New Zealand | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

New Zealand

New Zealand

Freedom in the World 2007

2007 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Dame Te Atairangikaahu, the Maori queen, passed away in August 2006. Her eldest son, Tuheitia Paki, succeeded her. Separately, Major General Jerry Mateparae was appointed defense chief in March, becoming the first Maori to hold the post. In June, a Saudi national was deported for suspected ties with terrorists.

British sovereignty in New Zealand was established in 1840 under the Treaty of Waitangi, a pact between the British government and Maori chiefs that also guaranteed Maori land rights. New Zealand became a self-governing parliamentary democracy in 1907 and gained full independence from Britain in 1947, though the British monarch remained as head of state.

General elections held on September 18, 2005, gave the Labour Party—which has been in office since 1999—a slim majority with 50 parliamentary seats over the National Party, which took 48 parliamentary seats. A 66-seat majority is necessary for a party to form its own government in the 121-seat Parliament. The Green Party, part of the existing Labour-led coalition, captured 6 seats. The Maori Party—the country’s first ethnic party, formed in 2004—took 4 seats, while four other parties secured the remaining 13 seats. Both the Greens and the Maori Party pledged to support a Labour-led coalition government.

Dame Te Atairangikaahu, the Maori queen, passed away at the age of 74 in August 2006. Her eldest son, Tuheitia Paki, was chosen as her successor by the tribes. The new king is 51 years old and has been a university manager and adviser on Maori cultural affairs. The March 2006 appointment of Major General Jerry Mateparae as the new chief of New Zealand’s defense force was another milestone for the Maori; he is the first Maori to hold the post.

Concerns about how immigration is changing demographics in New Zealand have led the government to tighten immigration requirements in recent years. British immigrants now represent about one-third of all new residents, while the numbers of Chinese, South African, Indian, and Pacific Islander immigrants continue to increase. A new law requires residents to live in New Zealand for five years before they can apply for citizenship. Another measure restricts automatic citizenship for persons born in Samoa between 1924 and 1948, when the country was under New Zealand’s rule. Concerns about immigrants as threats to national security have also grown. In June 2006, the government expelled a Saudi national who arrived in New Zealand in February on a student visa. The government suspected him of having ties to those responsible for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. He was deported under a rarely invoked section of the Immigration Act that requires the consent of the governor-general and provides no avenue for appeal.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

New Zealand is an electoral democracy. A mixed-member electoral system combines voting in geographic districts with proportional-representation balloting. New Zealand is a member of the Commonwealth, and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is the chief of state, represented by a governor-general. The prime minister, the head of government, is the leader of the majority party or coalition and is appointed by the governor-general. The unicameral Parliament, or House of Representatives, has 120 members, of which 69 are elected in single-member constituencies, and 51 are chosen by party list. All Parliament members serve three-year terms. The proportional representation system replaced the “first past the post” system in 1983.

The two main political parties are the center-left New Zealand Labour Party and the moderate conservative National Party. Current Prime Minister Helen Clark of the Labour Party took office in 1999.

For more than 130 years, the native Maori population has held seven reserved seats in Parliament. Maori constitute 11 percent of the voting population and around 10 percent of the country’s four million people. The Maori Party, the country’s first ethnic party, was formed in 2004 in reaction to a government bill declaring all foreshore and seabed areas as state property held in perpetuity for all peoples of New Zealand, a possible infringement on Maori land rights. The Maori Party won a by-election in 2004, taking more than 90 percent of the votes for a North Island seat and secured almost 2 percent of the overall vote in the September 2005 general elections, ahead of many other small parties. In August 2006, the government reported an additional 14,914 persons enrolled in the Maori electoral roll, bringing the total to 385,977 persons.

New Zealand is one of the least corrupt countries in the world. The country was ranked first out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The media are free and competitive. Newspapers are published nationally and locally in English, as well as in Filipino, Hindi, and Chinese for the growing immigrant populations. The broadcasting sector was deregulated in 1988. In addition to the state-run Television New Zealand, there are three private channels and a Maori-language public network that was launched in March 2004; a Maori-language radio station has been broadcasting since 1996. A stronger movement among the Maori population to celebrate their language, arts, and history have increased demand for Maori-language media products. The government does not control or censor internet access, and competitive pricing promotes large-scale diffusion.

Freedom of religion is provided by law and respected in practice. Only religious organizations that intend to collect donations need to register with the government. Although New Zealand is a secular state, the government has fined businesses that operate on the official holidays of Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. A 2001 law granted exemptions to several categories of stores in response to demands from the non-Christian population. Academic freedom is enjoyed at all levels of instruction. The Education Act of 1964 bans religious education and observations during normal hours in primary schools. A recent attempt by the government to enforce this law was abandoned to avoid political backlash. Some parents had complained about prayers and religious blessings at a number of primary and intermediate schools, but bishops, opposition members of Parliament, and school principals all felt that enforcement would be difficult and unworkable. Government attempts to remove references to key principles in the Treaty of Waitangi in a new draft national curriculum in 2006 sparked criticism from the Maori Party and other Maori groups.

The government respects freedom of assembly and association. Nongovernmental and civil society groups are active throughout the country, working to promote community health, minority rights, education, children’s welfare, and other causes. Many receive considerable financial support from the government, in addition to private donations.

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions is the main labor federation. Fewer than 20 percent of the country’s wage earners are union members. Membership has been in decline since the adoption in 1991 of the Employment Contracts Act (ECA), which ended compulsory union membership and prohibited certain types of strikes. The Labour-led government replaced the ECA with the Employment Relations Act (ERA) in 2001. The new law promotes collective bargaining; amendments passed in 2004 provide additional protections to workers when company ownership changes. The ERA also allows unions to charge bargaining fees to nonunion workers who enjoy union-negotiated wages and conditions.

The judiciary is independent, and defendants can appeal to the Privy Council in London. Police discrimination against the Maori, who comprise more than half of the prison population, has been reported. Some Maori groups opposed police plans to begin trial use of Taser stun guns in 2006 due to concerns that Maori suspects would be unfairly targeted with the weapon.

Although no laws explicitly discriminate against the Maori, and their living standards have generally improved, most Maori and Pacific Islanders continue to lag behind the rest of the population in social and economic status. In recent years, the Maori have become more assertive in their claims for land, resources, and compensation from the government. A special tribunal hears Maori tribal claims tied to the Treaty of Waitangi. Recent Maori claims for rights to gas and oil fields in the Marlborough Sounds off the South Island have caused tensions with the non-Maori population and become a major issue in national politics. The assertions of ancestral rights were prompted by the government’s plans to nationalize all beaches and seabed.

Violence against women and children is a major problem, particularly among the Maori and Pacific Islander populations. Many governmental and nongovernmental programs work to prevent domestic violence and provide support to victims, and special programs target the Maori community. However, the situation has not significantly improved. New Zealand has a high child murder rate, and Maori children suffer most, dying at the rate of 1.5 per 100,000 children under 15 years of age; this compares with 0.7 in Australia, 0.6 in Japan, 0.4 in Britain, and 0.1 in Spain. New Zealand has taken a progressive stance in the treatment of same-sex couples. The legislature passed the Civil Union Bill by a 65–55 vote in December 2004, granting same-sex partnerships recognition and legal rights similar to those of married couples; the law took effect in April 2005.