New Zealand
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This article has been written by Ashutosh Singh, a student of BA.LLB(Hons) at Amity Law School, Amity University, Kolkata. The article is about some of the best policies and laws at present in New Zealand, which make it unique, and the 8th most happy country in the world.

Introduction

New Zealand is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It covers two main landforms being the North Island, the South Island, and around 600 smaller islands. The country that sits smugly in the southern part of the world map, engaged in international affairs very actively since the beginning of the 20th century despite it being in an isolated corner. It is an active member of several international organisations, including the United Nations. It has also been a part of World Wars I and II. 

New Zealand has two main cultural groups: New Zealanders of European descent, and the descendants of Polynesian settlers who are called Maori. New Zealand has a Central Government through which governing authority is exercised in New Zealand. The governance of the country is carried out by about 30 departments of variable size and importance. The make-up of the New Zealand government is comparatively unassuming but the country’s constitutional provisions are more composite. Its Constitution is a mixture of statutes and conventions. Whenever there is a clash between the two, the convention is inclined to prevail. The Constitution Act of 1986 streamlined that by, amalgamating and enhancing the constitutional legislation dating from 1852. 

A brief history

New Zealand is in a remote corner of the world was discovered by a Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642. Representatives of the Māori chiefs and representatives of the United Kingdom signed the Treaty of Waitangi in  1840. The treaty proclaimed British sovereignty over the islands.  By 1841, New Zealand became a colony of the British Empire and a dominion in 1907. However, even after gaining full statutory independence, the British monarch continued to be the head of state in 1947.

About 1100 Europeans were living in the North Island in 1839. Settling in New Zealand back then was very risky because of the ‘Musket wars’ between the Maori tribes who recently acquired firearms because of the immigrants from Europe, the cultural barriers, and the absence of proper European law and order. Many Maori captured and enslaved during the Musket wars were freed and cannibalism almost vanished. The Maori had started educating themselves in the north and could read and write in their native language and to a little extent even knew English. 

One can comfortably say that European migration has left a deep legacy and footprint on the political and social structure of New Zealand. The New Zealanders are generally called ‘Kiwis’ because of the native flightless bird Kiwi. Kiwis are characterised as rugged, industrious problem solvers and people who innovate.

This article explores the ten best policies and laws of New Zealand in detail. They are as follows:

Indigenous seats reserved in the parliament for over 100 years

‘Social Laboratory’ is what New Zealand was regarded as some times by observers abroad between 1890 to 1920 because New Zealand was a place where new policy initiatives were being set in motion. What makes this so wonderful is that who would have thought that such a seemingly cut off place on Earth had such progressive politics?

New Zealand like other British colonies was not subjugated and conquered. The British occupation was based on a treaty between Māori and the Crown called the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. It was an understanding to safeguard the settlers in the ruse of a fig leaf to lay claim to the land and its resources for the non-Maori English speaking new arrivals. But subsequently, these settlers, at gun-point overpowered the indigenous people and their culture. These new arrivals were tradesmen, merchants, and farmers who had fled the United Kingdom and Europe’s conflicts and prejudices and imported their view of politics and government and started afresh in the new land with their chance for new lives. They self-governed themselves and believed that under the law, all should be equal and the law should be fair and equal in an honest society. They also spurned having a formal church and today New Zealand is one of the most secular societies in the world.

Originally the Native Representation Act, 1857 (Now called Maori Representation Act, 1867) had four Maori parliamentary seats in New Zealand, including the Maori people into the political system of the self-governing colony of the new settlers. The Act was initially intended to be temporary and when the Maori tribal land was converted to individual ownership, they were to be included in the electoral rolls. After the enactment of the Maori Representation Act, 1867, New Zealand has had indigenous representation and initially, 4 seats were reserved for the Maori tribal people in the House of Representatives temporarily. The seats then became permanent in 1876. The seats were allotted based on the geographical distribution of the Maori population, one representation from each direction north to south. The population of Maori then when compared to the foreign settlers was much less. Till 1993 when there was a change in the electoral system, the number of reserved seats remained fixed. Although a separate electoral roll was created for the Maori in 1949, it was only in 1956 that they could legally enroll in it. From 1975, the Maori had a choice of enrolling in the Maori or General roll and the only condition was for them to identify themselves as belonging to the Maori tribe. 

There is a representation of indigenous people in other parts of the world as well such as in Norway where the Sami have their Assembly, and in the United States, the state of Maine has two seats without voting rights in the state legislature. But New Zealand had included the indigenous Maori people in the parliamentary process, having dedicated seats for them for over a hundred years.

