HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION GUIDELINES FOR INSURANCE

  • John Luxton
Commerce

TURNBULL HOUSE, WELLINGTON

Human rights are important. Last week, we as a Nation marked Anzac Day. We mark this day because it recognises the contribution and sacrifice made by those before us to protect our basic human rights. Our soldiers fought and gave their lives so that we and our families could enjoy life, free of human rights abuse. Lest we forget.

We have come a long way since Gallipoli. But human rights are as important today as they were then. Thankfully though, the threat is not as brutal.

The 1993 Human Rights Act tells us that it is ``An Act to consolidate and amend the Race Relations Act 1971 and the Human Rights Commission Act 1977 and to provide better protection of human rights in New Zealand in general accordance with United Nations Covenants or Conventions on Human rights.''

This is an important Act for all New Zealanders. It is far better to protect our citizens' human rights through such law than having to suffer the injustice of discrimination and human rights abuses.

This Act makes it unlawful to discriminate in certain areas on any of the grounds listed in the Act. One of the areas in which it is unlawful to discriminate is insurance.

The situation is complicated by the fact that a number of the grounds which the Act makes it unlawful to discriminate on, are characteristics which the insurance industry has traditionally relied on to fix premiums and determine the conditions on which they provide insurance, that is age, sex, genetics past illness etc. The Act therefore contains an exception to ensure the continued viability of the industry.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the Insurance Guidelines which have been produced by the Human Rights Commission.

The interaction of the Human Rights Act and the provision of insurance is not straightforward - hence the need for guidelines. The purpose of the Guidelines, is to indicate the Commission's view on how the Act relates to insurance and to assist people to comply with the requirements of the Act.

It is important that onerous legal requirements do not deter the industry from providing insurance. At the same time it is also vital that the principle objectives of the Human Rights Act are observed and that all New Zealanders are treated fairly in access to services that are available to the public.

I am sure that these Guidelines will be of considerable assistance to the insurance industry and will benefit all New Zealanders who wish to purchase insurance on fair and equitable terms.

I hope that these guidelines will also assist to reduce the compliance and regulatory cost of dealing with this Act.

A key aspect of Government intervention which I am particularly concerned with is the issue of regulatory costs. Regulatory costs include a wide range of costs, from the costs involved in filling in forms right through to the market distortions caused by Government intervention.

The ability of private enterprise to get on with the job of creating wealth and serving their customers can be inhibited to varying degrees by regulatory costs. I hope that, over time, the costs to business of complying with the Human Rights Act, along with many other pieces of legislation, will be reduced.

My Commerce Ministry is now starting a programme to look at the regulatory costs of some existing legislation including, the Human Rights Act, the Privacy Act, the Health and Safety in Employment Act and the Resource Management Act.

These Acts are commonly identified by businesses as being among the pieces of legislation which cause the biggest concern and drain on their resources. There has been anecdotal evidence of the negative effects resulting from this type of legislation, including the stifling of competition and innovation, businesses moving their operations offshore to countries without so much ``red tape'', and firms making conscious decisions not to hire more staff because of the added regulatory costs.

The Ministry of Commerce will be asked to recommend any changes to these pieces of legislation that might reduce costs to business, without impairing the principles of the legislation. It is important to stress, however, that the purpose of reviewing them is not to challenge their basic philosophy but, rather, to improve their operation, with particular emphasis on the costs which they impose on business.

We need to ensure that business, such as the important Insurance industry, can focus on serving their customers, rather than been bound up in any unnecessary hassle and expense of continually trying to interpret the intention of Parliament.

I welcome these guidelines as a positive move by the Commission and the industry in this direction.

Thankyou.