A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand proposes to increase protection for human rights in New Zealand. The book proposes two key reforms. First, we propose to strengthen existing protections for human rights. Second, we propose to protect some additional rights that are not currently protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.
Stronger protection for human rights
The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 protects New Zealanders’ basic civil and political rights, including the right to life; the right to freedom from torture and cruel treatment; rights to freedom of speech, thought, conscience, and religion; rights to freedom of movement, assembly and association; the right to freedom from discrimination; democratic rights; and rights to justice and a fair trial.
The Act provides a good degree of protection for New Zealanders’ rights. But Parliament can – and regularly does – pass laws that contravene those rights.
A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand proposes to include the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in a new constitution. That constitution would be entrenched, meaning it could be changed only with the support of 75% of MPs in Parliament. And it would be superior law, meaning that other laws have to comply with it.
If Parliament passed a law that breached these basic civil and political rights, the Supreme Court could declare the law inconsistent with the Constitution. The law would then remain in effect only if 75% of MPs agreed. This system would provide additional protection for human rights, while also giving democratically elected MPs the last word.
You can read more about our proposals in chapter 6 (the judiciary) and chapter 8 (human rights) of A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, and in parts 8 and 12 of our draft constitution. The blogs above provide a range of other perspectives.
Protecting new rights
More than a quarter of a century has passed since the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 came into force. Circumstances have changed, and some values have become more important to New Zealanders than they were then.
As well as providing constitutional protection for human rights, A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand proposes the inclusion of several new rights. They include the right to privacy, the right to property, and the right to a healthy environment. These rights would be enforceable in the courts.
We also propose to include some non-enforceable social and economic rights, including (among other things) a right to an adequate standard of living, and to healthy and safe working conditions.
The family carers case
In 2013, Parliament used urgency to pass the Health and Disability Amendment Act through all of its stages in a single day. There was no public consultation on this law, which allows the government to discriminate against people who look after severely disabled relatives.
Put simply, the law allows the government to deny funding to family members who do this work, or to pay them less than it would if it employed non-relatives to do the same job.
The Act also removed family members’ rights to contest funding decisions in court.
The Act has been heavily criticised by (among others) the Human Rights Commission and the United Nations.
It’s one example of what can happen when the law allows Parliament to (a) override basic human rights (such as the right to freedom from discrimination) and (b) pass laws under urgency without public consultation.
Under our proposals, Parliament’s use of urgency would be tightened, and the right to freedom from discrimination would be protected in the constitution.
Spy agencies and human rights
New Zealand’s intelligence agencies have significant powers and operate with limited oversight. Most of what they do is secret. While their work is important for protecting New Zealand from genuine terror threats, it’s also vital that constitutional protections exist to keep their work from infringing on New Zealanders’ human rights. We think they should operate in a more open and transparent manner, and should be accountable to Parliament.