New Zealand | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

New Zealand

New Zealand

Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


In April 2013, New Zealand became the 14th country, and the first in Asia, to legalize same-sex marriage with a 77 to 44 vote in parliament.  The law took effect in late August.

In August, legislative amendments were passed that authorized the Government Communications Security Bureau—New Zealand’s main intelligence agency—to collect data on residents and citizens. Surveillance was previously limited to those with no right of residency in New Zealand. Advocates of the change said it was needed to assist the police, military, and intelligence community in dealing with individuals like Kim Dotcom, a German national with residency in the country who had been charged with online piracy and money laundering. Opponents argued the law violates individual privacy and civil rights. Technology and communications firms also voiced their concerns.

New Zealand improved its ties with several countries in 2013; in February, it announced it would resume training police in Indonesia, and would provide $2 million in assistance to the country. A new defense pact with East Timor was signed in June. In July, however, the New Zealand government announced it would end its development assistance to Tonga due to safety concerns regarding a Chinese aircraft Tonga purchased for its domestic, inter-island air service. New Zealand also warned against traveling to Tonga; New Zealanders are the single largest group of tourists to Tonga.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political Rights39/ 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 /12

New Zealand is an electoral democracy and a member of the Commonwealth. A mixed-member electoral system combines voting in geographic districts with proportional representation balloting. The unicameral Parliament, or House of Representatives, has 121 members who are elected to three-year terms. The prime minister, the head of government, is the leader of the majority party or coalition and is appointed by the governor-general, the ceremonial head of state representing Queen Elizabeth II. Jerry Mateparae, a former military chief and head of the intelligence agency, has served as governor-general since 2011. He is the second Maori to hold this post.

In general elections held in 2011, the National Party was victorious, winning 59 parliamentary seats; the Labour Party won 34 seats, the Green Party won 14 seats, the New Zealand First Party won 8, and the Maori Party won 3. The National Party formed a ruling coalition with the New Zealand First Party and the United Future Party, and National Party leader John Key—who first became prime minister in 2008—was elected to another term.

In March 2013, the government announced a constitutional review; New Zealand has a so-called unwritten constitution, which consists of a collection of laws and statutes rather than a single document. An advisory panel was appointed to receive comments from the public and to formulate recommendations to the government; the panel delivered its findings to the government in December. Recommendations included combining all constitutional protections into a single document, as well as various measures that would enhance the governmental representation and decision-making powers of the indigenous Maori population. The panel also recommended increasing parliamentary terms and setting fixed election dates.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 15 / 16

The two main political parties are the center-left Labour Party and the center-right National Party. Smaller parties include the Maori Party, the New Zealand First Party, and the United Future Party. Seven of Parliament’s constituency seats are reserved for the native Maori population. The Maori Party, the country’s first ethnic party, was formed in 2004 to advance Maori rights and interests.


C. Functioning of Government: 12 / 12

New Zealand is one of the least corrupt countries in the world. It was ranked 1st out of 177 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties: 58 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16

The media are free and competitive. Newspapers are published nationally and locally in English and in 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. There is also a Maori-language radio station. The government does not control or censor Internet access, and competitive pricing promotes large-scale diffusion.

Freedom of religion is protected by law and respected in practice. Only religious organizations that collect donations need to register with the government. Though a secular state, businesses have been fined for opening on official holidays, including Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Exemptions are made for several categories of stores in response to demands from non-Christian populations. Academic freedom is enjoyed at all levels of instruction.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 /12

The government respects freedoms of assembly and association. Nongovernmental organizations are active throughout the country, and many receive considerable financial support from the government. Under the 2001 Employment Relations Act, workers can organize, strike, and bargain collectively, with the exception of uniformed personnel. There are numerous trade unions and many are affiliated with the Council of Trade Unions. Union membership overall is declining, estimated at no more than 20 percent of all workers.


F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16

The judiciary is independent, and defendants can appeal to the Privy Council in London. Prison conditions generally meet international standards. Allegations of discrimination against the Maori, who make up more than half of the prison population, persist. The police are learning to better deal with an increasingly racially and culturally diverse population and are looking to recruit more Maori and Pacific Islands to join the force.

Approximately 15 percent of the country’s 4.4 million people identify themselves as Maori. 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.

In June 2013, the government concluded a historic agreement with the Tuhoe tribe to grant it greater control of the Te Urewea National Park, as well as $170 million for financial, commercial, and cultural redress. The Tuhoe had not signed the Treaty of Waitangi, the 1840 agreement that established British sovereignty in New Zealand in exchange for permanent land rights for the Maori; in 2009, 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. Some observers worry that a new law proposed by parliament that would ban psychoactive substances would impact the legality of the traditional Maori drink kava, which is made from a root that contains natural sedatives. Several MPs have proposed changes to the law that would allow culturally significant substances like kava.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 15 / 16

Violence against women and children remains a problem, particularly among the Maori and Pacific Islander populations. One lawmaker claimed Pacific Island girls as young as 13 are engaged in prostitution. Some had run away from home; others see it as an attractive way to make money. 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 gave 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 2009, but the government has kept it in place.

Same-sex unions have been legal since 2005, giving same-sex couples many of the same rights as married couples. The legalization of same-sex marriage in 2013 allowed couples to jointly adopt children and allow their marriage to be recognized in other countries. Opinion polls indicated that two-thirds of the population favored the law, and Key and his coalition backed it.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology