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New Human Rights Law Later This Year

Decisions Point The Way To A New Human Rights Law Later This Year

Associate Justice Minister Margaret Wilson has announced in-principle decisions by the government to establish a new Human Rights Commission and to address the issue of government compliance under the Human Rights Act.

The decisions are:

- The new Human Rights Commission will keep the same name, will include a new post of Race Relations Commissioner, and take up the tasks previously performed by the Race Relations Conciliator

- The Bill of Rights Act is to be used as the anti-discrimination standard for the government - except in employment law and related areas. The Human Rights Act will continue to apply in the private and community sectors.

Margaret Wilson says the decisions announced today are the first step.

"The next stage is to bring draft legislation to parliament. There will be time for public discussion and submissions. It is important that the new law be in place before the end of the year because the government's exemption under the Human Rights Act expires on December 31".

Ends

A New Approach to Human Rights

Key purpose

Strengthening Human Rights in New Zealand and ensuring government compliance with Human Rights law.

Background

Section 151 (2) of the Human Rights Act currently exempts government. It states: "nothing in this Act relating to grounds of prohibited discrimination ¡K shall affect anything done by or on behalf of the Government of New Zealand". This exemption expires on December 31 2001.

To address this issue the government conducted an audit of all legislation, policy and practices (Consistency 2000/Compliance 2001)

Following the audits the government commissioned an Independent Re-evaluation Report. (Commissioned May 2000, released October 2000).

Findings of the Re-evaluation report

- current human rights institutions small and fragmented

- confusing complaints procedures

- focus on complaints rather than education

- Commissioners too involved in complaints

- costly duplication.

Consultation

After the release of the report the government undertook public consultation

Government in principle decisions announced today

A new Human Rights Commission will be established

Key functions

- strategic leadership

- education

- advocacy

- policy

Composition

- Chief Human Rights Commissioner

- Race Relations Commissioner

- Five part time Commissioners

Commission’s Key Tasks

- Intervene in matters of public importance

- Develop an organisational plan for the new Human Rights Commission

- Develop a national Plan of Action - a strategic blueprint for the development of New Zealand Human Rights

- Increased focus on international instruments.

Government Compliance

All government activity including:

- legislation

- policies

- practices

will be subject to the Bill of Rights Act standard.

This means the government must not discriminate unless such discrimination is “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society".

Examples of justifiable discrimination by Government include

- age restrictions on buying alcohol

- Free hepatitis testing for at-risk groups

Government exceptions

There is only one exception to the use of the Bill of Rights:

- when government is acting as an employer. This includes racial and sexual harassment.

In these cases government activity will be tested against the existing provisions of under the Human Rights Act.

The complaints process

- All discrimination complaints, including those against the government go to the new Human Rights Commission

- Mediation first

- If mediation is unsuccessful or inappropriate the matter can be referred to the separate Office of Human Rights Proceedings

- The Director of the Office will determine whether the matter will proceed to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

- The dispute resolution process will be fully publicly funded.

Remedies

A new remedy for government actions if the Bill of Rights Act is breached: the new Human Rights Review Tribunal or the High Court may make a Declaration of Inconsistency (for legislation).

- Parliament then decides how to respond

Other remedies under the HRA are substantially unchanged:

- Declarations of breach or illegal contract

- restraining order

- costs

- damages.


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