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ACT Protects Liberties, But Treaty Rights Miss Out

Immediate Release: Thursday December 19, 2002
ACT Protects Liberties, But Treaty Rights Miss Out

ACT New Zealand today successfully changed one despotic aspect of the massive Local Government Bill, in an unprecedented defeat for the Labour Government.

This government lost its first vote in this Parliament when all other parties supported an amendment moved by ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks to ensure that councils can't make by-laws that conflict with the basic freedoms of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

"Before the change, councils were being given an almost unrestricted right to make local laws, as long as they told their communities what they were doing. The Bill lets them use their powers to do whatever they think will improve the "environmental, social or cultural well-being" of their communities.

"So the new law had nothing to stop them from making rules against people smoking in their own homes, or prohibiting Muslim women's head-dress, or banning smacking, or blocking the teaching in local schools or churches ideas that the majority on the council decide are bad for the environmental, social or cultural well-being of their communities.

Councils have new powers to enter any property (other than a dwelling) to do anything they think serves those purposes. These are not fanciful risks even in New Zealand. We once had laws against the Salvation Army, because the majority churches did not like their competition. "Mr Finau, who is being hounded by local authorities in Auckland for the sign on his property against changes in water services, would probably be protected in future by the free speech assurance in the Bill of Rights.

The Council's by-law against the sign could become invalid.

"Clause 112 of the Bill told councils they had to get advice on whether their proposed bylaws "give rise to any implications under the NZ Bill of Rights Act" but that did not mean they could not go ahead anyway.

"The Committee stage of a Bill in Parliament can be hugely frustrating. The Government just sit like logs, voting as instructed by their whips, knitting or showing that they regard the whole process as tedious, because they have the numbers. For once we were able to make it worthwhile. A serious amendment on a serious issue was supported by the parties that usually vote mechanically with the Government, and parliamentary democracy won over the arrogant machine.

"I'm sorry that Labour, the Greens and United Future voted down the other amendment that was part of the package. It would have prohibited Council by-laws that were inconsistent with the property rights assured to all New Zealanders under Article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi. This Bill is stuffed with requirements to give Maori special powers and privileges in Council processes, and it talks of Treaty principles, but when ACT wanted to give practical effect to the words of the Treaty to benefit all New Zealanders, the hypocritical parties blocked it.

"This is a victory for freedom in an otherwise disastrous Bill”,
said Stephen Franks.


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