Freedom in the World
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The Labour-led ruling coalition lost its absolute majority of 61 seats in the 121-seat Parliament after a backbencher resigned from the party in February, but the coalition remained in power with the cooperation of smaller opposition parties. In May, Parliament passed a controversial bill banning the spanking of children by their parents. In October, the government raided camps across the country, arresting 17 persons alleged to be plotting violent action against whites. The arrests were the first under the country’s antiterrorism laws.
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 head of state.
General elections in 2005 gave the Labour Party—which had been in office since 1999—a plurality of 50 parliamentary seats, compared with the National Party’s 48. Labour reached agreements with a number of smaller parties to secure a governing majority in the 121-seat Parliament. In February 2007, the government’s hold on Parliament was threatened when former associate cabinet minister Taito Phillip Field left the Labour Party amid allegations that he attempted to improperly influence immigration applications. Field remained in Parliament as an independent, and his continued support in key votes helped to preserve the government’s 61-seat working majority.
Concerns about how immigration is changing the country’s demographics have led the government to tighten immigration requirements in recent years. Residents must live in New Zealand for five years before they can apply for citizenship, and automatic citizenship is restricted to those born in Samoa between 1924 and 1948, when Samoa was under New Zealand’s rule. The Maori Party has accused the Labour-led government of deliberately discriminating against Pacific Islanders in its immigration policy.
There is also increasing concern about immigrants as national security threats. In 2006, the government expelled a Saudi national who had entered on a student visa and was suspected of ties to the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. He was deported under a rarely invoked section of the Immigration Act that requires consent from the governor-general and provides no avenue for appeal. Separately, in retaliation for the expulsion of the New Zealand high commissioner from Fiji in June 2007, New Zealand decided in July to bar all Fijians involved in that country’s December 2006 coup, all senior officials in the Fijian interim government and their families, and Fijian national sports-team members from entering or transiting through New Zealand.
In May 2007, Parliament passed a controversial bill banning the spanking of children, which would grant police the authority to determine whether a parent should be charged with abuse. Proponents said it closed a loophole that had allowed abusive parents to claim the use of “reasonable force” against their children. Opponents said the new law intruded on private life. More controversial were the raids and arrests by police across the country on October 16. The police seized guns and ammunition and arrested 17 persons for plotting violent attacks on the white population. These raids and arrests were the first under the country’s Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA) passed in 2002. The day after, several hundred people, including Maori activists and labor union officials, publicly protested against the raids and arrests. The Maori Party condemned the legislation, stating that it infringes on political freedom and unfairly targets Maori activists fighting for justice. On November 8, the solicitor general decided against pressing charges under the TSA because the legislation is “complex and incoherent,” and chose instead to charge the suspects for illegal possession and use of arms and ammunition under the Arms Act. The accused were released on bail, but final adjudication is still pending.
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 head 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. Current prime minister Helen Clark of the Labour Party has been in office since 1999. The unicameral Parliament, or House of Representatives, currently has 121 members, of whom 69 were elected in single-member constituencies and 52 were chosen by party list. All Parliament members serve three-year terms.
The two main political parties are the center-left Labour Party and the moderate conservative National Party. Six smaller parties also won representation in the 2005 parliamentary elections.
Seven of the Parliament’s constituency seats are reserved for the native Maori population. 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. By 2006, the Maori electoral roll had risen to a total of 385,977 persons. The appointment of Major General Jerry Mateparae as defense minister in 2006 was another milestone in Maori history; he was the first Maori to hold the post. Tuheitia Paki, a former university manager and cultural adviser, was chosen by the tribes to succeed his mother as the Maori monarch after she died in 2006.
New Zealand is one of the least corrupt countries in the world. It was ranked first out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The media are free and competitive. Newspapers are published nationally and locally in English, and in several non-English languages for the growing immigrant population. Television outlets include state-run Television New Zealand, three private channels, and a Maori-language public network. A Maori-language radio station has been broadcasting since 1996. A stronger movement among the Maori population to celebrate their language, arts, and history has 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 for operating 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 non-Christian populations. 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. Some parents have complained about prayers and religious blessings at a number of primary and intermediate schools, but bishops, opposition members of Parliament, and school principals argue that strict 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 freedoms of assembly and association. Nongovernmental and civil society groups are active throughout the country in promoting community health, minority rights, education, children’s welfare, and other causes. Many receive considerable financial support from the government.
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 declining since the 1991 adoption 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 ERA promotes collective bargaining and allows unions to charge bargaining fees to nonunion workers who enjoy union-negotiated wages and conditions; amendments in 2004 gave additional protections to workers during company ownership changes.
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.
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 European-descended majority in social and economic status. The Maori population has become more assertive in its 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 became a major issue in national politics and caused tensions with the non-Maori population. The assertions of ancestral rights were prompted by the government’s plans to nationalize all beaches and territorial 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 support victims, with special programs for the Maori community. However, improvement is limited. For example, New Zealand has a high child murder rate; Maori children suffer most, dying at the rate of 1.5 per 100,000 children under 15 years old, versus 0.7 in Australia, 0.6 in Japan, 0.4 in Britain, and 0.1 in Spain. The legislature passed the Civil Union Bill by a 65–55 vote in 2004, granting same-sex partnerships recognition and legal rights similar to those of married couples; the law took effect in April 2005.