Representation and non-discrimination
Political representation at the national level
The continued existence of reserved seats for Maori has ensured a more representative
parliament (Henderson & Bellamy, 2002). The MMP system has also produced
a Parliament that is more representative of the social and political composition
of the electorate, with more Maori, Pacific and Asian MPs, more women (see Table
2), and openly gay and transsexual MPs.
Under the first-past-the-post electoral system, women’s representation
in Parliament increased from 13 percent in 1984 to 21 percent in 1993. In the
first MMP election held in 1996, this rose sharply to 29 percent and in 1999
to 31 percent. In 2003, New Zealand ranked 15th equal (with Spain) in the world
for women’s representation in parliament, and ninth among the 30 OECD countries.
Table 2: Number of MPs of Maori, Pacific Island and Asian Descent, 1990-2002 (immediately following General Election)
||1990 (97 MPs)
||1996 (65 electorate. MPs & 55 list MPs)
||2002 (69 electorate. MPs & 51 list MPs)
||% of all MPs
||no. electorate MPs
||no. list MPs
||% of all MPs
||no. electorate MPs
||no. list MPs
||% of all MPs
Public service representation
In relation to the New Zealand’s public service, the State Services Commission
reports that at the year ended June 2003 around 290,000 people worked for public
sector organisations in New Zealand; about 15 percent of the employed labour
force. More than half work in the health and education sectors. About 11 percent
work in local government, and a similar number are employed in state-owned
enterprises. Only 13 percent of people working in the public sector are employed
in one of the 36 public service departments (State
Services Commission, 2003a).
The State Services Commission acknowledges that ‘there is still some
way to go’ for the senior management group of the public service to fully
reflect the diversity of the public service workforce. While there have been
some improvements in recent years, with an increasing proportion of women moving
into senior management positions, only just over a third (36 percent) of senior
managers are women.
Relatively few public servants are under 25 years of age, partly because many
public service occupations now require tertiary level qualifications or work
experience. There are also relatively low numbers of public servants aged over
60, a smaller proportion than in the labour force as a whole.
“We wanted a skateboard park in our local
community but we were not listened to by the council. [We need] a child
advocate on the local council
to fight for our rights and what we deserve”
13-17 year old survey
Maori and Pacific peoples are more highly represented in the public service
than in the employed labour force. They are not similarly represented at senior
management level (State Services
Local government representation
There were marginal increases in the number of women elected in local government
elections in 2001. Women’s representation was highest on district health
boards (44 percent), followed by city councils (39 percent) and community boards
(31 percent). Female representation was lowest on district councils (25 percent)
and regional councils (26 percent) (MSD,
The community commitment to participation in local governance bodies and the
positive impact of such participation on communities and individuals was highlighted
in a recent survey of members of school boards of trustees in New Zealand.
The survey showed that just over half the existing 13,000 trustees intend to
stand again in the elections to be held in 2004. The school trustee elections
are, in terms of numbers of candidates, New Zealand’s largest democratic
event (School Trustees Association,
The Ministry of Social Development’s Social Report and the Quality of
Life report published by eight of New Zealand’s city councils reveal
that women, Maori, Pacific peoples and other minorities are under-represented
on governance bodies such as school and district health boards and councils,
as well as central government bodies (MSD,
2003a; Councils of New Zealand’s
Eight Largest Cities, 2003). Concern about these inequalities has led to the
inclusion of political participation, and democratic rights generally, in a
range of focused projects, including:
- the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa (Ministry
of Youth Affairs, 2002),
which includes full participation by young people as one of the six principles
of youth development
- the Chief Electoral Office Disability Action Plan (Chief
Electoral Office, 2004), which identifies three key priorities to improve the accessibility of
the electoral system to disabled people (namely, improved communication, more
accessible voting, and staff training for disability awareness)
- the New Zealand Disability Strategy (Minister
for Disability Issues, 2001),
which has the objective of fostering the leadership of disabled people
- the New Zealand Positive Ageing Strategy (Ministry
of Social Policy, 2001),
which aims to increase the participation of older people in society generally
- the nominations and appointments services operated by a number of agencies,
such as Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, the Office
of Ethnic Affairs, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Office for Disability
Issues and the Crown Company Monitoring Unit.
A key theme in the feedback on democratic rights from consultation participants
was inequality of representation. It was felt that people in some minority
groups, and people in lower socio-economic groups generally, have less opportunity
to voice or to find support for their opinions.
Parliament plays the key role in holding the Executive and the Government of
the day to account. To remain in power between elections, a government must
maintain the support of a majority of MPs voting on a confidence issue.
