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Rick Barker - Speech On Registration Bill

Hon Rick Barker. Speech notes for the second reading of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Amendment Bill.

I move, that the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Amendment Bill be now read a second time.

All of us are required to give our personal information to the Births, Deaths and Marriages registry whenever we have a child or we get married or enter a civil union in New Zealand. Our personal information will again be collected when we die here. This information is used as part of the basis of our country’s official population statistics, and provides an invaluable source of information for demographic, historical and health research. It also provides official evidence that an event has occurred.

There are, therefore, two key concepts underlying the main provisions of this Bill: first, people must be able to access and obtain evidence of the information that supports their identity and family history; secondly, it is vital that the public trust that the government is a responsible steward of their personal information.

These concepts are especially important in light of the fact that the world’s social and technological conditions have changed since the registers were first established here in the mid-1800s. In particular, the ability to gather and search across large amounts of personal identity information now that the registers have shifted from a paper-based environment to a computerised one, and the public concern about the prevalence of identity fraud, mean that the traditional position of having virtually all registered information being publicly available practically without any controls is no longer appropriate.

The Bill, as introduced, proposed a robust regime for access to the registered information relating to births, deaths, marriages and civil unions. Access would be granted for legitimate purposes that are consistent with the reason why the information was collected from individuals.

A great deal of misinformation about the Bill’s effects was reported in various media sources, and this is unfortunate. Despite this I have said, in this House, in the media, and to people who have written to me and approached me personally, that I would consider any workable suggestion that achieves a balance in the law between ensuring that individuals and families have their personal information protected from abuse and ensuring that members of the public can access other people’s records for legitimate purposes. On 10 October 2007, I wrote to the Government Administration Committee to suggest an alternative approach that could be taken to achieve an appropriate balance.

I express my gratitude to the Labour members of the committee and to Mr Keith Locke, a non-voting member of the committee, who adopted and developed the suggestions I made to the committee to amend the access provisions.

And, although not reflected in the committee’s report, I am grateful for Mr Peter Brown’s contribution as another non-voting member of the committee, who worked with the Labour and Green Party members to develop workable amendments that could be accommodated by the Government, including addressing some of the more technical issues raised in some of the 151 public submissions made on the Bill. While it is disappointing that the committee could not agree on amendments to the Bill, I intend to move a Supplementary Order Paper at the committee stage to incorporate the suggestions made by those select committee members.

The changes in the Supplementary Order Paper mean that any member of the public could still generally access any person’s registered information. However, there would be new mechanisms that increase individuals’ ability to know and control how their personal information is released to other people.

When applying to access a record, for example in the form of a birth certificate, an applicant will have to present adequate identification. People will be able to apply to check an ‘access register’ to find out who has applied to access their records, and public sector agencies will be able to search the access register for maintenance of the law purposes. People will be able to request, on certain grounds, that their records not be disclosed to the public for a certain period.

The grounds and the duration of those ‘non-disclosure directions’ will be prescribed by regulations. I would not expect that regulations would provide that everyone will be able to apply for a non-disclosure direction for any reason, but instead would require applicants to point to some substantive reason for needing protection. By setting the grounds and time period in regulations, it will mean that the Government can respond more quickly and efficiently to changing societal conditions and expectations by making the mechanism narrower or wider as appropriate.

Where a non-disclosure direction is in force, a person wanting to access the record could get authorisation from the subject of the record, or otherwise would just receive confirmation that the record exists. If the subject of the record has publicly disclosed personal information about himself or herself, any person could apply for that information to be verified against that person’s records, and this would meet concerns about fraudsters attempting to mislead the public and conceal relevant information where it is in the public interest for correct information to be known.

A review of the operation of these new access provisions five years after their commencement will ensure they will provide an effective and efficient process that balances our interests – as the subjects of the records – for the protection of our own personal information, with our interests – as members of the public – to be able to access other people’s records for legitimate purposes.

The Supplementary Order Paper also addresses a number of technical issues that arose during the select committee process, including delaying the commencement of the Bill by six months, to ensure that the Bill’s provisions can be implemented in the most effective manner. I also intend to move a second Supplementary Order Paper at the committee stage to address a technical issue that has arisen from a recent Family Court decision declaring, under the Act’s current provisions, that an overseas-born transgender applicant’s birth certificates should be changed to show the applicant’s nominated sex.

The Supplementary Order Paper would clarify the ability of overseas-born applicants to seek similar declarations in the future, ensuring that the Births, Deaths and Marriages registry is not unnecessarily involved in applications that relate to people whose details are not registered in New Zealand, and the Family Court’s processes are not abused by applicants who do not have a genuine connection with New Zealand.

Before closing, I will make some brief comments about another aspect of the Bill where some confusion arose during the first reading debate. This is in respect of the new requirement that both parents sign the notification form when registering the birth of their child. The Bill provides an exception to allow only one parent to sign in cases where the other parent is missing, unknown, is unable to sign the form because of a medical condition or has died, or where unwarranted distress would result from trying to get the second parent’s signature.

In those cases, while only one parent would be required to sign the form, the details of both parents can be registered. Therefore, the child would not miss out on learning about both parents, as some members feared. In cases where there is only one parent at law, for example, where a child was conceived as a result of an assisted reproductive procedure and born to a mother who does not have a partner, only the mother’s details will be registered. However, under the registration regime in the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act, which was passed by the House in 2004, children in those cases would be able to find out about their genetic heritage and other genetically-related siblings who were born as a result of donations made by the same donor.

Madam Speaker, this Bill will enhance and modernise the functions of the Births, Deaths and Marriages registry, and will ensure the registry continues to be the trusted steward of the life event records held by it. I commend the Bill to the House.


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