(IN)CONSISTENCY 2000


New Zealand is quite possibly in danger of a civil disaster a civil disaster that cannot be helped by any civil defence agency nor that tin of baked beans saved for such a catastrophe. This disaster has been almost "secretly" concocted by our very own Coalition Government, a disaster that would affect the lives of every New Zealander, directly or otherwise.

If Consistency 2000 does not come into effect because of current government proposals, the best human rights policy in the world could find itself in a situation similar to that of 20 years ago, a time where discrimination against those of a different race, sex and religious belief was not illegal.

The Human Rights Act and Consistency 2000

The Human Rights Act (1977), set down grounds on which it is illegal to discriminate. These are: Sex; Marital status; Religious belief; Ethical belief; Colour; Race; Ethnic or national origins.

In 1993, a further six clauses were added to the act, which covered: Disability; Age; Political opinion; Employment status; Family status; and Sexual orientation.

These grounds were meant to stop unfair discrimination, with few exceptions, and cover all community organisations, private businesses and local government.

Consistency 2000 is the reassessment of the Human Rights Act (1993), undertaken independently by the Human Rights Commission, with close liaison with both the Race Relations Office and government agencies. It involves the evaluation of the Human Rights Act and an assessment of inconsistencies within government policies across the board. The brief is to propose changes and provisions to ensure consistency, to be introduced by December 31, 1998.

According to the Human Rights Commission, the aim of Consistency 2000 is to "consolidate an atmosphere of robust and effective Human Rights in both the public and private sectors." Effectively, it would consolidate and improve the present human rights situation in New Zealand.

Currently, government is expected to comply with the 1993 act (but even now has substantial exemptions), until the last day of 1999, when the recommended changes from the review would come into effect.

Originally, this meant that on January 1, 2000, the Human Rights Act would take "equal of superior status compared to all other legislation AND apply to Government policies and practices".

Government backs down?

The current government could interrupt this initiative. In June of this year, cabinet proposed that government should be entirely exempt from the act and abandon Consistency 2000, the only policy that would ensure the Human Rights Act would be protected.

According to information provided by Labour's spokesperson for Human Rights, Tim Barnett, the preferred government option which emerged from cabinet discussion was, "a permanent government exemption, covering all legislation, policies and practices, except 'where the government is acting like the private sector'."

This exemption could quite possibly include the grounds in the 1977 human rights legislation, taking us back to the social situation prior to 1977, where tangata whenua, ethnic minorities, women, those of different religious and ethical backgrounds and marital status could be discriminated against, as well as those that fall under the additional grounds added to the act in 1993. Yes, this means you.

Why abandon Consistency 2000?

Reasons government has given for such a dramatic change in the current legislation are an unacceptable excuse for condensing and possibly deleting what is the most advanced human rights policy in the world. Justifications include:

These reasons imply government's desire to take shortcuts through a policy for its own convenience and gain, overlooking the purpose it has to serve and protect the "whole" of New Zealand.

Consistency 2000 must happen

The fact that Cabinet has kept a tight lid on its proceedings only gives the public an impression that it wants to follow this proposal through with little public debate. Not only will the government be contravening international law, it will also be open to attack from international bodies and networks of people most directly (adversely) affected by their (in)action, such as political activists, gay rights groups, religious groups and the women's suffrage movement.

Current discriminations would take a further step backward and perhaps be ignored all together if the Consistency 2000 policy is abandoned by the government. This would include: marital discrimination in student allowances; inconsistency of minimum age for various activities; and testing parental income for students under the age of 25. The possibility of universal allowances would be neglected, inevitably becoming a subordinate feature of the fight for human rights.

If government is prepared to discriminate on various grounds, what hope is there for the wider community in years to come? The public argument, "if the government doesn't have to comply then why should we?" may take on a disastrous face, leaving the entire human rights policy foundation in jeopardy, seeing a nation involved in the social avalanche of what was an advanced human rights legislation.

Action

We cannot allow the public to become disadvantaged by bureaucracy and operate under a government immune from the rights which should be an inherent part of any society. The government must be stopped to enable Consistency 2000 to come into effect and to avoid this potential civil disaster.

Write "freepost" to the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Jim Bolger, or your local MP at Parliament Buildings, Wellington, expressing your concern over this extremely important and urgent issue. For more information, e-mail vuw_hrag@sans.vuw.ac.nz or phone the information hotline on 471 9906.

Kate Walker, September 1997.

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