Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Parliament's dereliction of duty on human rights

Last month, I submitted on the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Bill, arguing that while it was a step forward, Parliament had been a poor guardian of our human rights and that the bill needed to be stronger. Today, we have another example, in the Attorney-General's report of serious human rights problems with the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill, which violates the rights not to be subject to unreasonable search and seizure; not to be arbitrarily detained; and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The problems are fixable, and the select committee will almost certainly (mostly) fix them as a result of this report. So isn't this the system working as designed? No. Because the bill passed its first reading on 6 August, while the Attorney-General didn't report on it until 2 September - meaning that MPs voting on the first reading were deprived of crucial information on the bill they were voting on. Which is not how the BORA is meant to work.

But this wasn't just a fuckup: it was also illegal, because s7 of the BORA requires the Attorney-General to report on apparent inconsistencies when a Bill is introduced (in this case, on 30 July), not a month later after it has already passed its first reading. And this being a government bill, there was really no excuse for the failure. We can speculate about the reasons - internal dysfunction, a cynical abuse of power (an inviting interpretation given that Parker delivered a negative BORA vet against a member's bill on the same grounds just two years ago), but ultimately its irrelevant. What matters is that once again, the "safeguards" built into the BORA to ensure that the House takes our human rights seriously have been pissed on, and once again Parliament has shown itself to be derelict in its duty to protect our human rights. And the only credible response to their consistent refusal to do their job properly is to take it off them and give it to someone who will: the courts.

Finally, in the past Ministers have typically responded to negative BORA vets with a contemptuous response, effectively saying that they don't care. Sadly, it seems that the Greens' Julie Anne Genter has joined this vicious little club:

Genter said last year more than 100 people died in crashes where the driver was later found to have drugs in their system.

She said she was comfortable with the legislation cutting across the Bill of Rights if it saves lives.

Literally the first part of the Greens' human rights policy, in bold Green H3 lettering right at the top of the page, is "Legislation should always uphold human rights". Followed by "The Bill of Rights Act should bind the government". But I guess Genter cares about that as much as James Shaw cares about their Education policy calling for the defunding of private schools. Again, we expect better from the Greens. Genter is not Crusher Collins. So take off that Ministerial hat, and be better.

Correction: The second part of this post relied on Julie Anne Genter's words as reported by RNZ. I have been informed that Genter was misrepresented, and RNZ has now updated its story. She is now quoted as saying:

Genter said last year more than 100 people died in crashes where the driver was later found to have drugs in their system.

"Ultimately both random drug driving testing and the existing breath testing regime will push up against some of the rights under the Bill of Rights because we are asking a large number of innocent drivers to go through a mandatory test.

"Our ultimate goal is to balance those rights with people's rights to be safe on the road and protected from people who choose to drive while impaired."

Which seems like a much more appropriate view, and one which is consistent with Green Party policy. I apologise for comparing her to Judith Collins.