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No Commission Inquiry Into MPs Referendum

17/10/01

No Commission Inquiry

The Human Rights Commission today released its decision not to conduct an inquiry into aspects of the Citizens Initiated Referendum (“CIR”) on the number of MPs in Parliament.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said that Margaret Robertson had asked the Commission to:

a) inquire into whether human rights are, or may be, infringed by a decision by a Government to do nothing to implement the results of the CIR;

b) inquire into whether or not the decision to have a Committee of the House undertake the review of the CIR was both fair and appropriate, when there was considerable public support to have the review undertaken by an independent body;

c) inquire into whether or not principles of natural justice were breached by having the review of the CIR undertaken by nominees of political parties, some of which (both parties and nominees) had strong reason to retain the current level of representation;

d) report to the Prime Minister indicating whether or not it is desirable to take actions to protect the peoples right to choose the political system of their preference and to take actions to ensure better compliance with standards laid down in international instruments on human rights.

Ms.Noonan said that Mrs Robertson also felt that New Zealand’s international human rights obligations required the Government to implement the outcome of the CIR and had asked the Commission to report to the Prime Minister on the human rights aspects of her concerns.

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“Given the significance and public importance of the issues raised the Commission first undertook its own review of the issues and then sought an independent legal opinion. Many factors were carefully considered before a decision was reached,” said Ms.Noonan.

The Commission found that if it conducted an inquiry into any aspect of the establishment, conduct and report of the MMP Review Committee it would breach the privileges of the House of Representatives. There is a longstanding legal principle that certain aspects of Parliament’s activities cannot be questioned outside of Parliament.

The Commission does have the power to report to the Prime Minister on any matter affecting human rights including the desirability of legislative, administrative or other action to give better protection to human rights and ensure better compliance with standards laid down in international human rights instruments. Before undertaking such a report, the Commission must establish whether there is some basis on which to proceed.

Both the Commission’s own investigations and the opinion of George Barton QC concluded that contrary to Mrs Robertson’s claim, neither New Zealand’s international or domestic human rights obligations would appear to be breached should the Government decide to take no action on the referendum. The Commission notes that the Government has not yet announced a decision as to how it intends to respond to the outcome of the MMP Review Committee’s report following the CIR.

The Commission therefore has taken the view that:

- Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR) did not appear to have been breached.

- Article 25 of the ICCPR, and the general comments of the Human Rights Committee established under the ICCPR, do not support the suggestion that the Government is required to implement the results of a non-binding citizens initiated referendum.

- Section 27(1) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 does not cover determinations by the “Government” in this particular situation.

Ms. Noonan added, “References to “the will of the electors” in Article 25 of ICCPR refer to freely chosen representatives elected by genuine periodic elections. Article 25 does not impose an obligation on a freely elected government to implement the outcome of a non-binding citizens initiated referendum”.

“The Commission’s decision that there is no basis on which to undertake an inquiry and report to the Prime Minister on the question of the Parliamentary process for considering the referendum, in no way reflects on the validity of the substantive issue of the number of MPs raised by the referendum.”


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