Labour saves Human Rights Act
"The passage of the Human Rights Amendment Bill through Parliament at the weekend marks an historic victory over National's attempts to dismember the Human Rights Act," says Labour human rights spokesperson Tim Barnett.
"In 1997 the Cabinet decided to freeze the process of making of all laws and regulations, policies and practices consistent with the Human Rights Act. That meant blatant discrimination - for example, against de facto and same sex relationships, allowing people with disabilities employed in workshops to earn below the minimum wage, retaining a statutory retirement age for the police - would be locked in forever.
"The Human Rights Amendment bill, introduced in 1998, would have put that permanent exemption into law. But the Government was forced to withdraw it at the last minute due to opposition from Labour, the Alliance, New Zealand First, independent MPs and National rebels.
"The new bill essentially preserves the status quo. The Government has until the end of 2001 to complete an audit of all laws and regulations and to make all necessary law changes to wipe out unreasonable discrimination," Mr Barnett said.
"The next two years will see intense debate in the community and in Parliament over some important, real-life human rights issues. Should same sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual ones? Should health care be rationed by disability or age? Should people who are schizophrenic be banned from school Boards of Trustees?
"These and dozens of other matters are examples of discrimination in law which will now have to be debated and decided.
"Labour led the political fight against the Government's determination to shut down the debate and shut out the demands of disadvantaged communities. Now we want the chance in government to show just how central human rights issues are to the everyday lives of New Zealanders.
"The last two years have been wasted. Labour will turn the next two years into a watershed for New Zealand human rights," Mr Barnett said.