2020 Election: what we’d like to see from the parties

The 2020 election is approaching and the political parties are starting to make their promises. Rather than score the parties' manifestos on civil liberty grounds, we thought we'd approach it from the other side and list the top six things we'd like to see:

1. A Rights-Protecting NZ Constitution – The NZ Parliament continues to pass laws that breach the NZ Bill of Rights Act and Te Tiriti of Waitangi. At that same time we see the struggles in countries with similar systems to ours where unwritten constitutional rules are failing in the face of anti-democratic and short-sighted politicians.

We want to see our current arrangements better defined in a written constitution with a stronger role for the NZ Bill of Rights, and a recognition of Te Tiriti of Waitangi as a founding document of our country.

We hope parties will commit to restarting the process of developing a written constitution for New Zealand.

2. Expand Open Government -We believe everyone should be able to access the information they need to find out what government is doing, provide oversight, and participate in decision making.Government still too often makes it hard or slow to find out what they’re doing and how well they’re doing it.

We’re looking for parties to commit to open government including strengthening the Official Information Act and broadening its applicability. See our review for some ideas. 

3. Police Governance & Oversight – The NZ Police are failing to police their own, and they ignore recommendations of the Independent Police Complaints Authority to charge officers for  breaking the law. At the same time they’re introducing questionable new policies such as the creation of armed response teams and new facial recognition systems.

We believe that the power given to the Police in our society requires meaningful and effective oversight to prevent abuse. And while we don’t want to see political interference in operational Police matters, any expansion of Police power through new policies such as general arming or introducing new forms of surveillance must be subject to external political control.

We want parties to promise to overhaul Police oversight by reforming the IPCA and giving it some teeth. We also want to see external control of the introduction of new policies and technologies, possibly through the creation of a new Police board.

4. Extend oversight to all use of surveillance – We believe that surveillance should be minimized and every instance must be subject to effective scrutiny. When surveillance is required it must be justified and protect the privacy of those surveilled as much as possible.

The IGIS provides oversight of the use of surveillance powers by the intelligence agencies but has no power to prosecute, and even that level of scrutiny is missing for the use of surveillance powers by the Police, Customs, Work & Income, and other government agencies.

We want to see parties commit to the principle that all government surveillance should be monitored and checked, and that the oversight authorities should have the ability to prevent recurrences of the breaches they find. 

5. Improving Access to Justice – Our justice system is failing to provide justice to too many people. Trial timelines are long, lawyers are expensive, legal aid is under pressure, and only the wealthy can afford to defend themselves in court.

A fair trial and access to justice are key provisions of the NZ Bill of Rights.

As well as a commitment to improving and funding our current system to work better, we hope to see some radical thinking about how we can improve our justice system so that it is faster and cheaper, while still providing a fair trial.

6. Protect Freedom of Expression – The internet is providing new twists on old challenges around freedom of speech. Troll networks harass people both on and offline, using fear to intimidate and driving people away from participation. Authoritarian governments wish to extend their control of behaviour to their citizens overseas. The international nature of the problem confuses standards setting and law enforcement.

We believe in the importance of freedom of expression to a democratic society, but recognise that this has to be extended to all people not just those with the thickest skins and the least to lose. 

We’re not asking parties for short-sighted and ineffectual over-reactions, but are looking for intelligent proposals to defend freedom of expression for all while also providing protections from the worst speech harms.