Minister Rules Out Complete Government Exemption

  • Doug Graham

The Minister of Justice, Hon D.A.M. Graham, said today that the Government was not intending and had never intended to have a complete exemption for itself under the Human Rights Act.

Mr Graham said he was concerned that papers which were being prepared for Cabinet on Human Rights legislation were being misquoted.

'We have made a great deal of progress in the last two or three weeks on these issues,' he said.

'Earlier draft Cabinet papers with various options can now be largely ignored as they've been overtaken.

'It has always been our intention that the Government be subject to Human Rights legislation in the same way as everybody else in the areas of employment and access.

'When it comes to the provision of services of welfare, health and education, there will always be cases where some sectors are preferred.'

Mr Graham said the Human Rights Act already contains a large number of exemptions and does not override specific Acts of Parliament. Discrimination on the grounds of age which permits free health care for under six year olds and national superannuation being paid to superannuitants are therefore not unlawful.

'There are and will be other cases where some discrimination is entirely justified,' he said.

'If an exemption is not granted in these cases, the Government would not be able to target services to those in particular need.'

The Government has been assessing how it can ensure that where discrimination is necessary it is done openly and the public can have a say, Mr Graham said.

'If Parliament is asked to consider legislation which discriminates then submissions can be made to the Select Committee.

'If an Act authorises the Government to pass regulations which discriminate, then submissions can be made to the Regulations Review Select Committee.'

Mr Graham said that in the past Ministers and departments have exercised some discretion to put in place discriminatory policies or practices.

'One issue under consideration now is whether that power should be curtailed.

'I think it should be curtailed and Cabinet is about to consider that. If discrimination can be justified, then it should only be done by statute or regulation.

'I hope to be able to announce Cabinet's decision shortly,' he said.