U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - New Zealand

    New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy, with executive authority vested in a 20-member cabinet led by a prime minister. Four seats in the 99-member legislature are reserved for those persons from the native Maori minority population who wish to be included on a separate electoral roll. Approximately 13 percent of New Zealand's population of 3,541,600 consider themselves Maori. Immigrants from the Pacific islands (5 percent) and Asia (2.5 percent) leaven a population of primarily European descent and play an important role in New Zealand's increasingly multicultural makeup. The rights of Maori and, to a lesser extent, Asians have received increasing public attention in recent years. Niue and the Cook Islands are self-governing countries in free association with New Zealand. In 1994 the New Zealand island dependency of Tokelau informed the United Nations that it is contemplating an act of self-determination on the basis of free association with New Zealand. Parliament is considering legislation which would expand the lawmaking authority of Tokelau's local assembly. Inhabitants of all three areas 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 a highly efficient producer of agricultural products. The mainstay of its economy is the export of wool, meat, and dairy products. An 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 trade and market principles. 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 basic human rights are guaranteed by law and respected in practice. Minority rights are given special legislative protection, and provision is made for the economically deprived. A new Human Rights Act, which took effect in February, incorporates existing prohibitions against discrimination, and adds new bans in several areas.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killing.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports 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 generally respected in practice. In response to allegations that prison officials had mistreated inmates at two jails, a police investigation was initiated and is still under way. Some officials have already been disciplined, and several procedural reforms are being undertaken to prevent recurrence.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law provides for freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, and exile, and this is respected. It also provides for judicial review of the legitimacy of arrests and requires that people arrested be charged promptly. The court provides legal aid to those who cannot afford to pay for a private attorney. The law prohibits preventive detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The 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 authorities meticulously observe the rights of the accused.

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

The law protects the right to privacy. The Government does not violate personal privacy, the sanctity of the home, or the integrity of correspondence. The Office of the 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

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and these are respected in practice. Several hundred newspapers and magazines reflect 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 satellite broadcasts are available. The Government makes no attempt to censor the press, and opposition viewpoints are freely expressed. Academic freedom is not limited.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the rights to peaceful assembly and association, and these are respected in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

New Zealand enjoys a long tradition of religious freedom. The law treats all faiths equally.

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. Within the limits 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. The law provides for universal suffrage at age 18. No restrictions based upon sex, creed, or national origin limit participation in the political process. Four seats have been reserved in Parliament for Maori who wish to be included on a separate electoral role. Currently, of the 99 members of Parliament, 21 are women, 6 are Maori (including the 4 reserved seats), and 1 is of Pacific Island origin. Two major parties, National and Labour, dominate the political scene and have formed governments chosen in triennial elections for more than 50 years. 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 "first-past-the-post" electoral system, or simple majority system, unfairly disadvantaged small parties, the Government asked voters in a referendum held at the same time as the 1993 general election to determine whether to adopt proportional representation. A majority of voters chose to adopt a form of this known as mixed-member-proportional representation (MMP). Under this system, each voter will cast two votes: one for the local constituency candidate and one for a political party. Candidates elected by constituencies and nominees selected from party lists will be combined to achieve proportionality in the Parliament, which will be expanded to 120 seats after the first MMP elections are held sometime in 1995 or 1996. The change resulted in the formation of several new political parties in 1994. Under MMP, the number of seats reserved for indigenous people was determined during a 2-month registration period in which Maori were given the option to register on either the general or Maori electoral roll. Some Maori leaders accused the Government of providing inadequate support to the enrollment campaign when low registration led to Maori gaining only 5 seats in the new 120-seat Parliament (vice 4 in the current 99-seat house.) In October the New Zealand High Court dismissed a legal challenge by three of New Zealand's main Maori organizations which sought to order the Government to conduct a new registration period with additional resources. The Maori groups are appealing the High Court's decision.

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

Local and international human rights organizations operate freely. New Zealand allows individuals to request an independent U.N. Human Rights Committee investigation of alleged abuses of human rights.

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. New Zealand's new Human Rights Act, which was enacted in 1993 and took effect in February 1994, replaced and expanded the Human Rights Commission Act of 1977 and the Race Relations Act of 1971. The legislation 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 sxual orientation. The Act prohibits such discrimination in employment, education, access to public places, provision of goods and services, and housing and accommodation. The New Zealand defense force ended its ban on homosexuals in the armed services shortly after the Act took effect in February. The military's new order prohibits unacceptable sexual behavior, regardless of the sex involved.


Nationwide police data for the 12-month period ending in June 1994 show 8,471 assaults by males on females as compared to 5,562 in the previous reporting year. Reported instances of male rape of females showed a less dramatic increase, 1,205 compared to 1,193. Informed observers state that these figures should be interpreted with caution. They attribute much of the increase to a heightened level of awareness by the public and a greater willingness to report such abuses. The Government actively combats violence against women in a number of ways, including the issuance of nonmolestation and nonviolence orders against abusive spouses, civil protection orders issued in family courts, or suit for compensation for some forms of negligent harm. A crime prevention unit under the Prime Minister coordinates national policy on domestic violence. The law penalizes spousal rape. Victims of domestic violence may stay in one of the 50 government-funded shelters operated by the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges (NCIWR), or the half-dozen shelters run by church or private groups. One nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that 80 percent of women in refuges refuse to take out nonviolence orders either because they are too frightened, don't believe they will be effective, or think the order will further anger the spouse. NGO's unanimously praise the police for their commitment to fight domestic violence, including their policy of arresting offenders instead of attempting mediation at the scene, their coordination with victim support services, and their response to concerns raised by refuge workers. In March the police launched a nationwide campaign on spousal abuse by sponsoring a television documentary on domestic violence.


