New Zealand | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

New Zealand

New Zealand

Freedom in the World 2011

2011 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Efforts toward reconciliation with the indigenous population continued in 2010 with the signing of a historic agreement in June that recognizes Maori claims to customary titles. In July, several former senior government ministers confessed to abusing their official privileges. New Zealand entered into a new strategic partnership with the United States in November, marking a significant change to New Zealand’s defense and security policies. That same month, 29 miners were killed in one of country’s the worst mining disasters.

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.

Increasing concerns over immigration and its effects on demographics in New Zealand led the government to tighten immigration requirements beginning in 2004. Among other measures, residents are required to live in New Zealand for five years before they can apply for citizenship, and automatic citizenship for immigrants is restricted to those born in Samoa between 1924 and 1948, when Samoa was under New Zealand’s rule.

In October 2008, Prime Minister Helen Clark dissolved parliament and called snap elections for November. John Key’s National Party, which took 58 seats, also garnered support from the Maori Party (5 seats), the ACT New Zealand Party (5 seats), and the United Future Party (1 seat). The Labour Party—which had been in office since 1999—captured 43 seats. With the National Party holding a 69-seat majority in the 122-seat Parliament, Key became prime minister.

The 2006 Recognized Seasonal Employers Scheme (RSE) aims to bring in seasonal workers for farms and provide employment for workers from neighboring Pacific islands. Faced with high rates of unemployment and public discontent, the government in December 2009 imposed new regulations requiring that migrant workers earn a minimum gross annual income of $33,675 in order for their children to receive visas to study in New Zealand.

The rights and welfare of the Maori population have been major issues for successive administrations. In the first official designation of intellectual property protection for the Maori, the government in 2009 officially acknowledged that the war dance (haka) performed by the national rugby team belonged to the Ngati Toa tribe. Although the tribe will not be awarded royalty claims, it can address grievances over inappropriate use of the haka. In addition, the government agreed to pay $111 million in compensation—including both rent payments from state-owned forests and greenhouse gas emission credits—to eight tribes as a comprehensive settlement for grievances over land seizures and other breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Reconciliation efforts with the indigenous population continued in 2010. In April, Key reversed the position of the Clark administration and officially signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In June, the government signed a new agreement with the Maori over contentious foreshore and seabed rights, replacing a 2006 deal that had ended Maori rights to claim customary title in courts of law. Tribes can now claim customary title to areas proven to have been under continuous indigenous occupation since 1840. Maori tribes that secure a customary title will be granted title deeds, but cannot sell the property or bar public access to the area.

In July, several ministers in the previous Labour government admitted to misusing official credit cards for personal purchases, with one confessing to buying 20 pornographic films. Separately, Key ordered an investigation in September into how Stephen Wilce, a senior defense official, was given the highest level of security clearance despite false claims about his background.

On November 1, New Zealand signed the Wellington Declaration with the United States, which restored defense ties between the two countries and significantly changed New Zealand’s defense and security policies. In 1986, the United States had ended its previous treaty obligations with New Zealand after nuclear weapons were barred from New Zealand’s ports.

In November, a series of explosions at the Pike River mine on New Zealand’s South Island killed 29 miners in one of the country’s worst mining accidents.

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 a governor-general represents Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state. 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 122 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 4.4 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 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, public concern over high-level corruption has increased in recent years due to several cases of official abuse.
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 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 Maori, who make up more than half of the prison population. Over the past decade, the police have introduced training to better deal 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 permanent commission hears Maori tribal claims tied to the Treaty of Waitangi.
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 gives police the authority to determine whether a parent should be charged with abuse. A majority of voters rejected the law in a non-binding referendum in August 2009, but Prime Minister John Key’s government has kept the law in place. The 2005 Civil Union Bill granted same-sex partnerships recognition and legal rights similar to those of married couples.