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 2022

  • Three people were found guilty of fraud in October for deliberately making political donations in a way that concealed the identity of the donor. In December, Parliament passed the Electoral Amendment Bill, which tightened campaign finance rules, including by lowering the monetary threshold at which political parties must publicly identify donors.
  • Also in October, draft amendments intended to strengthen New Zealand’s existing counterterrorism laws were introduced in Parliament. Among other things, the proposed reforms included changes allowing for greater judicial discretion in setting restrictions for individuals deemed to be at high risk for engaging in terrorism-related activity; the draft amendments remained under consideration in Parliament through year’s end.
  • The government gradually eased COVID-19-related restrictions throughout the year, lifting most restrictions by September.

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

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.

A governor general, appointed by the monarch of the United Kingdom (UK) on advice of the prime minister, represents the British monarch as New Zealand’s head of state. In October 2021, Dame Cindy Kiro was appointed governor general, becoming the first Māori woman to serve in that position.

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 national 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 New Zealand’s government has been hesitant to criticize the Chinese government’s human rights abuses.

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.

Women are relatively well-represented in politics, and the government has taken steps to encourage their participation. Following the swearing-in of Soraya Peke-Mason to Parliament in October 2022, for the first time in the nation’s history, women held an equal share of seats in the legislature as men. Ardern is the third woman to serve as the country’s prime minister, and the 2020 elections were the second in New Zealand’s history to be contested with both major parties led by women.

There have been allegations of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, in Parliament in recent years. In October, Parliament’s speaker commissioned an independent review into workplace harassment and bullying within the institution.

In a November ruling, New Zealand’s Supreme Court found that the minimum voting age of 18 contradicted the country’s Bill of Rights, which confers on individuals aged 16 and over the right to be free of age discrimination. Following the judgment, Prime Minister Ardern promised to introduce draft legislation lowering the minimum voting age to 16.

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.

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.

In recent years, there have been several investigations into alleged breaches of political party funding laws: as of May 2021, four of the six political parties to have recently held seats in New Zealand’s parliament were either under investigation or being prosecuted for violations of campaign finance laws. In one case in October 2022, three people were convicted of “obtaining by deception” for deliberately making political donations in a way that concealed the identity of the donor in 2017 and 2018. Among those convicted in the proceedings brought by New Zealand’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was Yikun Zhang, a New Zealand national who was born in China and is a former member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an organization with links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Following government pledges to further tighten campaign finance rules before the 2023 general election, Parliament passed the Electoral Amendment Bill in December 2022; among other things, the legislation includes provisions lowering the threshold at which political parties must publicly identify a donor from NZ$15,000 (US$9,342) to NZ$5,000 (US$3,114). Prior to the adoption of the bill in December, some opposition leaders argued that the SFO’s successful prosecutions indicated that existing laws were working, and that no further reforms were required.

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 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.

The Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill, introduced in Parliament in June 2022, seeks to merge Radio New Zealand (RNZ) and Television New Zealand (TVNZ) into a new public entity. The bill’s supporters claim that the merger will strengthen national public media, but critics are concerned that the creation of the new entity has the potential to distort the media market and undermine commercial competitors. The bill remained under consideration at year’s end.

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.

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, 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.

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 during lockdowns imposed periodically from 2020 through early 2022 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most COVID-19-related restrictions on gatherings were lifted in April 2022.

Antilockdown protests were held in 2021 and 2022, and were at times marred by violence. Weeks-long demonstrations outside the parliament in February and March of 2022 ended with dozens of arrests as police dispersed protesters. Prime Minister Ardern vowed not to intervene during related demonstrations in August. Other protests also took place during the year, including rail- and emissions-related protests in October.

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 the ability of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) 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. Nurses throughout the country went on strike in October 2022 to protest against poor working conditions and demand pay parity within the profession; efforts by government officials to address the nurses’ concerns were ongoing through year’s end.

F Rule of Law

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

New Zealand’s 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.

New Zealand’s counterterrorism legislation allows for broad restrictions to be imposed on individuals suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activity, even if they have not been charged or convicted. Amendments that would further strengthen counterterrorism laws were proposed in October 2022, and included changes allowing for greater judicial discretion in setting restrictions for individuals deemed high risk, among other things. The draft amendments remained under consideration in Parliament through year’s end.

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

In 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 2022. 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 faced criticism 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. Approximately 50 percent of people of Asian descent reported experiencing racism or discrimination since the start of the COVID-19 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 government periodically imposed lockdowns from 2020 through 2022 to contain outbreaks of the coronavirus. International travel was limited, with arrivals forced to complete a state-supervised 14-day quarantine throughout much of the pandemic. Most COVID-19-related restrictions, including travel restrictions, were lifted by September 2022.

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 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.

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, as well as protections to help migrant workers escape exploitative environments. In June 2022, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission called for the enactment of modern slavery legislation to address the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable workers.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    99 100 free