The COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) bill needs to change to help address the deeply entrenched discrimination and inequities in society, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo has told a Government committee.
Supporting a recovery underpinned by human rights, enhancing participation in decision making, reducing the timeframe of the Bill, upholding inclusive employment principles and fostering accessible environments for all were issues highlighted by the Commissioner when she addressed the Environment Committee yesterday.
She was supported by Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt, Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero and Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon. Her submission reflected the views of all Commissioners.
Sumeo told MPs COVID-19 had exposed and exacerbated pre-existing and deeply entrenched discrimination and inequities in Aotearoa.
“This Bill has an opportunity to counteract these effects, and support a recovery underpinned by dignity and respect for human rights,” she said.
It needed to embed human rights and Te Tiriti in the recovery phase of New Zealand’s COVID-19 response.
The Human Rights Commission’s submission called on the Committee to amend the Bill’s purpose to promote inclusive and equitable employment growth to support human-rights and a Tiriti-based recovery.
Sumeo urged the Committee to keep participation rights and their benefits in front of mind.
“Meaningful participation leads to good decisions, fosters trust in government, mitigates against problems arising at later stages, and gives legitimacy to decisions.”
She was critical of the way the Bill applied Te Tiriti principles in decision-making processes that affect Māori.
“Due to its fast track nature, in our view the Bill does not adequately uphold rangatiratanga or the human rights obligation of free, prior and informed consent,” she said.
The submission makes several recommendations to mitigate this aspect, including giving particular attention to submissions from Iwi.
Sumeo also recommended reducing the duration of the Bill to one year, regularly reviewing while in operation and upholding the principles of equal employment opportunities.
“Given that the current purpose of the Bill is to promote employment growth, it’s essential that equal employment opportunities are central to decision making and that that inclusive employment practices for all are a focus.”
The Commissioner called for the Bill to foster accessible environments for all by designing public works using ‘universal design’ principles.
“The accessibility of the built environment is a key factor which determines whether disabled people and others can enjoy community life and public amenities. It makes sense for major rebuilds and projects to ensure that everyone can benefit from them.”
“We want the Minister to consider whether a finished project will be inclusive of all when deciding whether it should be referred to an Expert Advisory Panel. The Panel needs to include people who have skills, experience and knowledge in accessibility and universal design.”