updated 8/26/2009 11:12:49 AM ET 2009-08-26T15:12:49

New Zealand's prime minister said Wednesday that his governing party will thwart attempts to overturn a law that bans hitting kids.

The law, which Parliament passed overwhelmingly in 2007, stops parents from using force to discipline their children but gives police the discretion not to prosecute minor incidents. Opponents claim the law is intrusive and could turn thousands of good parents into criminals, though no prosecutions have succeeded under the new law.

Prime Minister John Key said his National Party will vote against a bill proposed by rightist Act Party lawmaker John Boscawen to overturn the current law.

Boscawen said the bill would make it legal for parents to lightly hit their children for "the purpose of correction," and "makes it absolutely certain that it wouldn't be a criminal offense."

"We're not interested in promoting violence" against children, but hitting that is "trifling and transitory" will not be illegal, he said.

Support for overturning ban
Last week, 87.6 percent of voters in a national referendum — which is not binding on the government — called for the law to be overturned.

But while there is widespread public support for the measure, Boscawen's bill will likely be defeated when voted on by Parliament in the coming weeks, with the governing National Party and the opposition Labour and Green parties all opposed to it.

Key repeated Wednesday that the law is working and won't be changed.

"I've given New Zealanders an absolute assurance that if the law isn't working I will change it. I don't need a member's bill to do that," Key told reporters. He said that if parents were prosecuted or if their children were taken away for "minor or inconsequential smacking," then the law would change.

The prime minister acknowledged the referendum showed there was some unease with parents.

Boscawen said he hoped the National Party would still listen to voters.

"I hope the National Party will listen to the 87 percent of New Zealanders who voted 'No'" in the referendum, he told reporters. "My intent ... is to give effect to the referendum. It was an overwhelming endorsement for a law change."

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