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Cullen's Take on Human Rights "Apalling."

Cullen's Take on Human Rights "Apalling."

The Locke Foundation is today calling Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen's comments about human rights before an Otago University audience "appalling."

The Deputy PM was addressing students at the University of Otago, with the apparent support of the President of the Otago University Students Association Steve Sutton. During the talk, a student pointed out to him that the UN Declaration of Human Rights and New Zealand law delcared that freedom of association is a basic human right, and "no-one shall be compelled to join an association." Why then, the question went, does this Labour Government think that Students have fewer of those human rights than other people, and that they can be forced to belong to a compulsory student association to get a degree?

Mr Cullen's reply was clear, forthright, and according to Glenn Peoples of the Locke Foundation, "utterly disgraceful, really appalling, and shameful coming from a member of Parliament." Mr Cullen replied by saying, "We think students have more rights, because you can collectively decide whether or not to have compulsory association membership via a referendum."

"More rights?" Peoples asked incredulously. "What Cullen is saying is that it is acceptable to put human rights to a referendum, because we have more rights by virtue of the fact that we have to win a referendum just to keep them!" This, he said, is clearly a case of a certain degment of society having fewer rights, rights which can be taken way from them by a referendum.

Ironically, another Cabinet Minister, David Benson Pope, argued on the 6th of January this year that the exact opposite is really the case. Taking a contrary stance on human rights, he claimed that the Civil Unions Bill ought not to be subject to a publice referendum just because public referenda "can pose very real threats to minority rights and interests". Benson Pope added to this concern, saying that "the idea that the majority of society could decide the human rights of other people though a referendum is clearly not appropriate."

"Regardless of the merits of the Civil Unions Bill, Benson Pope is obviously correct to disagree with Michael Cullen on this one, although such a disagreement between Cabinet Ministers on so basic an issue is this is disturbing," Mr Peoples said. "The Deputy Prime minister is just mistaken in a collosal way. If you're in a minority position where your freedom of speech could be taken from you by a refernedum, or rour freedom of religion, we don't say that you have more rights, it's obvious that your rights are being treated less seriously. Basic, fundamental human rights are things that every individual has, and they must be protected by the government. Such things should never be allowed to be squashed by a group within society, and when that happens, the government should never sit back and say 'well, if they voted to give away their human rights, they can treat others in that group as though they have none.' "

According to the Locke Foundation, the government should be intervening to protect human rights rather than allowing them to be withheld by a referendum. According to Mr Peoples, this government clearly doesn't appreciate the fundamental role that basic human rights and freedoms should play in a civil society. He added, "Benson Pope needs to give Michael Cullen a talking to!"


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