You’ve gotta love that worm and cuddly, short and brutish Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett. A “Westie”, a single mum and a battler, who through hard graft and sheer rat cunning, has made it to John Key’s illustrious front bench.
“Bruiser” Bennett has once again demonstrated she’s made of sterner stuff than most with her “damn the torpedoes” approach to welfare reform. When informed by the Attorney General that sections of the Orwellian-themed Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill breach the Bill of Rights Act, her Churchillian response was a two-fisted “Idongivafuck”
The Attorney-General is required to draw Parliament’s attention to breaches but Governments are not obliged to act on them and routinely ignore breaches. [Some welfare reforms breach rights]
Bennett believes (or so she’s obliged to say) that the discrimination on the grounds of gender, marital status and family status is fair enough and that plenty of Kiwis will support her:
“I think that is a discrimination that most New Zealanders will see as being fair and reasonable.”
Where does it stop? Some New Zealanders might think discrimination against Gays is “fair and reasonable”, or against Polynesians, Koreans, Indians or Chinese.
How can we now trust that our freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, freedom of association, or freedom of expression is actually guaranteed?
It probably isn’t; anti-gang patch laws in W[H]anganui, for example, probably breach freedom of movement and freedom of association clauses. Let’s stop pretending the Bill of Rights actually means anything.
Why New Zealand, even bother to have window dressing legislation pretending to protect and guarantee human rights?
If the convention is that the Government can “routinely ignore” its own breaches of the Act, it becomes totally pointless.
And it is window dressing. The provision in the Bill of Rights says that the Attorney General must bring any inconsistencies to the attention of Parliament:
Attorney-General to report to Parliament where Bill appears to be inconsistent with Bill of Rights
Where any Bill is introduced into the House of Representatives, the Attorney-General shall,—
(a) In the case of a Government Bill, on the introduction of that Bill; or
(b) In any other case, as soon as practicable after the introduction of the Bill,—
bring to the attention of the House of Representatives any provision in the Bill that appears to be inconsistent with any of the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights. [Bill of Rights Act 1990]
It doesn’t say that Parliament has to do anything about it.
And what does this mean:
- The rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights are affirmed.
When two clauses further in you have this:
Other enactments not affected
No court shall, in relation to any enactment (whether passed or made before or after the commencement of this Bill of Rights),—
(a) Hold any provision of the enactment to be impliedly repealed or revoked, or to be in any way invalid or ineffective; or
(b) Decline to apply any provision of the enactment—
by reason only that the provision is inconsistent with any provision of this Bill of Rights.
This is Bennett’s “get out of jail” card. It effectively neuters the Bill of Rights. There is no judicial appeal or review and citizens cannot take a suite to claim their rights are breached. It’s just not allowed.
As O’Brien would have put it in 1984, when attempting to convince torturing Winston to believe that 2+2=5: “The Party has affirmed your rights; therefore the party cannot be accused of breaching them.”
Governments can do anything that breaches our “affirmed” but not “enforced” rights without suffering any consequences.
We can affirm that the Bill of Rights produces a nice feeling, but so too does bunny-soft Purex.
See how easy it is to engage the doublethink: Never mind its poor absorbability, admire the softness of the paper.
If you haven’t seen this version of 1984 starring John Hurt, you should. It’s all on YouTube.