Women as voters

Elections were first held in New Zealand in 1853. Eligibility for voting was that one had to be a male not less than 21 years of age and a British subject who rented or owned a property in New Zealand with a decent amount of money to his name. Back then voting rights and eligibility around the world were stricter and New Zealand’s suffrage was quite liberal when compared to other countries of the world. 

Women’s suffrage in New Zealand 

It was an important political issue in the late nineteenth century. In early New Zealand society, just like other countries in the world, women were excluded from any participation in politics. However, things changed in the Kiwi Society and women progressed, women campaigned for women’s suffrage and after years of effort, things started to look up. At the forefront of this campaign were the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, who were also anti-alcohol campaigners and structured several petitions in favour of women getting voting rights. The largest petition they submitted had nearly 32,000 signatures and it appeared that almost one in four women had signed it and that accomplishment was the result of years of effort led by Kate Sheppard. Kate Sheppard’s contribution to New Zealand’s history of women’s suffrage in New Zealand has been acknowledged on the $10 note. Although laws approving women’s suffrage were passed many times, they had been narrowly defeated. However, in September 1893, finally, the law was passed, and New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant its women the right to vote in national elections. In November 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world which granted its women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world which were democracies, including Britain which guaranteed full voting rights for women in 1928 and the United States which granted women the right to vote in 1920, women did not have the right to vote until after the First World War. 

There was no looking back after that and in the early 21st century women have held the country’s key constitutional positions such as Chief Justice, Speaker of the House of Representatives,  Prime Minister, and Attorney General.

The road to MMP: an electoral revolution

MMP stands for Mixed Member Proportional Representation. New Zealanders, cast a ballot/referendum to change their system of voting from the customary First past the post (FPP) method to the mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) in 1993. This was the most theatrical change to the nation’s electoral system ever since women’s suffrage was introduced more than 100 years prior. How and for what reason did this revolution happen? 

The starting point to the electoral reform lay in the steady breakdown of trust in government officials, Parliament, and the basic assurances of the old two-party framework. This procedure started during the 1950s and 1960s and accumulated force during the 1970s and 1980s, decades set apart by economic uncertainty and the rise of new social and political developments and movements. 

The FPP framework would, in general, make Parliament very different in the organization to those that the voters seemed to need, as per their critics. The appropriate answer, a few people contended, was a system of proportional representation in which each party’s share of the seats in Parliament would be close to its share of the overall vote. 

The 1992 referendum

In a complex two-part poll, voters were asked whether or not they wanted to alter the existing voting system with another one. The choices offered were to show support to one of the 4 systems: the single transferable vote (STV), mixed-member proportional representation (MMP), preferential vote (PV) or supplementary member (SM).  On getting clear support to any one of the four systems, the government assured to hold a compulsory referendum again with a choice between the first past the post (FPP) system and the most popular reform option chosen in the following year. Of the 55% voters that took part in the referendum for a change, a staggering 85% voted to change the present electoral system. Of these 70% of the votes went to MMP and it was as if the people didn’t speak out but screamed out loud for a change through the referendum.

The second poll

This binding referendum was to choose between FPP and MMP and it was held at the same time as the 1993 general elections. With the choice between just 2 electoral systems, there were well-organised lobby groups on either side of the debate and the campaign was evenly matched. A lot of television and newspaper publicity was undertaken to sway the undecided voters towards one group or the other.  Having combined the referendum with general elections the voter turnout was an overwhelming 85% this time and much higher than in 1992. Although MMP won with a clear majority at 54%, FPP was at 46%. The Kiwis had chosen a new voting system.

Eight-hour a day work movement

All of us strive for that ‘work-life balance’ in our lives and it is an elusive goal for many of us. But in New Zealand law one day a year is hallowed as a time to relax and to reflect on the efforts made by trade unions to get this balance. It was called the Labour day and it was a nation-wide holiday since 1900 after the Parliament passed the Labour Day Act, 1899. Earlier second Wednesday in October was a statutory public holiday but later changed to Monday by the Public Holidays Act of 1910, and moved to the fourth Monday in October. 

There is a story behind how this labour day came about and the credit for it is generally given to a Wellington carpenter Samuel Parnell.  He was the first person in New Zealand to take work-life balance seriously even back then by insisting on an 8-hour working day when he came to settle in New Zealand. When Parnell arrived at Petone in 1840, he insisted on working only for eight hours when constructing a store for a merchant. In 1840 he reportedly told this merchant that out of 24 hours of the day, eight of these should be for work, eight for recreation, and the remaining eight for sleep. Parnell is also guilty of encouraging other tradesmen to adopt his attitude, and unions came together to campaign for an 8-hour working day. The first official “labour demonstration day” was celebrated on 28 October 1890. The Government supported parades in the main centres by union members and supporters, giving public servants the day off to attend to themselves. Many businesses closed for the event.