Select committees provide a means by which Parliament can scrutinise the actions
and policies of government. The degree of public participation through submissions
on proposed legislation forwarded by individuals and pressure groups to select
committees is one of the distinctive features of the New Zealand Parliament.
Henderson and Bellamy conclude that the overall structure of accountability
in New Zealand compares favorably with other parliamentary systems (Henderson & Bellamy,
However, there are public concerns over government accountability. The 1998
Values survey showed that 85.4 percent of respondents believed that the public
had little control over what politicians did in office (Perry & Webster,
“We’ve got our right every three years to vote for the government
but what can we do? Half the time they don’t listen to the people”
focus group participant
Consultation participants identified accountability of those in power generally
as an important issue. The Government was called upon to pay attention to the
local citizen. Many groups saw the Human Rights Act and the Human Rights Commission
as central to the process of ensuring that policies, systems and government
comply with human rights standards.
Accountability was the key issue for those groups that focused on the Treaty
of Waitangi. For Maori groups, that means the accountability of the Crown in
affirming the Treaty. Concerns included the need for or lack of accountability
of the Crown, a perceived gap between policy and practice in agencies that
have incorporated Treaty policy, and a lack of accountability and consequences
for those that do not act in accordance with its principles.
The Official Information Act 1982 ensures citizens can access information about
government activities and is a primary tool for public scrutiny of the Executive.
Generally, the diversity of the New Zealand media operates in a way that helps
sustain democratic values and ensure transparency. The state-owned television
and radio channels are run at arm’s length from Government through state-owned
enterprises, and both Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand have specific
charters to ensure they observe public broadcasting principles. Other media
are privately or community owned. However, while these media maintain considerable
independence from Government and party interests, the commercial imperative
of ratings tends to dictate the content of their broadcasts (Henderson & Bellamy,
The Government in New Zealand is generally accessible to citizens. Members
of Parliament, including Cabinet Ministers, are accessible to the public. Paradoxically,
however, many members of the public do not believe that they have much influence
over elected politicians (Henderson & Bellamy, 2002).
As with central government, local authorities have a wide range of mechanisms
through which they can consult the general public. Around half of those people
surveyed for the Quality of Life report said that they knew how local government
made decisions, and that they would like more say.
However, there were regional differences. About 59 percent of Dunedin residents
compared to 37 percent of Auckland residents indicated they understood how
councils made decisions. There were also differences among those from different
ethnic groups about the degree of responsiveness of local government. Pakeha
respondents were more likely to say that councils had their own agenda and
did not listen to the public. The report concludes that residents of those
cities that appear to better understand how their councils make decisions are
likely to have a stronger belief that they can influence those decisions.
“From time to time we go to Parliament with different groups. There
was a lady who took a huge petition, got her quarter of a million signatures
about how many people were in Parliament and she’s just been ignored.
You can protest and it doesn’t matter, you’ll still get overridden.”
female focus group participant
Many consultation participants commented on the importance of responsiveness
from Government. While many other aspects of democratic rights received positive
as well as negative comments, the issue of responsiveness tended to produce
largely negative feedback.
For example, some participants noted that even when people do participate in
democratic processes such as referenda, the Government does not necessarily
listen to or act on their opinions. Several people thought that Government ‘should
listen to the people more’. Reflecting the timing of the consultation
process, examples of Government non-responsiveness that were frequently given
were the lifting of the moratorium on genetic engineering, the aerial spraying
of poisons in some urban areas, and the failure of decision-makers to listen
to the high percentage of Hamiltonians who petitioned against the casino.
These examples highlight the frequent tensions for decision-makers that arise
in consultation and participatory processes. Balancing competing and conflicting
views is difficult and complex. It is also the responsibility of Government
to make principled decisions and to respect and protect internationally agreed
human rights even when the majority of public opinion on a particular issue
may appear not to agree with those standards. There is a tension between this
responsibility and changing public expectations about the extent to which Government
should be bound by the views of its citizens, whatever those views might be.
Some government agencies have also expressed concern that at times it is difficult
to engage with communities in a sustained way on important issues.
In describing the ideal situation, some consultation participants called for
Government to listen to the views that are expressed, and to respond to complaints.
One comment was that the Government needed to ‘make people believe it
will listen’, and that people would be more likely to participate ‘if
they think it is worth it and their voices will be taken notice of’.
An underlying theme in the material about responsiveness is the tensions faced
by Governments between the need to appear responsive to general public opinion
and meet the needs and expectations of their constituencies. Governments must
maintain this balance in order both to stay in power and to retain their moral
authority to act.