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Commission concerned about ‘rushed’ COVID-19 legislation

Graphic: Commission signage

The Commission said review was needed to ensure the measures in the Bill are effective, balanced, reasonable, non-discriminatory and proportionate.

The Human Rights Commission said it was "deeply concerned about the lack of scrutiny and rushed process" associated with the COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill.

"For weeks, the Government has known that we would be moving to alert level 2. It has not allowed enough time for careful public, democratic consideration of this legislation. There has been no input from ordinary New Zealanders which is deeply regrettable," said Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt.

"This is a great failure of our democratic process. The new legislation, if passed in its current state, will result in sweeping police powers unseen in this country for many years."

The Human Rights Commission said the legislation must include a provision to ensure those making decisions, and exercising powers, under the new law, will do so in accordance with national and international human rights commitments and Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi).

"Given our concerns expressed to the Attorney General yesterday about the two-year sunset clause in the Bill, we are pleased to see that Parliament will be changing this to 90 days," Mr Hunt said.

"However, given that the legislation encroaches on the civil liberties of New Zealanders, we have serious concerns about whether the powers are proportionate," he added.

"In times of national emergency, sweeping powers are granted. There is a risk of overreach. Human rights can help to ensure all measures are effective, balanced, fair, reasonable, non-discriminatory, proportionate and subject to independent review."

Mr Hunt said that a process of regular review by Parliament is needed. If passed in its current form, the Bill should be reviewed by select committee at regular terms and the Government should be open to any recommended changes.

"Discretion is needed that is proportionate to individual circumstances. The Government should ensure that explicit guidance is provided that allows for discretion to be exercised in the use of the Bill's powers," Mr Hunt said.

Date: 13 May 2020

Source: New Zealand Human Rights Commission

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  1. Commission signage - APF