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Freedom in the World 2004 - New Zealand

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 18 December 2003
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2004 - New Zealand, 18 December 2003, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 1
Status: Free
Population: 4,000,000
GNI/Capita: $13,250
Life Expectancy: 78
Religious Groups: Anglican (24 percent), Presbyterian (18 percent, Roman Catholic (15 percent), other or none (43 percent)
Ethnic Groups: New Zealand European (74.5 percent), Maori (10 percent), other European (4.5 percent), Pacific Islander (4 percent), other [including Asian] (7 percent)
Capital: Wellington


Native Maori claims for land and compensation made almost daily headlines throughout 2003. Although public support remains high for an 1840 treaty between the Maoris and the British that leased Maori land in perpetuity to the white "settlers," public opinion has become more divisive toward Maori claims and the government has taken a harder stand against them. On the international scene, New Zealand joined the Australian-led multinational mission to restore peace and order in the Solomon Islands and was part of a UN mission to support the peace process in that country that concluded at the end of June.

New Zealand became self-governing prior to World War II and gained full independence from Britain in 1947, establishing itself as a parliamentary democracy. The Labor Party has been in office since 1999, when it won an election dominated by questions about the mildly conservative National Party's privatization plans and management of state agencies. Like its victory in 1999, Labor's reelection in 2002 left the party with 52 seats in the 120-seat parliament. Following the election, Labor formed a minority government with the populist Progressive Coalition Party, which had won two seats, and received a pledge of support from the centrist United Future Party (UFP), which had won eight. Meanwhile, the National Party was forced to ponder its future strategy after winning only 27 seats, its worst-ever finish.

The Maori population has increased its claims on land, resources, and compensation from the government. The Waitangi Tribunal, which hears Maori claims for land and compensation, supported a multimillion claim in a report it issued in May. The government said the report's findings were "useful information," but not legally binding. Recent claims for rights to gas and oil fields in the Marlborough Sounds on the South Island, in particular, have created ill will with the non-Maori population. In June, the Court of Appeal ruled that Maori tribes could pursue their claim of the Marlborough Sounds, which currently are used for commercial operations, including marine farms and tourism. In response, the government proposed a new law to prevent Maori tribes from claiming exclusive ownership of the nation's coastline and seabed. Under the proposed law, Maori tribes would be able to use the coastline for fishing but would not be able to deny access to anyone.

The opposition National Party called for the abolition of seven Maori seats in parliament, which have been part of the nation's electoral system for 136 years. In the current legislature, 18 members identify themselves as Maori or part-Maori. Maoris comprise 11 percent of the voting population and 15 percent, or 530,000, of the country's four million people.

As one of the most progressive welfare states in the world, parliament legalized prostitution in June. It was, however, a close vote, with 60 voting for and 59 against the proposed measures. A new law will establish a legal framework for the sex industry, including strict health, safety, and employment guidelines for licensed brothels.

On the international front, the country committed itself to joining an Australian-led, multinational, transition-monitoring group to continue to restore peace and order to the Solomon Islands. New Zealand was also a member of a multinational UN Observer Mission to secure the Solomon Islands and to collect weapons surrendered by former combatants as part of the peace process. This UN group completed its mission in 2003 and left the Solomon Islands at the end of June. To help the country's recovery, New Zealand pledged $8 million in assistance, making New Zealand the single largest donor to the Pacific Island state. Apart from this commitment to the Solomon Islands, New Zealand made a significant shift in its overseas development assistance policy, announcing in May plans to increase funds for business training and small business.

In January, New Zealand granted asylum to some 150 Afghan refugees who were held in Australian refugee detention centers in Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. These refugees were part of a 1,500-person group picked up by a Norwegian freighter in August 2001; in 2002, New Zealand accepted 202 people from Nauru and Manus.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Citizens of New Zealand can change their government democratically. The government is led by the prime minister and a 20-member cabinet. Queen Elizabeth II is the chief of state and is represented by the governor-general. The country has a mixed-member electoral system that combines voting in geographic districts with proportional representation balloting. The two main political parties are the center-left Labor Party and the mildly conservative National Party. Prime Minister Helen Clark of the Labor Party was elected in 1999. Within the 120-member parliament, seven seats are reserved for the native Maori population.

The media are free and competitive. There is no government control on Internet access, and competitive rates are offered by a number of Internet service providers.

Religious and academic freedom are respected by the government in practice.

The government respects freedom of association. Various nongovernmental and civil society groups are active throughout the country, working to promote community health, minority rights, education, children's welfare, and other issues. Many receive considerable financial support from the government, in addition to private donations.

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions is the main labor federation. Less than 20 percent of the country's wage earners are members of trade unions. New Zealand is a progressive welfare state, but slow economic growth in the last decade forced the government to end universal free health care. New laws were also introduced to prohibit sympathy strikes, secondary strikes, and walkouts over social or political issues in an environment where unions aggressively advocate workers' rights and collective bargaining is widely practiced. Collective bargaining was further promoted by the passage of the Employment Relations Act in 2000.

The judiciary is independent, and defendants can appeal to the Privy Council in Britain. Police treatment of Maoris, who comprise 15 percent of the general population but more than half of the prison population, had been an issue.

A special tribunal hears Maori tribal claims to land and other resources stemming from the white settlement of New Zealand. The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi between the Maoris and the British leased Maori land in perpetuity to the white "settlers." Maoris now seek higher "rents" for their land and compensation from the government. These claims have become a source of tension with the non-Maori population. Successive governments have introduced programs to boost the social and economic status of Maoris and Pacific Islanders, but most appear to have been only marginally successful.

Violence against women remains a major issue, with reports by the U.S. State Department and civil society groups in New Zealand noting an increase in the number of assaults against women in recent years. The problem had been particularly serious among the Maori population; although Maori women and children make up less than 10 percent of the population, half of them had reported abuse. The number of abuse cases is also disproportionately high among Pacific Islanders, who make up only about 5 percent of the population. There are many governmental and nongovernmental programs to prevent family violence and provide victim support, and special programs also target the Maori community. However, these efforts have not significantly improved the situation. The Domestic Violence Act of 1995 broadened the definition of violence to include psychological abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, and allowing children to witness psychological abuse. It also expanded police powers to address these cases and provided legal services and aid. In 2001, the government introduced "Te Rito," a national strategy to combat domestic violence.

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