A 1989 law increased specific safeguards for children's rights and made special provisions for the treatment of children by the legal system, including creation of the independent office of the Commissioner for Children with broad powers of audit and inquiry into all aspects of children's rights. The number of reports of assaults on children under age 14 rose from 709 in the reporting period ending June 1993 to 990 in the year ending June 1994. (These figures do not differentiate between those committed by children and those by adults.) Police statistics also contain a general category of abuse against children, and these showed an increase from 3,144 to 3,309. Again, as with abuse of women, informed observers believe that the increase in reported abuses comes from greater public awareness of such abuses and a greater willingness to report them, and they attribute this largely to the effectiveness of the Government's intensified efforts to publicize the need to be aware of and report domestic violence.

Indigenous People

Approximately 13 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. In 1975 a special tribunal was empowered to hear Maori tribal claims to land and other natural resources stemming from the Treaty of Waitangi. While major agreements between the Government and Maori leaders resolving Maori claims to fishing rights have been reached, progress on resolving land disputes has been slow. In early December, the Government proposed a package of around $612 million to settle all outstanding Maori land claims. 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.

People with Disabilities

The Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of physical and intellectual or psychological disability or impairment. The Disabled Persons Community Welfare Act of 1976 mandates community support, equipment, access to buildings, transportation to treatment centers and places of employment, and guidelines for modifications to workplaces and homes, and there are provisions in place for the delivery of these services. In December the Human Rights Commission ordered Stagecoach Wellington, the city bus company, to cancel an order for 40 buses deemed insufficiently accessible to persons with physical disabilities.

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 these 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). A second, smaller national labor federation, the New Zealand Trade Union Federation (TUF), was established in 1993. There are also a number of independent labor unions. 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 developed 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 Cooks are governed by a simplified version of older New Zealand legislation. The law protects unions from governmental interference, suspension, and dissolution. Unions, in fact, influence legislation and government policy. They operate independently of political parties but can and do support parties whose policies they favor. Some unions are affiliated with the opposition Labour Party. They have and freely exercise the right to strike. The law prohibits strikes designed to force an employer to become party to a multicompany contract. Under the Police Act of 1958 and amendments, "sworn police officers," i.e., all uniformed and plainclothes police but excluding clerical and support staff, are barred from striking or taking any form of industrial action. Police, however, do have freedom of association and the right to organize and to bargain collectively. Issues which cannot be settled between the Police Association and management through negotiation are subject to compulsory, final-offer arbitration.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, and this is observed in practice in New Zealand and its dependencies. The law prohibits uniformed members of the armed forces from organizing unions or bargaining collectively. The Employment Contracts Act (ECA) of 1991 initiated labor market deregulation, intended to make New Zealand more competitive internationally. This marked a sharp break with almost a century of prounion industrial legislation. Under the ECA, unions lost their special legal status and have no inherent right to represent any particular group of workers. The Act abolished compulsory unionism, the closed shop, monopoly union coverage, and requirements forcing workers to join a particular union. As a consequence, union membership plummeted. Unions now represent fewer than half of all wage earners. Under the ECA, employment relationships are based on contracts. Individual employees and employers may choose to conduct negotiations for employment contracts on their own behalf or may authorize any other person or organization to do so as their representative. Although choosing a union as bargaining representative is entirely voluntary, unions have remained the most common agent used by workers to negotiate with employers. Employers must recognize a representative authorized by an employee or employees. Neither employers nor employees are required, however, to negotiate or to agree to an employment contract. In March, pursuant to a complaint by the NZCTU, the Freedom of Association Committee of the International Labor Organization (ILO) criticized provisions in the ECA as contrary to ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association and ILO Convention 98 on the right to organize and to bargain collectively. To obtain firsthand information on the woring of the ECA, an ILO mission visited New Zealand in September for discussions with unions, employer representatives, and government officials. The Freedom of Association Committee's final report, issued in November, recommended that the New Zealand Government keep it informed of judicial rulings on industrial relations issues, suggested the holding of tripartite consultations to promote collective bargaining, criticized only the ECA's prohibition on strikes to force a multiemployer contract, and offered the ILO's advisory services to the Government of New Zealand. The Government has asked the NZCTU and the Employers Federation for their comments on the report, but it has rejected the ILO's criticism of the ban on strikes to force multiemployer contracts. The Government does not control mediation and arbitration procedures. 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

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor in New Zealand and its dependencies. Inspection and legal penalties ensure respect for these provisions.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Department of Labour inspectors effectively enforce a ban on the employment of children under age 15 in manufacturing, mining, and forestry. Children under the age of 16 may not work between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. In addition to explicit restrictions on the employment of children, New Zealand's system of compulsory education ensures that children under the minimum age for leaving school (now 16) are not employed during school hours. By law children enrolled in school may not be employed even outside school hours if such employment would interfere with their education.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law 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. While New Zealand law does not specifically provide for a 24-hour rest period weekly, the practice is accepted by management and labor, and it is the norm. The government- mandated hourly minimum wage of approximately $3.75 ($NZ 6.125) applies to workers 20 years of age and older. Combined with other regularly provided entitlements and welfare benefits for low-income earners, this wage is adequate to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and his family. Effective April 1, 1994, a youth minimum wage for younger workers was introduced at 60 percent of the adult minimum. 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, notably the Health and Safety in Employment Act of 1992. Under this legislation, employers are obliged to provide a safe and healthy work environment, and employees are responsible for their own safety and health as well as ensuring that their actions do not harm others. The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions 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. Department of Labour inspectors enforce safety and health rules, and they 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. Workers have the rigt to withdraw from a dangerous work situation without jeopardy to continued employment.

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