskrie said.

Mrs Savill, 40, has two daughters with her policeman husband and has worked for Focus since 2006.

She is the programme manager for the parent education programme Drug Proof Your Kids.

In an opinion piece for the New Zealand Centre for Political Research in August, Mrs Savill said she did not normally get involved in politics but "knew she had to do something".

"The government was intruding, yet again, into the lives or parents and, as a mum, I was really concerned about the impact that this type of bill would have on my family," she wrote.

"To remove and undermine a parent's authority in their own home is a treacherous area for the State to wade into."

New Zealand needs to deal with "real causes" of child abuse, Mrs Savill said.

Mr McCoskrie said that, "as discussed" with Mrs Savill before she left on holiday, the referendum would only be withdrawn if the law was amended.

"The responsibility for the referendum continuing currently lies fairly and squarely with the Government."

The referendum has been criticised as being confusing, as some people who support the status quo may think that is what they are voting for if they tick no.

The Government believes the law is working as intended and police are only prosecuting serious cases.

The non-binding, citizens-initiated referendum will be held by postal ballot from July 31 to August 21.


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