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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - New Zealand

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - New Zealand, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 26 November 2015]
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.

New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy, with executive authority vested in a 23-member cabinet led by a prime minister. The 99 members of the unicameral legislature include 4 whose seats are reserved for election by persons from the native Maori minority population who wish to be included on a separate electoral roll.

Approximately 12 percent of New Zealand's population of 3,427,000 consider themselves Maori. Immigrants from Europe, Asia, and Pacific islands leaven a population of primarily British descent. The rights of Maori have received increasing public attention in recent years.

Niue and the Cook Islands are self-governing countries in free association with New Zealand. The island group of Tokelau is administered by New Zealand with limited but growing self-government. Inhabitants of all three hold New Zealand citizenship and are entitled to New Zealand passports. Local law in the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau is compatible with New Zealand and British common law. New Zealand's police and defense forces are responsible to and firmly controlled by civilian officials.

New Zealand is one of the world's most efficient producers of agricultural products. The mainstay of its economy is the export of wool, meat, and dairy products. A small but expanding manufacturing sector is engaged primarily in food processing, metal fabrication, and the production of wood and paper products. Niche industries are developing in such high technology sectors as software production. Recent structural reforms have transformed New Zealand from one of the world's most protected economies to one based on free enterprise. Disparities in wealth are very small (though increasing), and most New Zealanders have a comfortable standard of living.

New Zealanders enjoy a wide range of freedoms, and human rights are respected and protected in law and in practice. Minority rights are given special legislative protection, and provision is made for the economically deprived.


Section 1 Respect for The Integrity of The Person, Including Freedom from

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Such killings do not occur.

b. Disappearance

There have been no instances of politically motivated disappearance.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

New Zealand law prohibits torture and other forms of mistreatment, and these prohibitions are respected in practice.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, and exile is respected. The law provides for the writ of habeas corpus and requires that persons arrested be charged promptly. The court provides legal aid to those who cannot afford to pay for a private attorney. Preventive detention is prohibited.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The New Zealand judicial system is based on British common law. A three-tiered, independent, and impartial judiciary assures a prompt and fair public trial. Final appeal in some instances may be made to the Privy Council in London, although this is rarely invoked. The rights of the accused are carefully observed and subject to public scrutiny.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The right to privacy is protected by law. The Government does not violate a person's privacy, the sanctity of the home, or the integrity of correspondence. The office of Privacy Commissioner hears complaints involving violation of personal privacy by individuals or the Government. The Privacy Commissioner is a statutory member of the Human Rights Commission.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedoms of speech and press are provided for in law and respected in practice. Several hundred newspapers and magazines are published reflecting a wide spectrum of political and social thought. Numerous state and privately owned radio stations operate. One private and two state television channels broadcast nationally, and international broadcasts are available for a fee. The Government makes no attempt to censor the press, and opposition viewpoints are freely expressed.

There are no limits on academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Rights to peaceful assembly and association are recognized in law and respected in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

New Zealand enjoys a long tradition of religious tolerance. All faiths receive equal treatment under the law.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law places no limitations on internal movement or resettlement, nor does it restrict foreign travel or the right to return. To the extent of its resources, New Zealand accepts and resettles refugees and asylum seekers.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The people freely elect their government. Two major parties, National and Labour, dominate the political scene and have formed governments chosen in triennial elections for more than 50 years. The law provides for universal suffrage at age 18. Except for the seats reserved for Maori, no restrictions based upon sex, creed, or national origin limit participation in the political process. Women, Maori, and other minorities regularly serve in Parliament and the Cabinet. Currently, of the 99 Members of Parliament (M.P.'s), 21 are women. Voting rates are high, and participation in political groups is common. Opposition groups freely voice their views and can influence government policies.

