New Zealand

PR Political Rights 40 40
CL Civil Liberties 59 60
Last Year's Score & Status
97 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy with a long record of free and fair elections and of guaranteeing political rights and civil liberties. Concerns include discrimination against the Māori and other minority populations, as well as reports of foreign influence in politics and the education sector.

header2 Key Developments in 2020

  • In October elections, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s Labour Party won an absolute majority in the New Zealand parliament, and candidates of Indigenous or other minority backgrounds made record gains.
  • New Zealand was lauded for its relatively successful management of the COVID-19 pandemic; as of year’s end, the country had registered 2,162 cases and 25 deaths, according to researchers at the University of Oxford. The government’s response included nationwide lockdowns and ongoing restrictions, as well as a one-month delay in parliamentary elections amid a second wave of the virus in August.
  • Following the March 2019 extremist attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand authorities successfully prosecuted the offender and took measures to combat extremist ideologies and foster community reconciliation. In December 2020, Prime Minister Ardern apologized to the country’s Muslim community for the state’s failure to prevent the attack.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

A governor general, appointed by the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II on advice from the prime minister, represents the British monarch as New Zealand’s ceremonial head of state. The prime minister, who is head of government, is appointed by the governor general and is usually the leader of the majority party or coalition in the directly elected parliament. Jacinda Ardern, leader of the Labour Party, was reelected as prime minister in 2020 following legislative elections, which were considered well administered and credible.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The 120 members of parliament’s single chamber, the House of Representatives, serve three-year terms. The mixed electoral system combines voting in geographic districts with proportional representation. Elections in New Zealand are generally well administered, and their results considered credible.

In the October 2020 elections, the Labour Party secured a 65-seat majority in the 120-seat parliament. The opposition National Party claimed 33 seats, a decrease of 23 compared to the 2017 election, while the leftist Green Party won 10 seats. The anti-immigration New Zealand First party, which had been in coalition with Labour, lost all nine of the seats it won in 2017. The Māori Party, representing New Zealand’s Indigenous Māori people, reentered Parliament with two seats. The 2020 election was originally scheduled for September , but was delayed by a month amid a nascent second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Auckland. The delay of the election was considered lawful, and no concerns were voiced about electoral irregularities resulting from it.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4.004 4.004

The legal framework supports democratic elections, and elections are implemented fairly in practice. The independent New Zealand Electoral Commission administers polls and referendums, promotes compliance with electoral laws, and provides public education on electoral issues.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4.004 4.004

New Zealanders are able to organize political parties without undue legal restrictions or other obstacles, and parties are free to operate and campaign for support.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4.004 4.004

The political system has experienced regular democratic transfers of power between rival parties. Power has traditionally alternated between the center-left Labour Party and the center-right National Party. Currently, the National Party serves as a strong opposition force in parliament.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 4.004 4.004

People are generally able to act on their political preferences without undue influence from powerful groups. However, several studies in recent years have raised concerns over the likelihood that sizable political donations from Chinese businesspeople and other Chinese figures have influenced the policy positions of political parties and lawmakers.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4.004 4.004

Political rights and electoral opportunities are granted to all New Zealand citizens, and permanent residents have the right to vote. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 codifies civil and political rights and all draft legislation is assessed against that Act. Seven of Parliament’s constituency seats are reserved for representatives of the Māori population, though Māori may also vote or run in general electoral districts.

In the 2020 elections saw victories by New Zealand’s first lawmakers of African, Latin American, and Sri Lankan background. Iranian refugee Golriz Ghahraman was reelected to a second term, while the Māori Party returned to parliament for the first time since 2017.

Women are relatively well represented in politics, and the government has taken steps to encourage their participation. Ardern is the third woman to serve as the country’s prime minister. The 2020 elections were the second in New Zealand’s history to be contested with both major parties led by women. National Party leader Judith Collins remained leader of the opposition despite her party’s loss in the balloting.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4.004 4.004

The prime minister and cabinet ministers, with the support of a majority in the House of Representatives, determine and implement the government’s policy agenda without improper interference from any unelected entity. In 2020, the pandemic affected the functioning of parliament, with parliamentary sittings suspended for five weeks between late March and early May.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 4.004 4.004

Government corruption is not considered a significant problem in New Zealand, and cases of official malfeasance are routinely investigated and prosecuted.

Despite the country’s strong anticorruption record, there is some concern about a “revolving door” between political or government posts and private-sector lobbying groups, which could entail conflicts of interest. The government’s Serious Fraud Office, which is in charge of investigating suspected corruption, has increased its attention to political party funding, and several investigations yielded charges for alleged campaign finance violations in 2020; the most prominent case involved unnamed defendants tied to a foundation associated with the New Zealand First party.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4.004 4.004

The government operates with a high level of transparency, and new legislation is openly discussed in parliament and the media. Parliamentary records, government policies, and commissioned reports are published online and readily available as required by law. The government upholds transparency in budgetary procedures, and members of parliament must submit annual financial disclosure statements.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 4.004 4.004

New Zealand has a free and robust independent media sector, including a Māori-language public network and radio station.

In November 2020, New Zealand media giant Stuff issued a public apology after an internal investigation revealed systemic racism in its reporting, particularly in portrayals of Māori people.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

Religious freedom is protected by law and generally respected in practice. Only religious organizations that wish to collect donations and receive tax benefits need to register with the government, and the process is not onerous.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

Academic freedom typically prevails at all levels of instruction. However, concerns persist regarding Chinese interference in New Zealand’s higher education sector. Beginning in late 2017 and throughout 2018, a prominent China studies professor at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch was subjected to an intimidation campaign. Reports of Chinese government attempts to influence student groups and monitor Chinese students in New Zealand also emerged in 2017.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4.004 4.004

New Zealanders are free to discuss personal views on sensitive topics. However, new intelligence and security legislation adopted in 2017 allows law enforcement agencies to access private communications under certain conditions in order to protect national security.

