Amendments to the Human Rights Act

  • Doug Graham

The Minister of Justice, Hon D.A.M. Graham, said today that after a comprehensive examination, only the welfare area needed specific exemptions from the Human Rights Act.

'When Cabinet agreed in October to wind up the Consistency 2000 project, we also agreed that all Government policy and practice would be required to be non-discriminatory unless specifically exempted by legislation or regulation,' he said.

'Since then all departments, the Police, NZ Defence Force and ACC were invited by the Ministry of Justice to identify whether they wished to seek any new specific exemptions.

'After an extensive review and a series of discussions only the Department of Social Welfare requires an exemption to enable it to meet the different needs of different target groups in connection with the provision of income support and other social assistance, and in a review of eligibility and recovery of overpayments.'

Mr Graham said that two other amendments were proposed for the avoidance of doubt.

'The first will clarify that the Defence Force can set reasonable minimum medical fitness standards for uniformed personnel based on readiness for deployment on active service.

'In the area of health, no exemption from the Act is proposed but a provision will be introduced to clarify the Government's understanding that the Act does not prevent different treatment as a result of an assessment of individual need for and ability to benefit from health and disability services.'

Mr Graham said following the Cabinet decision, there were two other matters still under consideration by the relevant Ministers.

'The first concerns existing age-based contractual entitlements to "retirement" benefits and the second relates to the preferential allocation of military service housing,' he said.

The legislation to amend the Human Rights Act will implement Cabinet's decisions which:

Provide that the Act will not override other legislation and regulations approved by Parliament
Wind up the Consistency 2000 project
Remove the Commission's responsibility to report by 31 December 1998
Introduce specific exemptions in the welfare area
Confirm the current law to give greater certainty for the provision of health services and in respect of medical fitness standards for the Defence Force.
Cabinet has approved initiatives to help departments comply with human rights law and improve official processes to enhance consideration of human rights principles. Proposed new legislation will be subject to scrutiny to ensure any discrimination is justified.

Drafting instructions are being prepared and Mr Graham said he intended to introduce the legislation in time for it to be passed by the end of the year.