Freedom in the World
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Freedom in the World Scores
New Zealand has a record of free and fair elections, and of guaranteeing political rights and civil liberties. Concerns include discrimination against the Māori and other minority populations, and reports of foreign influence in politics and the educational sector.
Key Developments in 2017:
- Despite winning fewer seats than the center-right National Party in September’s parliamentary elections, the center-left Labour Party formed a coalition government with the New Zealand First party and the Green Party. Jacinda Ardern of the Labour Party became prime minister.
- The new government has prioritized reducing child poverty, which nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have identified as a significant problem in the country.
- Foreign influence in political affairs was a growing concern during the year, especially in the wake of reports of large political donations from Chinese sources, and attempts by China to monitor Chinese students.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 40 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 12 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy, with British monarch Elizabeth II acting as head of state. A governor general, appointed by the Queen on advice from the prime minister, represents the British monarch. The prime minister is the head of government and is appointed by the governor general, and is usually the leader of the popularly elected majority party or coalition. Jacinda Ardern, leader of the Labour Party, was appointed prime minister in October 2017 following the year’s legislative elections.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
The 120 members of the unicameral House of Representatives serve three-year terms. A mixed-member electoral system combines voting in geographic districts with proportional representation balloting. September 2017 parliamentary elections resulted in no single party winning the required 61 votes to form a government. Although the National Party took 56 seats, the Labour Party, which won 46 seats, formed a coalition with two smaller parties: New Zealand First, a populist and anti-immigration party that claimed 9 seats, and the Green Party, which took 8 seats. Elections in New Zealand are generally well administered, and their results considered credible.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4
The independent New Zealand Electoral Commission administers elections and referenda, promotes compliance with electoral laws, and provides public education on electoral issues.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 16 / 16
B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4
New Zealanders are able to organize political parties without undue legal restrictions or influence, and political parties are free to campaign for support.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4
Opposition parties can potentially change with each parliamentary election. Power has traditionally fluctuated between the center-left Labour Party and the center-right National Party. Currently, the National Party represents a strong opposition, holding 56 seats in Parliament.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 4 / 4
People are generally able to express their political preferences without undue influence from powerful groups. However, several studies in recent years have claimed that some lawmakers and parties have accepted sizable political donations from Chinese businesspeople and other Chinese figures, raising the possibility that such donations might influence their politics.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4
Political rights and electoral opportunities are granted to all New Zealand citizens, and permanent residents have the right to vote. Seven of Parliament’s constituency seats are reserved for representatives of the Māori population, though Māori may also vote or run in general electoral districts. In the 2017 parliamentary elections, Golriz Ghahraman, from Iran, became the first refugee to be elected as a member of Parliament.
Women are relatively well represented in politics, and the government has taken steps to encourage their participation. Ardern is the third woman to serve as the country’s prime minister.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 12 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4
The prime minister and cabinet ministers—who are selected from the House of Representatives by the governing party or coalition—determine the government’s policy agenda.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 4 / 4
Government corruption is not considered a significant problem in New Zealand, and cases of corruption and misuse of office are routinely investigated and prosecuted.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4 / 4
The government operates with a high level of transparency, and political affairs are openly discussed in Parliament and the media. Parliamentary records, government policies, and commissioned reports are published online and readily available as required by law. The government upholds transparency in budgetary procedures, and members of Parliament must submit annual financial disclosure statements.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 58 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 16 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4
New Zealand has a free and robust independent media sector, including a Māori-language public network and radio station.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
Religious freedom is protected by law and generally respected in practice. Only religious organizations that collect donations need to register with the government.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4
Academic freedom usually prevails at all levels of instruction. However, foreign influence in New Zealand’s higher education sector was a concern in 2017, with reports of Chinese attempts to influence student groups and monitor Chinese students.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4
New Zealanders freely discuss personal views on sensitive topics. However, in March 2017, new intelligence and security legislation was approved by Parliament. The legislation allows law enforcement to access private communications under certain conditions in order to protect national security. Separately, state security officials warned the government in December that Beijing may have attempted to “unduly influence expatriate communities.”
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 12 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4
The government generally respects freedoms of assembly. Large antiwar, environmental, and women’s rights protests took place in 2017.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4
NGOs are free to form, function, and solicit funds.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4
Workers may freely organize and bargain collectively, and trade unions actively engage in political debates and campaigns. Workers may strike, with the exception of uniformed police personnel.
F. RULE OF LAW: 15 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4
The New Zealand judiciary is generally independent.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4 / 4
Law enforcement practices and court procedures provide for due process protections in civil and criminal matters. Defendants and detainees are presumed innocent until proven guilty and by law must immediately be notified of the charges against them.
Pretrial detention durations have increased in recent years, as authorities have relaxed the time limit in which cases must be concluded, and tightened bail requirements.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4 / 4
Citizens and noncitizen residents have legal recourse to seek redress for physical harm. Prison conditions generally meet international standards, though some are poorly equipped to house detainees with disabilities or mental health problems.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4
The 1993 Human Rights Act protects all people in New Zealand from discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, among others, and this right is generally respected in practice. However, Māori—who account for approximately 16 percent of the population—and Pacific Islanders experience some discrimination in schools, the workplace, and the healthcare system. Indigenous people are also disproportionately represented in the penal system, accounting for just over half of the prison population as of December 2017. Recent campaigns to recruit more officers of Māori, Pacific Islander, and Asian descent aim to improve cultural and ethnic sensitivity within the police force, and to combat profiling and discrimination.
The government enforces strong legislation protecting the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals.
In 2016, the government agreed to increase the number of refugees accepted annually from 750 to 1,000, which will go into permanent effect in 2018. The number of refugees the country was permitted to accept was temporarily increased in 2017 in order to assist more Syrian refugees.
According to the Child Poverty Monitor 2017 Technical Report, nearly 30 percent of children lived in poverty in 2016, with children of Māori and Pacific Islander descent being particularly vulnerable. The Ardern government has specifically identified reducing child poverty as a priority.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 15 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4
The government respects the freedom of movement, and neither state nor nonstate actors interfere with people’s ability to choose their place of residence or employment, or institution of higher education.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4
New Zealand’s legal and regulatory frameworks provide strong protections and mechanisms for the establishment and operation of private businesses and the protection of property rights.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4 / 4
New Zealanders have extensive personal freedoms and protections, including choice of marriage partner and family size. However, violence against women and children remains a critical problem in many communities. A 2016 government paper reported that one in three women has been a victim of sexual violence in their lifetime. Abortion is legal only under certain conditions, including when the mental or physical health of a women is at risk. Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2013, and same-sex couples may jointly adopt children.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3 / 4
Citizens have access to a wide variety of economic opportunities, but the Māori and Pacific Islander populations have disproportionately high rates of unemployment, impacting their economic and social mobility.
Migrant workers can be found engaging in forced labor in a number of industries, including fishing, agriculture, construction, and hospitality, and as domestic workers. The government has taken action to combat forced labor, but penalties for some abuses associated with it, such as delays in paying wages, are often light.