New Zealand

PR Political Rights 40 40
CL Civil Liberties 59 60
Last Year's Score & Status
99 100 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 2021

  • In September, Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen attacked people in an Auckland supermarket, injuring eight before being shot dead by police. In response to the attack, the government quickly amended counterterrorism laws to criminalize the planning of a terrorist attack, among other provisions.
  • In February, voters approved a referendum to remove their own ability to block local councils’ creation of Māori wards—special constituencies representing registered Māori voters in local government. This veto power had been used to prevent the creation of all but two Māori wards since their introduction in 2002. At least 25 councils moved to create Māori wards following the amendments.

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. In October 2021, Dame Cindy Kiro was appointed as governor general, becoming the first Māori woman to serve in the position. 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, and 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. Election day was delayed by a month amid a nascent second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Auckland.

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 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. Some have claimed the government has been more hesitant to criticize Chinese government human rights abuses. In May 2021, the Labour Party drew criticism for a “cash for access” scheme, which gave wealthy donors access to Prime Minister Ardern and other senior ministers at fundraising events that cost up to NZ$2,064 (USD $1,442) per person.

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. 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. Māori representatives comprise 21 percent of seats in Parliament, with the Māori Party holding two seats. In October 2021, Dame Cindy Kiro became the first Māori woman to be appointed governor general.

In February 2021, voters approved a referendum to remove their own ability to block local councils’ creation of Māori wards—bodies representing registered Māori voters in local government. This veto power had been used to prevent the creation of all but two Māori wards since their introduction in 2002. At least 25 councils moved to create Māori wards following the amendments.

Also in February, Rawiri Waititi, co-leader or the Māori Party, was temporarily removed from Parliament for not wearing a necktie, as required by the parliamentary dress code. Waititi, who wore a traditional Māori hei-tiki pendant in place of a necktie, successfully pushed for the necktie requirement to be removed.

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.

The 2020 elections also saw the first lawmakers of African, Latin American, and Sri Lankan background voted into Parliament, while Iranian refugee Golriz Ghahraman was reelected to a second term.

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 COVID-19 pandemic affected the functioning of Parliament, with sittings suspended for five weeks between late March and early May. Parliament operated relatively unhindered throughout 2021. Lawmakers prevented from attending Parliament in-person in 2021 were able to work remotely.

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, the government’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), tasked with investigating suspected corruption, has increased its attention to political party funding. Several investigations yielded charges for alleged campaign finance violations in 2020.

In May 2021, it was revealed that the SFO was prosecuting several Labour Party donors for breaches of campaign finance rules; of six political parties to have recently held seats in parliament, the SFO was investigating or prosecuting four.

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, though the government is sometimes slow to respond to freedom of information requests. The government upholds transparency in budgetary procedures, and representatives 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, the large New Zealand media outlet 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.

In 2020, an academic at the University of Canterbury published a report which found that various New Zealand universities had links with the Chinese government and military. Other members of academia have been critical of the findings of the report, maintaining that it is common for educational institutions to have international links.

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 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 terrorist activities abroad. Authorities invoked the law against Islamic State (IS)–linked woman, Suhayra Aden, who was extradited to New Zealand from Turkey in August 2021. The order was approved by a High Court judge and imposes broad restrictions on Aden, including prohibiting her from leaving New Zealand or possessing a passport.

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 free assembly and association rights, which are legally protected. Public gatherings were severely restricted in 2020 and 2021 during lockdowns imposed periodically to curb spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Demonstrations in several major cities denouncing the lockdowns were largely peaceful, though police monitored demonstrators and a number of organizers were later arrested. Observers noted that far-right groups had infiltrated antilockdown protests, with at least one protest organizer having expressed anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT+ statements.

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 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. The perpetrator of the shootings, Brenton Tarrant received a life sentence in August 2020. A Royal Commission inquiry into the causes of the attack identified serious failures by the country’s intelligence services.

In September 2021, Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen attacked people in an Auckland supermarket, injuring eight before being shot dead by police. In response to the attack, the government quickly amended counterterrorism laws to criminalize the planning of a terrorist attack, among other provisions. The amendments give police warrantless powers of entry, search, and surveillance if an individual is suspected of planning an attack. Some have expressed concern about the lack of oversight in the new laws and the potential for overreach.

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

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. They are also disproportionately represented in the penal system, accounting for just over half of the prison population as of 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 combat profiling and discrimination.

The annual Child Poverty Monitor Technical Report has documented for many years that children of Māori and Pacific Islander descent are more likely to experience poverty. The Ardern government has been criticized for its inefficacy in addressing this issue, which it claimed was a policy priority.

Racism and discrimination towards people of Asian descent, as well as first generation immigrants, is a challenge, one that has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 50 percent of people of Asian descent reported experiencing racism or discrimination since the start of the pandemic.

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.

Though the government routinely accepts refugees and asylum seekers, 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.

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.

The New Zealand government periodically imposed lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 to contain outbreaks of the coronavirus. International travel has been limited, with arrivals forced to complete a state-supervised fourteen-day quarantine throughout much of the pandemic.

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 people identifying as women had been a victim of sexual violence in their 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 Islander 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 Islander 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.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    99 100 free