Page 386 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 4 March 2008

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I hope this is not the case, because the statement, as we are all well aware, is a one-liner that most of us put into our recycle paper pile without comment because we do not even have to read it anymore. Let us hope that the content of the statement does not reflect the quality of the dialogue, because that means that the dialogue is absent altogether.

Maybe the ethical and legal reasoning does exist somewhere in the files of the bureaucracy, but this is a foolish place for it to be. I am yet to hear any convincing argument as to why the government hides its human rights deliberations and reasoning from public scrutiny and edification. It is absurd and it is counterproductive to the creation of a general respect for human rights, a genuine respect that I believe the government wants to create. Until we see that thinking, we cannot believe that the dialogue happens to the extent that we believe this is a dialogue model of human rights. If dialogue is not visible, it is hard to argue that the dialogue even occurs.

I am concerned that, in an under-resourced department, the dialogue does not occur to the extent it does. The dialogue is meant to occur between the human rights part of JACS and the department responsible for producing the legislation. We do not know that that occurs. New Zealand, which also has a human rights act, puts a lot more effort into putting those considerations up in the public sphere, and, therefore, New Zealanders can be assured that it does occur.

We do know that occasionally human rights considerations are included in the explanatory statements. I commend this. It makes me wonder, therefore, about the purpose of the compatibility statement; nonetheless, I note that those discussions only occur when the government believes that the legislation might be controversial on human rights grounds. Let us remember that human rights should be considered in regard to everything that comes through this place.

To be more positive again, I do welcome the expansive definition of a “public authority” and a “public function” in this bill. It is to the government’s credit that it chose to go this way. Similarly, the provisions which allow private businesses to opt into human rights compliance duties is admirable, and I hope it counts in a business’s favour when competing for government contracts over competitors offering similar conditions. I hope that the government promotes this aspect of the legislation and private business response.

The expansion of section 28 is a sensible initiative. The list of factors is not exhaustive, but by codifying the proportionality principle, this provision gives good guidance to courts, decision makers and the general public as to when a limitation to a right could be justified. Provisions like this are rarely mentioned when detractors use the argument that human rights legislation is absurd and unworkable. The proportionality principle is a mechanism whereby common sense is applied to the interpretation of this legislation.

New section 30 is well overdue, and it could have been rushed through earlier, as soon as it became apparent that it was needed. New section 30 enacts the will of the Assembly when it passed the Human Rights Act. It was always intended that it have

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