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Kevin Campbell Speech Human Rights Amendment Bill

Speech notes from the Alliance Party

Second reading speech on the Human Rights Amendment Bill Kevin Campbell, Alliance MP, 8 November 2001.

Government exemptions from the Human Rights Act are due to expire on the 31st of December this year. These exemptions covered all legislation and non-legislative activities discriminating on grounds of disability, age, political opinion, employment status, family status, and sexual orientation.

The Alliance is particularly pleased to see the reduction of these exemptions as we have promoted progress on human rights issues wherever possible. We did not believe a wholesale exemption of government legislation and activity, as set out in National's human rights legislation, could be justified.

This bill will allow the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Review Tribunal to hear complaints against the government on any form of discrimination. This means that the government will have to justify any instance of discrimination. This is clearly in the interests of a progressive democracy.

The Bill provides greater accountability on human rights issues in the public sector and strengthens the institutional framework and dispute resolution processes. Standards of anti-discrimination have been extended to apply to much more government legislation and activity.

The extension of anti-discrimination laws is a demonstration of historical progress. Throughout the centuries, civilisation has slowly been making progress in improving the universality of human rights. This is a significant and ongoing area of human development starting from before the time of Aristotle and Plato, running right through the ages, to the first Bill of Rights in the 1600s and the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

The current changes in New Zealand through this Bill are the outcome of what was originally the Consistency 2000 project, a project dumped by the National Government, and taken up again by this government as the Consistency 2001 project. The purpose of the project is to make government statutes and regulations consistent with the government policy on human rights as provided for in the Human Rights Act 1993 and Bill of Rights Act 1990. The previous government found it too complex to do.

This Bill amends the Human Rights Act to include the anti-discrimination standard currently in the Bill of Rights Act. The difference between them is that the Bill of Rights Act is not limited to specific activities. Therefore, far from avoiding the Human Rights Act, we have gone further in using the Bill of Rights Act standards, which also provide that any limitations on rights must only be 'justified in a free and democratic society'. Any proposal to discriminate must be backed up by empirical and policy justifications.

A Human Rights Review Tribunal will now be able to declare that a statute or regulation is inconsistent with the Human Rights Act on the basis of unjustified discrimination. The Minister concerned with that portfolio is then obliged to inform the House and respond to the declaration.

We will be strengthening our Human Rights framework by establishing a renewed focus for the Human Rights Commission on increasing awareness and understanding of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in NZ.

Including the office of the Race Relations Conciliator in the Human Rights Commission is part of this Bill. This move certainly does not bury the office as has been suggested earlier in the year by the opposition. The work of preventing discrimination is the work of protecting human rights, and so the work of preventing racial discrimination is absolutely a human rights issue and thus the Office of the Race Relations Conciliator naturally fits with the Human Rights Commission.

One of the most exciting elements of this bill is that it will ensure that the Human Rights Commission leads discussion in New Zealand on human rights issues and encourage the interaction of groups and individuals. They should now be able to comment, or stimulate debate, on any human rights issue either in New Zealand or relating to New Zealand's international obligations. The Alliance looks forward to discussions of this nature.

The disputes resolution framework outlined in the Bill will ensure that negotiation and mediation are tried before going to more formal levels. This will build a healthier and more user friendly environment for people who are in distress and in need of assistance in working out disputes.

If a case does end up needing litigation, the Autonomous Director of Human Rights Proceedings can decide if publicly funded litigation is appropriate. The separation of this role from the advocacy, education and mediation role of the Human Rights Commission has been an important development.

In conclusion, the Alliance supports the changes and clarifications to human rights legislation within this bill as reported back, which will improve the ability of our citizens to address human rights abuses within New Zealand and especially, enable people to complain about, and have addressed, any inappropriate discrimination by government.


ENDS

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