PARENTS who smack their children may be liable to prosecution under legislation before the New South Wales parliament.
Although the Bill does not outlaw smacking, it makes parents, and charities responsible for children, open to charges of assault if they strike a child around the head or neck, use belts or sticks, or cause harm that lasts for more than a short period.
But critics of the Bill claim it will give teachers and social workers a "dangerous legal weapon to harass loving parents".
While most states have banned corporal punishment in schools, the New South Wales legislation is the first in Australia to regulate physical punishment by parents.
Proponents of the Bill say it is intended to set a stndard for parents and removes the current defence of "lawful correction".
Labor MP Ross Dyer, chair of the state's law and justice committee, said the Bill had the potential to reduce some of the serious injuries suffered by children "when harsh discipline goes wrong".
Mr Dyer said the law currently did not clearly distinguish between harsh physical punishment and physical abuse.
One Sydney hospital treated 346 young victims of abuse last year. The most common fracture was that of the skull. The hospital's chief executive, Professor Kim Oates, said many of the children were victims of punishment "that had gone wrong". "Often, it is a result of parents who are reprimanding children but have lost control," he said.