Chairperson’s Report 2021
Issues and events in New Zealand
The world and New Zealand continue to be dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the reactions to it. New Zealanders have faced lockdowns, controls on movement, and limits on immigration and the ability of those overseas to return.
With the apparent change from an elimination policy to suppression, the focus has turned to vaccination. While the vast majority of New Zealanders have been vaccinated the question remains what to do about those who choose not to.
The govt has stopped short of outright compulsion but the imposition of industry-specific mandates and the introduction of vaccination certificates and vaccination requirements are definitely ratcheting up the pressure. At the same time I note that individuals and businesses are choosing to announce their own refusals to associate with the unvaccinated. This is going to cause some unpleasant divisions in our society.
Unfortunately alongside this it seems that the government has pulled back from its earlier openness, refusing to release expert advice about changes in strategy, and also being very close-mouthed about their plans for vaccination certificates and mandates.
I believe that this past openness has been key to the effectiveness of our national response to the pandemic and the acceptance of unprecedented restrictions on our civil liberties. I am concerned that if the government refuses to honour the need to maintain this transparency, that this will damage our willingness to trust the government and thereby our willingness to comply with pandemic control measures. I call upon the government to recommit to openness and transparency in the Covid-19 response.
Other issues of note include:
- Sadly New Zealand was hit by another terrorist attack, quickly followed by the government passing a new anti-terrorism law. We opposed the law before the attack and we continued to oppose it afterwards, concerned that it was just legislative racism and an attempt to ban pre-crime.
- I am pleased to note that the government’s plan to introduce a wide-ranging internet censorship filter was scuppered at the Select Committee stage.
- However, the Department of Internal Affairs has started a very wide-ranging media content regulation review that threatens to rewrite our current censorship laws. Read my initial thoughts here.
- The government continues to push on with their review of hate speech laws in reaction to the Christchurch Massacre. I was relieved to note that the initial discussion paper appears to be tweaking the existing law rather than expanding it unreasonably, although our response did find it still needed further work.
- The government has yet again postponed the very necessary review of the Official Information Act.
- The Supreme Court has issued a constitutionally significant decision that enhances the status of the NZ Bill of Rights by overruling the Three Strikes legislation. This is good news and we have long called for a greater role for the Bill of Rights.
Actions of the Council
Some of the activities the Council was involved in this year include:
- Used our Twitter and Facebook accounts to push our views, events and publications. Please follow us if you don’t already.
- Collaborated more with other organisations such as Amnesty International, JustSpeak and the Privacy Foundation. We hope to announce a project coming out of this collaboration soon.
- Worked with a number of other groups to pressure the government into taking the development of the Open Government Partnership action plan more seriously.
- Written about mandatory mask-wearing and record keeping.
- Appeared in the media discussing a wide range of topics over the year.
- Organised a successful Facial Recognition and Human Rights panel discussion in February. Attempts to organise further sessions were stopped by the pandemic.
- I spoke at the New Echo Systems: Democracy in the Age of Social Media conference in Dunedin in March.
- Worked with law student Kent Newman to expose the government’s inappropriate use of Facebook and Google tracking technology on government websites.
We made numerous submissions on the following bill and other matters (all submissions are available on our website):
- Firearms Prohibition Orders Bill
- Protected Disclosures (Protection of Whistleblowers) Bill
- Internet Censorship (FVPC Amendment Bill) written and oral
- Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill
- Hate speech discussion document
- Counter Terrorism Bill
- Maori Electoral Option
- Open Government Action Plan
- Maritime Powers Bill
- Inquiry into the current and future nature, impact and risks of cryptocurrencies
- Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill
- Inquiry into Supplementary Order Paper 59 on the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill
Internal Council matters
While there is always more we could be doing I am pleased by what we have done this year.
In particular I am gratified by how well the Executive Committee has worked together. While each piece of work tends to be led by a single person, there is a healthy culture of coming together to collaboratively improve them before publication. The additions, changes and edits make for a more well-rounded and considered piece.
I am also pleased with the new guiding statement in our constitution that “The Council promotes a vision of Aotearoa New Zealand as a democratic and pluralistic society where the rights and liberties of all people are respected” and recognises New Zealand’s history as a colonial society where Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a founding document.
Other things we have done include:
- Started a member newsletter that is sent out by email every two months (please contact us if you’re not getting it).
- Migrated the website from Drupal to WordPress to enable easier support and further development.
- Engaged with a designer to help come up with a new logo and visual identity.
- Met every month and sometimes more often both in person and by Zoom.
- Held another successful annual strategy meeting.
Plans for the future
We will continue with the work we have been doing. However there is always room for improvement.
While we are doing a good job with submissions on government bills, we hope to do better at publishing more essays and media releases in an effort to influence the national debate in favour of civil liberties.
And, of course, we could always do with more help. You can join us or just help us with our work. Please contact me at email@example.com or on +64-21-805040
Regards, Thomas Beagle, Chairperson, NZ Council for Civil Liberties