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Source: Human Rights Commission

Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, says the current Public Service Legislation Bill before select committee contains a glaring double standard concerning how the public sector would deal with human rights and he is calling for an amendment to the Bill.

Speaking before the Governance and Administration Select Committee on Wednesday 19 February, Paul Hunt, the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, said the Bill contains “the most spectacular double standard I have seen for a very long time. If the Bill can uphold the human rights of the public service, it can also uphold the human rights of the public.”

“The Bill’s grave shortcoming is that it does not require public service employees to pay any explicit attention to the rights and freedoms of everyone else in New Zealand. The oversight is especially remarkable because it runs against a strong current, within Parliament and the public service, flowing in the opposite direction.”

For example, the Oranga Tamariki Act, 1989, explicitly requires human rights to be “respected and upheld”. 

The speech before the Governance and Administration Select Committee came as part of the Human Rights Commission submission on the Public Service Legislation Bill. The 23-page submission recommends as its primary recommendation that the Committee amend clause 9 of the Bill (its overarching purposive clause) to provide that a purpose of the public service is to uphold New Zealand’s domestic and international human rights commitments. This recommendation is also endorsed by the Privacy Commissioner. 

“Human rights represent legally binding commitments on the Government and on the public service. They contribute to good, strong, effective policymaking. Human rights enhance fairness and social inclusion – provided they are listened to.”

“I appreciate that a Bill cannot address everything. But the omission of a requirement for the public service, as a minimum, to explicitly take into account the human rights obligations recognised by New Zealand law is extremely serious. Such backsliding places the country in breach of its international commitments.”