Responding to complaints that the current "first-past-the-post" electoral system, or simple majority system, unfairly disadvantages small parties, the Government asked voters in the 1993 general election to determine whether to adopt proportional representation. A majority of voters supported a change to Mixed-Member Proportional representation (MMP). Under this system, half of an expanded parliament will be elected from constituencies and half selected from party lists in order to achieve proportionality. The change is likely to result in a larger number of parties, coalition governments, and a greater role for individual M.P.'s. Proponents claim it will redress a situation under which a government could use an artificially inflated parliamentary majority to push through legislation that was not supported by a majority of the population. Elections held after mid-1995 will be held under MMP.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

New Zealand has a long history of commitment to the protection of human rights, both at home and abroad. Basic human rights are guaranteed by law and respected in practice. A wide variety of international and local human rights organizations operate freely.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission hears complaints of discrimination based on sex, marital status, national or ethnic origin, and religious or ethical belief. The Race Relations Conciliator, a statutory member of the Human Rights Commission but empowered under separate legislation, hears complaints based upon racial discrimination. In July New Zealand enacted legislation that replaced and expanded the Human Rights Commission Act 1977 and the Race Relations Act 1971. The Human Rights Act 1993 incorporates existing bans against discrimination on the basis of sex (including pregnancy and sexual harassment), marital status, religious or ethical belief, race, color, or ethnic or national origin. It adds new bans against discrimination on the grounds of physical or psychological disability (including disability or impairment due to the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing illness), age, political opinion, employment status, family status, or sexual orientation. Such discrimination is prohibited in the areas of employment, education, access to public places, provision of goods and services, and housing and accommodation.


The law in New Zealand addresses violence against women, including spousal rape, and provides for the suppression of victims' names. Police coordinate effectively with the numerous victim support service agencies available to women, including women's refuges, rape crisis centers, and sexual abuse centers. In August Parliament passed antipornography legislation banning material that promotes coerced sexual activity or depicts acts of extreme violence and cruelty. The legislation is designed to reduce material that could lead to violence against women and children. As the first country to grant full suffrage to women, New Zealand celebrated the centennial year of that decision in 1993 with a series of conferences and activities designed to promote a positive image of women.


New Zealand pays careful attention to the rights of children. The Commissioner for Children has submitted to the Government for review a broad plan of action on children's rights. The 1989 Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act increased specific safeguards for children's rights and made special provisions for the treatment of children by the legal system. The act also created the independent office of a Commissioner for Children to provide advocacy before the law for children without legal competence and to monitor compliance with and implementation of the act. The Commissioner has broad powers of audit and inquiry into all aspects of children's rights.

Indigenous People

Approximately 12 percent of New Zealand's population claim at least one ancestor from the country's indigenous Maori or Morioni minorities. Despite a legal prohibition on discrimination, significant portions of the indigenous population remain marginally educated and economically disadvantaged. Maori experience high rates of infant crib death and child abuse and are less likely to graduate from high school. A relatively high percentage of Maori are unemployed and receive state assistance. Maori also figure disproportionately in crime statistics and among the prison population. Government policy recognizes a special role for indigenous people and their traditional values and customs, including cultural and environmental attitudes that have an impact on issues of commercial development. The Ministry of Maori Development oversees programs aimed at furthering the economic, social, and cultural development of the Maori people. In addition, every national, regional, and local government agency is required by law to consult with Maori representatives on any decision that might affect them.

A special tribunal was empowered in 1975 to hear Maori tribal claims to land and other natural resources stemming from the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. Progress on resolving land disputes was slow until recently. The tribunal's decisions are binding on state-owned resources but not on private land. A major agreement between the Government and Maori leaders resolving Maori claims to fishing rights was reached in 1992. While not immune from racial tensions, New Zealand's Government and society put considerable effort into forging and maintaining mutual respect and partnership between the country's Anglo-Saxon majority and its indigenous Maori minority.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

While New Zealand actively protects the rights of its indigenous Maori minority, it has not until recently given much thought to the small but growing number of other ethnic minorities. A recent increase in immigration from Asia has led to isolated incidents of discrimination and attempts by the Government to prevent them. Although its official policy is "Biculturalism," the Government has encouraged immigration from

Asia and portrayed in a positive light the contributions of immigrants from outside the European and Maori cultures. The Human Rights Act 1993 outlaws material that would incite hostility based on color, race, or ethnic origin.