How the law evolved

In 1873, The Employment of Females Act had made it mandatory and illegal to employ women for more than eight hours in any one day. Children were also included in the Employment of Females and Others Act of 1881, and subsequently to boys and youth in the Coal Mines Act of 1891 except in times of emergency. There were many attempts at legalising the 8-hour day work routine but the various attempts during the 1880s and 1890s failed to get parliamentary approval. However, with protests, the 8-hour day became the standard in many industries but it was often for a 6 or 7-day week.  There was not much change in the number of working hours put in a week, and most of the workers were still required to work longer than 40 hours a week. The 40-hour week became a norm and in 1936, this was brought into legislation by the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Act. Present-day, although the 8-hour working day is still not set in legislation, it’s implied in the Minimum Wage Act 1983, which stipulates a maximum 40-hour per week of work and five-day work for employment agreements.

New Zealand thus became the first country in the world to follow the eight-hour day of work, the practice, however, was restricted to tradesmen and labourers and lacked legislative sanction. 

The state-funded old-age pension

Retirement wellbeing/security is the minimum that citizens expect their government to ensure them in a developed country. It should also be the most they should expect because it is not the job of the government to ensure the same income and lifestyle of people which they maintained during their work life, once they retire. It is up to the individual as to how he/she manages to do that. New Zealand has had a serious history behind its old-age pension and it turns out that we can learn a lot from the remarkably effective retirement system in the Kiwi land.

By the late 19th century the matter of poor elderly people was growing. People aged more than 65 reached 2.1 % of the population in 1891 and according to the census of 1901 that became 3.8 %. This percentage would continue rising as per the Demographic projections. The figures kept rising as predicted and by the late 19th century and there were spirited arguments on the most suitable way to respond to the fairly growing numbers of poor elderly people. Some people recommended widening the scope of family responsibility to make the young members look after their old, or private charity, whereas others proposed enlarging the role of Friendly Societies or imitating the English Poor Law.

In 1898 an Old Age Pension was introduced, for which people aged above 65 could apply only after a rigorous means test that covered both income and assets. A maximum of 18 pounds a year which was about a third of a working man’s wage was set as pension for a year and double the amount was set for a married couple. But this was subject to proof that the pensioner was of good character as certified by a public court session. One-third of 65 plus aged people could qualify for the pension. The total costs were calculated as being only one-third of the alternative cost of a universal pension set at the same rate. Maori got less than 18 pounds as pension because of attachment of shares of communally owned Maori land as individual assets. Only Asians were discriminated against and excluded from the pension plan until the Pensions Amendment Act 1936, which also stopped Maori land being included in the asset test.

Social Security Act

An Act of Parliament concerning unemployment insurance which was a welfare measure that established New Zealand as a welfare state is important historically as it established the first-ever social security system in the world. It was called the Social Security Act, 1938.

The Act laid the foundation or keystone of the first Labour government’s welfare programme.  It revamped the pension system and extended benefits for invalids, families, and the unemployed. But New Zealand which was called the ‘social laboratory of the world’ and a ‘working man’s paradise’ had to face relentless challenges because of the severe economic conditions caused by the Great Depression of the 1930s.  However, the Labour party won the elections in 1935 and campaigned that every citizen of New Zealand had a right to a reasonable standard of living. According to them, the community was responsible for ensuring that people were not incredulous by circumstances against which they could not protect themselves. In response to this view and the Great Depression, the Social Security Act of 1938 came into existence. Through this Act was introduced a ‘free at the point of use’ health system with a wide-ranging selection of welfare benefits.  The benefits were financed by levying a surcharge on the tax of one shilling in the pound, or 5%. Supporters envisioned a scheme that would protect the New Zealanders ‘from the cradle to the grave’ meaning their entire lives. 

Decriminalising sex work

As of 2003, it is legal for anybody above 18 years old to work as a sex professional or prostitute in New Zealand. What’s more, sex workers’ rights are guaranteed through their employment and also through human rights legislation. The two people behind the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act (PRA), 2003 are Tim Barnett and Catherine Healy. Barnett who was the general secretary of the Labour Party then got involved with the move immediately after he won his first campaign for Christchurch Central’s parliamentary seat in 1996 on the behest of Catherine Healy, the national coordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC). NZPC is an organisation working to better the health, education, and rights of sex workers to combat HIV and AIDS. Soon after mainstream feminist group’s organisations such as the National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCWNZ) and the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges also joined hands in the fight for the decriminalisation of sex work reform bill. Barnett got the draft bill approved by his party which backed it on the grounds of the ethical vote. After the 1999 election, he was in a position to bring the bill to parliament and it got passed on first reading by 87 to 21 votes. However, there were questions raised and the bill passed its second reading by a narrow margin of eight votes in 2002 and the committee finally favoured decriminalisation. 

