Democracy and rights

Abbreviated as ZK, New Zealand, together with the Nordic countries, tend to be at the forefront of global evaluations of democracy and respect for human rights. The media and courts have an independent position and can operate freely.

The general elections, which are held at least every three years, are considered by assessors to be free of influence and properly and fairly conducted. The electoral law is fair and impartial and there is general and equal voting rights for citizens.

New Zealand is one of the world’s least corrupt countries according to the organization Transparency International’s ranking list (see here). There are anti-corruption laws that work well.

New Zealanders can become members of political parties and get involved in associations and in turn can act without hindrance.

Women have good opportunities to get involved politically and the proportion of women in parliament in 2017 was 40 percent. Jacinda Ardern became the third woman in the Prime Minister’s post in 2017.

Seven mandates are reserved for the indigenous people, Maoris. Since 1976, Maoris can vote or stand as candidates in election districts other than their own.

Maori rights

A controversial domestic policy issue is the Maori demands for compensation for land and fishing rights they lost, despite the promises made in connection with the signing of the Waitangi Treaty of 1840 (see Ancient History). When the treaty was written, the Maoris owned 27 million hectares of land, but they lost most of their land to the colonizers.

In 1988, the Maoris owned only 1.5 million hectares but made demands on three quarters of the country’s area. The Waitangi Tribunal, which was established in 1975, was commissioned from the mid-1980s to review and issue opinions on all reported disputes arising after 1840 and otherwise monitor Moorish affairs. However, the tribunal’s decisions are not binding on the government. There is also a court for disputes relating to Maori land ownership, the Maori Land Court.

An early, symbolically important settlement in the tribunal led to the Maori language becoming official in 1987 alongside the English. In 1992, the Maoris were guaranteed rights to commercial fishing, valued at large sums. In 1995 came the first settlement involving confiscated land. The Tainui people in Waikato were replaced with cash and land seized 130 years earlier, for a total value of 170 million New Zealand dollars (just over SEK 850 million). Queen Elizabeth personally apologized for the confiscation. Similar agreements have subsequently been concluded with several other people.

In 2009, for the first time, a settlement was reached in an intellectual property case. A Moorish tribe received compensation and was guaranteed the right to dance Ka Mate chin, which is traditionally performed by the country’s rugby team before matches. There was a concern among the Maoris for the growing commercialization that arose around the dance.

The payments in fair money exceeded one billion New Zealand dollars in 2009. The agreements have sparked debate about whether this is the most equitable way to return property to the Maori population and how the compensation should be designed to benefit the Maori in the cities as well. The agreements have also been criticized for disregarding the social and cultural consequences of the colonization and Maori demands for increased self-determination. According to a government decision, all targets must be completed by 2020.

In 2011, a law was introduced that allowed Maori and other indigenous people to assert their right to coastal areas and the seabed. Applications with such requirements could be submitted to the government or submitted to court in 2017. New Zealanders have the right to have access to the beach areas by law unless it is about land designated as sacred to the indigenous population. But, for example, Maoris can claim coastal areas and mineral resources as well as pay for companies that conduct commercial activities there.

Freedom of expression and media

Freedom of the press prevails and the debate is often lively. A merger that would have meant that two large Australian-owned companies would jointly control 90 percent of the newspaper market was halted in 2017, citing the importance of journalistic diversity in a democracy. There are both TV and several radio stations that broadcast on Maori and support Maori culture.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by law and is generally respected in practice, even on the Internet. However, new security legislation was introduced in 2017 that gives the police and security services the opportunity to extend surveillance of data communications in the event of threats to national security.

There is a law that gives access to public documents, but the lengthy processing times and the ability of authorities to charge high fees for the material to be released are criticized by journalists.

In 2019, New Zealand ranked 7 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders ranking of freedom of the press in the countries of the world.

Judicial system and legal security

The judiciary is independent and generally works well.

Violence crime is relatively high, especially in homes where violence against women and children is common. Aga at school was banned in 1989 but at home only in 2007.

The UN has criticized New Zealand for its low criminal age. Children as young as ten can be convicted of murder or murder, and for other crimes can be punished from the age of 14. The death penalty was abolished in 1989.

Prison services have at times been criticized for overcrowding and inadequate access to psychiatric care. Another problem is that Maoris are over-represented in the country’s prisons; more than 50 percent of the inmates are reported to belong to the indigenous population.

New Zealand Crime Rate & Statistics

New Zealand Democracy and Rights
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