People with Disabilities

Increasing popular attention to the problems faced by the disabled has led the Government to act to remove, to the fullest extent practical, impediments to their living normal lives. In 1991-92, the Government created the Office of Disability Support Services to coordinate disability programs. The Human Rights Act of 1993 prohibits discrimination in employment, education, access to public places, provision of goods and services, housing and accommodation on the grounds of physical, and intellectual or psychological disability or impairment.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

New Zealand workers have unrestricted rights to establish and join organizations of their own choosing and to affiliate those organizations with other unions and international organizations. The principal labor organization, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU), is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and with its subregional grouping, the South Pacific and Oceanic Council of Trade Unions. A second national labor federation, the New Zealand Trade Union Federation (TUF), was established on May Day 1993. The TUF has not affiliated with any global international organization, although some of its affiliates have retained longstanding ties with the ICFTU's international trade secretariats. There are also a number of labor unions independent of both groups.

Labor organization is rudimentary in the New Zealand dependency of Tokelau (population 1,800) and in the freely associated state of Niue (population 2,000). In the more populous New Zealand associated state of the Cook Islands (population 18,000), most workers in the public sector, the major employer, belong to independent local unions inspired by New Zealand models. Industrial relations in the Cook Islands are governed by a simplified version of older New Zealand legislation.

Unions in New Zealand are protected by law from governmental interference, suspension, and dissolution, and, in fact, they influence legislation and government policy. Unions operate independently of political parties but can and do support parties whose policies they favor. Unions have and freely exercise the right to strike. Public sector unions, however, may not strike if work stoppages would threaten public safety. Legislation enacted in 1991 prohibits strikes designed to force an employer to become party to a multicompany contract. Workers are also barred from using secondary boycotts and striking to force up the minimum wage.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right of workers to organize and bargain collectively is provided by law and observed in practice in New Zealand and its dependencies. Unions actively recruit members and engage in collective bargaining. Labor market deregulation intended to make New Zealand more competitive internationally, which was initiated with the Employment Contracts Act (ECA) of 1991, marks a sharp break with almost a century of prounion industrial legislation. The ECA ended a previous system of national "awards" under which a wage agreement would apply to all employers and employees in an industry whether or not they had been involved in the award negotiations. It also banned compulsory membership in labor unions, abolished the official registration of unions, and ended requirements that unions be of a minimum size. As a consequence of the act, unions now represent less than half of all wage earners, and no longer have an inherent right to represent any particular group of workers. Employers are free to choose with which and with how many bargaining agents they negotiate. The NZCTU has presented a complaint, alleging that the ECA violates freedom of association, which is under review by the International Labor Organization.

Employment relationships are based on contracts negotiated either by individual employees or their bargaining agent, which may be a union, another voluntary association of workers, or a private consultant.

Mediation and arbitration procedures are conducted independent of government control. The Employment Court hears cases arising from disputes over the interpretation of labor laws. A less formal body, the Employment Tribunal, is available to handle wage disputes and assist in maintaining effective labor relations. Firing an employee for union activities is grounds for a finding of unjustified dismissal and may result in reinstatement and financial compensation.

There are no export processing zones in New Zealand, Tokelau, Niue, or the Cook Islands.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited in New Zealand and its dependencies. Inspection and legal penalties ensure respect for these provisions.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Children under the age of 15 may not be employed without special government approval and must not work between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The Department of Labour effectively enforces these laws.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

New Zealand provides for a 40-hour workweek, with a minimum of 3 weeks' annual paid vacation and 11 paid public holidays. Under the Employment Contracts Act, however, employers and employees may agree to longer hours than the 40-hour per week standard. In effect since December 17, 1990, the government-mandated minimum wage of approximately $3.30 ($NZ6.125) per hour for workers 20 years of age and older, is adequate for an acceptable standard of living. Most minimum wage earners also receive a variety of welfare benefits. A majority of the work force earns more than the minimum wage.

New Zealand has an extensive body of law and regulations governing health and safety issues, including a new Health and Safety in Employment Act which took effect in April. Under this legislation, employers are obliged to provide a safe and healthy work environment, and employees are responsible for their own safety and health, including the right to remove themselves from dangerous or hazardous situations, as well as for ensuring that their actions do not harm others. The NZCTU has criticized the act, however, for not providing sufficient employee involvement in workplace decisions affecting health and safety. Under the Employment Contracts Act, workers have the legal right to strike over health and safety issues. Unions and members of the general public may file safety complaints on behalf of workers. Safety and health rules are enforced by Department of Labour inspectors who have the power to shut down equipment if necessary. The Department of Labour standard is to investigate reports of unsafe or unhealthy working conditions within 24 hours of notification.

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