Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A gaping hole in the BORA

This afternoon, the government plans to put the House into urgency to sack Environment Canterbury and deny Cantabrians the right to elect their regional council until 2013. As a result, 560,000 people will be deprived of the right to vote. So you would expect that our core human rights document, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, would have something to say about it, right?

Wrong. While the BORA affirms electoral rights, it only protects the right to vote in national elections:

Every New Zealand citizen who is of or over the age of 18 years—
(a) Has the right to vote in genuine periodic elections of members of the House of Representatives, which elections shall be by equal suffrage and by secret ballot; and
(b) Is qualified for membership of the House of Representatives.
So, the government can take your local body vote away from you without even having to face a wagging finger from the Attorney-General.

But while the BORA only protects the right to vote at a national level, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which it is supposed to implement, is stronger. Article 25 of the ICCPR affirms that

Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;

(c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.

The UN Human Rights Committee interprets the right to participate in public affairs as
cover[ing] all aspects of public administration, and the formulation and implementation of policy at international, national, regional and local levels.
(Emphasis added). The government's move violates democratic principles, and violates international law. It will put us in direct contravention of a core UN human rights instrument which we claim to uphold, and will attract international criticism as a result. And it will strip us of any basis to complain about undemocratic regimes which deny their own people the vote. After all, we'll be doing that too, now. But hey, anything to give the farmers "their" water, right?

This is the sort of thing the BORA was designed to stop. It doesn't. Time for an amendment.