Blinkering the watchdogs

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.

6 Comments Posted

  1. The way the human rights, privacy laws and also parts of the NZ Bill of Rights Act (i.e. right to justice) are being handled under this government is nothing short of disgusting and appalling.

    As Jan writes, we have had very radical, substantial and draconian welfare reforms passed by Parliament by only one vote majority, which will in part breach UN conventions of the rights of the child, and of the rights of disabled. Discrimination will be legally enforced.

    While the government is simply ignoring advice by the Legislative Advisory Council and the vast bulk of submitters, they are preparing for endless breaches of rights of the most disadvantaged in society, being beneficiaries. Beneficiaries will be forced to accept rules and processes that none other need to abide by.

    The Official Information Act gets changed only where it suits the government, so they will give government departments and agencies more means to refuse to disclose information.

    The Office of Ombudsmen, which deals with complaints of non compliance is underfunded and does not like to deal with many “lesser” complaints these days. The Privacy Commissioner Office also is tightening criteria re what complaints it will look at.

    Access to legal aid is being restricted and amounts granted will be more limited, so fewer people without sufficient means will lose the right to exercise their rights, which the BORA gives them by law.

    This is a slow and gradual dis-empowerment and disowning of the bulk of society. It truly stinks to heaven that a government can exercise such power, with the majority of one vote, by an MP who himself showed lack of memory and a dim view of the law.

    Is NZ still a truly “democratic” country, I ask???

  2. There are, roughly speaking, two types of National MPs. Those who simply see the Human Rights Commission is a bunch of namby pamby wet liberal nonsense. Then there are the others who see it as an impediment to achieving their aims and so want to limit its effectiveness as much as possible. Weakening the Commission appeals to right wing prejudice at the same time as suffocating an independent body with some level of power to oppose this government’s plans. What you can’t be seen to kill, you stuff full of your own people and starve financially.

  3. Well, if we analyse this as a transfer of wealth (from the commission, and from those protected by it), then we can ask who the wealth is being transferred to.

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