In December 2019, Parliament passed the Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Act, which had been criticized by the privacy commissioner for authorizing an overly intrusive regime of monitoring and restrictions on individuals designated as having been involved in terrorism activities abroad.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

The government generally respects freedom of assembly. Public gatherings were severely restricted in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival in New Zealand, but controls were eased starting in April following successful containment measures; looser restrictions were imposed in response to the smaller second wave in August.

In June, demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement took place in several New Zealand cities. The protests, which sought to call attention to structural and racial discrimination in New Zealand, including against the Indigenous Māori, were mostly peaceful and were not impeded by police.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

There are no significant restrictions on nongovernmental organizations’ ability to form, operate, and solicit funds.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4.004 4.004

Workers may freely organize and bargain collectively, and trade unions actively engage in political debates and campaigns. Workers also have the right to strike, with the exception of uniformed police personnel.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4.004 4.004

The New Zealand judiciary is generally independent. Most judges are appointed by the governor general on the recommendation of the attorney general, who first consults with senior jurists.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4.004 4.004

Law enforcement practices and court procedures provide for due process protections in civil and criminal matters. Defendants and detainees are presumed innocent until proven guilty and by law must immediately be notified of the charges against them.

Pretrial detention durations have increased in recent years, as authorities have tightened bail requirements and relaxed the time limit in which cases must be concluded.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4.004 4.004

Rates of violent crime are relatively low, and residents have legal recourse to seek redress for violations of their physical security. The March 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack was the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s modern history. The shooting, which took place at two mosques and killed 51 people, was preplanned and accompanied by an 87-page document filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hate speech. Following the attack, government representatives collaborated with tech companies, including Google and Facebook, to ensure the removal of material on online platforms depicting the attack and prevent livestreaming of potential future attacks. In March 2020, the perpetrator of the shootings, Australian man Brenton Tarrant, pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder, and one charge of terrorism; he received a life sentence in August. A Royal Commission inquiry into the causes of the attack identified serious failures by the country’s intelligence services, and Prime Minister Ardern apologized to New Zealand’s Muslim community in December.

Prison conditions generally meet international standards, though some facilities are poorly equipped to house detainees with disabilities or mental health problems.

Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because there were no further instances of terrorist violence following the attacks of 2019.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3.003 4.004

The 1993 Human Rights Act protects all people in New Zealand from discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, among other categories, and its provisions are generally respected in practice. However, Māori—who account for approximately 16 percent of the population—and Pacific Islanders experience some discrimination in schools, the workplace, and the health system. Indigenous people are also disproportionately represented in the penal system, accounting for just over half of the prison population as of May 2019. Recent campaigns to recruit more officers of Māori, Pacific Islander, and Asian descent aim to improve cultural and ethnic sensitivity within the police force, and to combat profiling and discrimination.

The arrival of the coronavirus in New Zealand resulted in some incidents of racism targeting members of East Asian communities, including public harassment and discriminatory media treatment.

The yearly Child Poverty Monitor Technical Report outlines the national issue of child poverty in New Zealand. Children of Māori and Pacific Islander descent are especially vulnerable to this problem. The Ardern government has been criticized for its ineffective efforts to combat the issue of child poverty, despite it being a priority on its policy agenda.

Women continue to face some disparities in employment, including a gender pay gap and underrepresentation in leadership positions in both the public and private sectors. The government enforces strong legislation protecting the rights of LGBT+ people. However, LGBT+ people report workplace discrimination and poorer physical and mental health compared to the general population.

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission has raised concerns that refugees are not always given sufficient information to enable them to access important services such as interpreters, housing, and English-language instruction. Separately, asylum seekers are sometimes detained alongside criminal inmates while their identity is being confirmed. Despite these issues, the government has been accepting of refugees, and has increased the number allowed entry in recent years. In 2019, the government ended restrictions on the number of refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4.004 4.004

The government respects freedom of movement, and neither state nor nonstate actors place undue restrictions on people’s ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4.004 4.004

New Zealand’s legal and regulatory frameworks are broadly supportive of private business activity and provide strong protections for property rights.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4.004 4.004

Personal social freedoms are broadly protected, including on issues like marriage and divorce. Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2013, and same-sex couples may jointly adopt children. However, violence against women and children remains a critical problem in many communities. A government survey released in 2020 reported that over one in three women has been a victim of sexual violence in her lifetime. Abortion is legal in New Zealand; in March 2020 Parliament removed all restrictions up to 20 weeks of pregnancy and fully decriminalized the procedure.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 4.004 4.004

Residents generally have access to economic opportunities, but the Māori and Pacific Islander populations have disproportionately high rates of unemployment, affecting their economic and social mobility. Women and Pacific people are among the most likely groups to receive lower pay for equal work. In December 2020 the Human Rights Commission announced an inquiry into the unequal pay and equal employment discrimination faced by Pacific workers.

Migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitative conditions including forced labor in industries such as fishing, agriculture, construction, hospitality, and domestic service. The government has taken action to combat these abuses, and in August 2020 authorities announced a crackdown on exploitation and protections to help migrant workers escape exploitative environments.

Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 due to improved protections for migrant workers, and because worker protections are generally upheld in practice.

On New Zealand

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  • Global Freedom Score

    99 100 free