The Government’s decision to freeze funding for the Human Rights Commission (HRC) until 2020 has resulted in a proposal to cut 15% of staff at the Commission.
New Zealand has very few checks on the power of Government and minimal tools to fight discrimination. By the response to the marriage equality bill and widespread public concern about the appointment of Susan Devoy, we know human rights are important to New Zealanders. It seems the Government has conveniently forgotten this.
The Government is also putting through legislation at the moment that was in response to the Green Party’s call for the establishment of a disability commissioner but which they’ve taken as an opportunity to restructure the HRC and enable a reduction in the number of commissioners.
Over the past year I have seen the introduction of welfare laws that clearly breach human rights, new privacy legislation that puts privacy at risk, and of course the latest Immigration Amendment Bill which breaches the Bill of Rights Act and various international rights based conventions.
The Government has ignored the advice of the Human Rights Commission on all of these occasions and I have heard scoffing from the National benches in the House when I have raised their concerns.
The Privacy Commission has indicated they don’t have the resources to investigate all the major breaches we’ve seen over the last year and will have to change the way they respond to complaints, all while the Government is increasing their workload and introducing massive changes to the way information is handled.
Good human rights legislation and organisations protect us all and are vital to holding us together as a society. In a time of growing inequality and significant law reform we need to be strengthening these mechanisms not weakening them.