The bill gave rise to extreme opposition from evangelical Christians. But there was, however, broad public support also and at the third and final reading, the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act passed by 60 votes to 59 with one refraining. The reasons for support were that it took the weight off the state, and it promoted equity of women since a great majority of sex workers were women, and it diverted police resources to more useful things. Many of the social evils associated with the sex trade as envisioned by some who opposed the decriminalisation of the sex industry haven’t happened. It can be comfortably stated that on the whole, the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act (PRA), 2003 has been effective in achieving its purpose, and the people involved in the sex trade are better off now than they were before the Act came into being.

Nuclear weapon-free zone status

David Lange was the Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1984 and he banned nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from using or entering the ports of New Zealand waters. Land, territorial sea, and airspace of New Zealand became nuclear-free zones under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act, 1987. Ever since then, governments came and went but this has remained a part of New Zealand’s foreign policy. Entry into the internal waters of New Zealand for about 12 nautical miles’ radius of any ship who is propelled wholly or partly by nuclear power is prohibited under this Act. It also prohibits/bans nuclear or radioactive waste from being dumped into the sea within the nuclear-free zone. The Act also bans any of the New Zealand citizens to acquire, possess, manufacture or have anything to do with any nuclear explosive device. However, the Act doesn’t stop any nuclear research and nuclear research facilities from existing, the use of radioactive isotopes, and the establishment of nuclear power plants and peaceful activities. But truth be told that no such nuclear power plants and research facilities exist in New Zealand currently. 

New Zealand’s more than three-decade anti-nuclear crusade is the only one of its kind and a very successful movement in the world which occasioned the nation’s nuclear-weapon-free zone status being hallowed in its legislation.

Marriage equality

After a nation-wide campaign, which was led by the Campaign for Marriage Equality the New Zealand Parliament passed the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act, 2013, on April 17th. The standard procedure for legislation in New Zealand is for the Act to receive Royal Assent from the Governor-General which was received on April 19th. The Act came into force on 19th August 2013 permitting bisexual, lesbian, gay, and, transsexual and intersex marriages in New Zealand making it the first country in Asia-Pacific and the 13th country in the world to permit this.

The legislation

The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act, 2013, actually amends the Marriage Act 1955.  It clarifies the definition of marriage as a union of 2 people, irrespective of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It also makes these couples eligible to adopt children in New Zealand.  It also excused any celebrant who is a minister of religion of a religious body as enumerated in Schedule 1 of the Act, and if solemnizing such a marriage would contravene the religious beliefs of the religious body. 

The Act has been welcomed by activists of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community who were fighting for the world of their right over as it is an important advance in the achievement of equality for the LGBT community.

No-fault accident compensation scheme 1974

Modern society benefits a lot from the productive work of its citizens but in the process, accidents happen and so, should the society or government compensate them for that is the question most in such cases. The answer is New Zealand’s unique no-fault accident compensation legislation. In New Zealand, injured accident victims receive compensation funded by the government, in turn surrendering the right to sue for damages arising from personal injury except in rare cases of reckless conduct.

The country’s no-fault accidental injury compensation scheme, commonly referred to as the ACC scheme is administered by the Accident Compensation Corporation(ACC). It was initially founded as the Accident Compensation Commission as a consequence of the Accident Compensation Act, 1972, on 1st April 1974. The scheme focuses on providing cover for injuries, no matter who is at fault. This prevents the courts from being used for each injury, and the slow, costly, and wasteful processes. The victim benefits because the personal, physical, and emotional suffering are reduced by timely care and rehabilitation that helps the accident victims to return to work, or provides compensation to those who have lost work as a result of the accident. Problems and causes of the accidents whether at home, road and at work are studied. In New Zealand, today, the majority of the people have mostly given up their common law right to sue in tort for damages for personal injuries due to accidents.

Conclusion

Leslie Lipson, New Zealand’s first professor of political science wrote in 1948 that if New Zealanders chose to erect a statue that embodies the nation’s political outlook then it would be a Statue of Equality. And that says it all, that New Zealanders’ view equality rather than freedom as the most important political value and the compelling goal for the society which they have always strived for and protected. If anything, New Zealanders like to see themselves as people who are practical, ready to accept any challenge thrown at them, with good life skills and a cooperative, and positive spirit. This is so visible in some of the policies and laws adopted by the New Zealand people and the government. New Zealand is not a large or powerful country but has always inspired others, leading by example, idealism and rational innovation. All this and more is reflected in the fact that New Zealand is ranked as the 8th most happy country in the world, in the 2019 UN World Happiness Report for the seventh year in a row, the only country outside of Europe to make to the list of top 10. 

References


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