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New Zealand

New Zealand

Freedom in the World 2010

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In 2009, Prime Minister John Key tried to increase Maori and Pacific Islander support for the National Party-led coalition government by visiting important Maori sites and reaching out to these communities. Meanwhile, Taito Phillip Field, the first Pacific Islander elected to Parliament, was found guilty of bribery, corruption, and other criminal charges in August.

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 gained full independence from Britain in 1947, though the British monarch remained head of state.
General elections in 2005 gave the center-left Labour Party—which had been in office since 1999—a plurality of 50 parliamentary seats, compared with the center-right National Party’s 48. Labour reached agreements with a number of smaller parties to secure a governing majority in the 121-seat Parliament.
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.
There is also increasing concern about immigrants as national security threats. The country’s 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA) was used for the first time in 2008 to arrest 17 Maori activists suspected of plotting race-based terror attacks. After harsh criticism from Maori rights advocates and union leaders, the government dropped pending charges under the TSA and alternatively charged the defendants with the illegal possession and use of arms and ammunition under the Arms Act.
Prime Minister Helen Clark called for a snapgeneral election in November 2008 in the midst of declining popularity, political scandals, and growing public anxiety about the domestic economic recession, exacerbated by the global financial crisis. The National Party, led by John Key, captured 58 seats, while Labour took 43 seats. With support from the Maori Party (5 seats), the United Future Party (1 seat), and the ACT New Zealand Party (5 seats), the coalition under Key’s National Party took control of 69 of the 122 seats in Parliament, and Key was elected the new prime minister.
In 2009, Prime Minister Key tried to improve ties with the Maori population. In celebration of New Zealand’s national day on February 4, he visited Waitangi—a practice terminated by his predecessor in 2004 after being jostled by protestors. Although two men did try to attack Key, they were arrested, and Key was unharmed. Also in February, the government officially acknowledged that the war dance (haka) performed by the national rugby team belongs to the Maori, in particular the Ngati Toa tribe. This was the first official designation of intellectual property protection for the Maori. While the Maori will not be awarded royalty claims, the tribe is permitted to address grievances over inappropriate use of the haka. In addition, the government agreed to pay $111 million in compensation—including both rent payments from government-owned forests and greenhouse gas emission credits—to eight tribes as a comprehensive settlement for grievances over land seizures and other breaches of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. In July, the government reversed the position of the previous administration and said it will endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

As of May 2009, nearly 5,000 foreign workers, mainly from neighboring Pacific islands, were working in the country under the 2006 Recognized Seasonal Employers Scheme (RSE). However, unemployment rates reached a record high of 7.3 percent in the December 2009 quarter. In response to popular pressure, the government implemented further restrictions on new migrant workers and their dependents. Beginning December 1, 2009, migrant workers must earn a minimum gross annual income of $33,675 in order for their children to receive visas to study in New Zealand. Many neighboring Pacific island countries welcomed the scheme as a way to increase remittance income, but critics in New Zealand argue that the plan takes jobs away from local people.

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 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. The unicameral Parliament, or House of Representatives, currently has 121 members, all elected for three-year terms.
The two main political parties are the center-left Labour Party and the center-right National Party. Five smaller parties (the Maori, United Future, ACT New Zealand, Green, and Progressive parties) also won representation in the 2008 parliamentary elections.
Seven of the Parliament’s constituency seats are reserved for the native Maori population, which continues to increase. Approximately 15 percent of the country’s 4.3 million people identify themselves as Maori, and nearly a quarter of all children are Maori. The Maori Party, the country’s first ethnic party, was formed in 2004 to advance Maori rights and interests.
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 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, public concern over high-level corruption has increased in recent years due to several cases of official abuse. In August 2009, Samoan-born, former member of Parliament Taito Phillip Field was convicted of corruption, bribery, and obstruction of justice for improperly influencing the immigration applications of eight Thai workers in return for free labor on five properties he owned; he was sentenced to six years in prison. This was the first time that a member of Parliament had been convicted of a serious breach of law.
The media are free and competitive. Newspapers are published nationally and locally in English, as well as in many other languages for the growing immigrant population. Television outlets include the state-run Television New Zealand, three private channels, and a Maori-language public network. A Maori-language radio station has been broadcasting since 1996. 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.
The government respects freedoms of assembly andassociation. Nongovernmental organizations are active throughout the country, and 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. Under the 2001 Employment Relations Act (ERA), workers can organize, strike, and collectively bargain, with the exception of uniformed personnel.
The judiciary is independent, and defendants can appeal to the Privy Council in London. Prison conditions generally meet international standards, though there have been allegations of discrimination against the Moari, which make up more than half of the prison population. Over the past decade, the police force has been working to become more culturally sensitive in dealing with an increasingly racially and culturally diverse population.
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. In 2008, the government and Maori groups signed the Treelords agreement which will transfer 435,000 acres of plantation forest and associated rents from the central government to eight North Island tribes of more than 100,000 people. In July 2009, the land transfer was completed, along with a payment of $142 million, representing rent accumulated over the past 20 years. Additional rent and income from the sale and use of this land will be held in a trust-holding company to benefit tribe members.
Violence against women and children remains a significant 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. A 2007 law banning the spanking of children remains controversial, as it grants police the authority to determine whether a parent should be charged with abuse. The law was rejected by the majority of voters in a non-binding referendum in August 2009, but the prime minister has said he will not overturn it. A 2005 Civil Union Bill grants same-sex partnerships recognition and legal rights similar to those of married couples.