5. Conclusions — Ngā whakamutunga
The three main conditions for realising the democratic rights principles of popular
control and political equality are: a framework of guaranteed citizens’ rights,
a system of representative and accountable political institutions subject to
popular authorisation and an active civil society. The following themes emerged
from the Action Plan consultation:
New Zealand’s structures and processes are seen as largely democratic and
there is wide public agreement on the ideal of a common citizenship without discrimination.
Nevertheless, statistics show some disparities in participation in democratic
processes for some population groups distinguished by ethnicity, age, gender
- A high importance is placed on people being able to participate in democratic
processes. Generally positive comments were made about the mechanisms and processes
already in place to ensure participation and accountability. However, people
wanted more opportunities for consultation and active involvement in decision-making.
Many reported that either they themselves or certain groups lacked either voice
or visibility, and that they were not being listened to.
- There were concerns about the perceived responsiveness of Government and of political
institutions in New Zealand. Many people drew a direct relationship between participation
and responsiveness – commenting that they saw participation to be meaningless
if they could not reasonably expect a response to their views. Similarly, willingness
to participate was seen as being linked to perceived responsiveness, with participants
claiming that more people would be willing to get involved and have their say
if they thought it would make a difference.
- People expressed a desire to have more control over and input into the public
decisions that affected their lives. Some people felt that social and economic
circumstances constrained their ability to participate broadly in public or political
life. Consultation participants highlighted the need for the capacity and resources
to participate in a meaningful way.
- People also expect Government to lead the way in solving human rights issues,
through policy and legislation. A tension therefore emerged between an expectation
that Government should follow public opinion and Government’s responsibility
to make principled decisions and to respect and protect internationally agreed
Where New Zealand does well — Ngā mahi pai e oti nei i Aotearoa
New Zealand is performing well in the following areas:
- periodic, free and genuine elections and a ballot process that has integrity
- universal suffrage: New Zealanders highlight universal suffrage and free and
fair elections as the core principles of the electoral process
- parliamentary democracy
- an active and varied civil society
- recognition of the importance of citizen participation in decision-making, and
of Government accountability to the community
- improvements in participatory processes and accountability in the last ten years
- capacity-building to develop effective Maori democratic structures at marae,
hapu and iwi levels
- transparency in government (the Official Information Act and the free media in
New Zealand both received positive mention as transparency mechanisms).
Where we need to do better — Kia piki ake te pai i roto i enei wahanga
There are a number of areas in which improvements could be made to strengthen
democratic rights. In particular:
- While New Zealand generally complies with the international standards for democratic
rights, there appears to be a risk that confidence in the benefits of participation
is waning. The declining rate of voter turnout in parliamentary elections is
a significant concern. The need to maintain and improve voter turnout rates in
local body elections is also apparent.
- While representation of the diversity of New Zealanders in democratic institutions
is improving, Maori, Pacific peoples, women, young people, disabled people and
people of ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic minorities remain under-represented
in both political participation (including voting) and elected office.
- Individuals and community groups would like to have increased participation in
decision-making processes and are dissatisfied with the present opportunities
to do so.
- There is dissatisfaction with the perceived responsiveness of Government and
of political institutions in New Zealand.
- There is a strong sense of dissatisfaction by many Maori in relation to the Treaty
of Waitangi. Greater accountability from the Crown was called for in respect
of the Treaty.