Thursday, October 27, 2005

Mapp vs the HRC

So, what exactly (other than equality) will Wayne Mapp be attempting to "eradicate"? On National Radio yesterday and this morning he indicated that the Human Rights Commission would be his first target. His reason? Purportedly, the HRC has both an advocacy and prosecution role, "combining judge and jury into one organisation". Unfortunately for Mapp, this simply isn't true.

The Human Rights Commission was established by the Human Rights Commission Act 1977 - a law passed by the Muldoon government - to advocate for human rights. Since the beginning it has also had powers to investigate and mediate complaints, and initiate proceedings in the courts and before the Human Rights Review (formerly Equal Opportunities) Tribunal. It is this latter body, rather than the HRC, which serves as "judge and jury"; the Human Rights Commissions role is limited to that of advocate, as in any civil case. Mapp is simply wrong.

But Mapp seems to have a wider problem with the HRC, describing it as "an organisation that has a set of values pretty much divorced from the main stream". I'm not sure what "mainstream" Mapp is swimming in, but last I checked, the vast majority of New Zealanders supported basic fairness and opposed gross and blatant discrimination in employment, housing and other areas. Perhaps in mapp's idealised version of the 50's it was considered acceptable to refuse to employ someone because they weren't Christian, or refuse to rent a house to someone because they were Maori, or pay a woman less than a man simply on account of her gender - but it wasn't even in Muldoon's day (that's why he set up the Commission), and it sure as hell isn't now.


I should also point out that any legal proceedings are handled by the Office of Human Rights Proceedings - an independent part of the Commission - rather than by the Commission itself. The HRC doesn't even act as lawyer, let alone "judge and jury".

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/27/2005 03:56:00 PM

Oh! Dear Dr Muppet woops?? Mapp has done it again.
I wonder what he got his doctorate for.
Not law surely.
I feel sorry for the voters in his North Shore electorate having to put up with this sort of inadequate posturing for the next three years.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/27/2005 08:19:00 PM

True. I had a great deal of respect for "Gentleman" George Gair, his predecessor.

I suggest retaliation. Why doesn't one of the centre-left parties appoint a spokesperson to eradicate social conservative ideological purity, PC's coercive
social conservative counterpart?

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/28/2005 10:29:00 AM

If anything, you'd expect the National Party to be complaining about the waste of taxpayers' money on three separate organisations which could obviously be merged into one. Or just sold.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/28/2005 11:36:00 AM

Craig: because it would be silly?

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/28/2005 11:41:00 AM

I'm not one to ever agree with the Nats, but I do think there is a good argument that public service organisations shouldn't advocate policy change.

Why - becuase that's the job of politicians - the public service has the job of analysing and presenting policy options to Ministers - and it's for Ministers to decide what they want to do. "Public servants propose - Ministers decide"

Posted by Rich : 10/28/2005 02:45:00 PM

Rich: the HRC is not part of the public service, as it is not listed in Schedule 1 of the State Sector Act 1988. It is an independent crown entity, and as such not covered by the principle of public service neutrality (and in fact, it couldn't be, if it were to do its job properly).

As for that job, as I've just finished explaining over on I See Red, its not at all unusual for public sector organisations (and specifically, independent crown entitites) to have an advocacy role. The HRC, the Families Commission, Children's Commission, Maori Language Commission... all are established to act as an independent advocate for certain values (human rights, the interests of families and children, the use of the Maori language), to educate the public, to do research, lobby on policy and submit on legislation. Their role differs from that of the core public service in that they do not propose policy or advise Ministers; instead, they are simply an advocate, a public voice, nothing more.

I think such bodies have a definite place. Where civil society is weak (and ours generally speaking is), government established independent advocates can add to political discourse and provide a useful voice for those without one. Provided they do not stray into the area of promoting specific choices in areas which are rightly the domain of the individual (and I don't think any - not even the families commission - do, and the HRC certainly doesn't), then I don't think there's any problem.

In a perfect world, of course, we'd have independent lobby groups to do all of this instead. But as a small country, we don't.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/28/2005 03:38:00 PM

I'm not sure what "mainstream" Mapp is swimming in...

maybe, mainstream like the Exclusive Bretheren?

Posted by Anonymous : 10/31/2005 02:09:00 PM