Strength in numbers: oppose the passing of the Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill


Last Frday the Government passed under urgency the Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill, in response to the High Court decision that the Government had to pay family members who looked after people with disabilities (because not doing so was discriminatory).

The Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) for the Bill had all the relevant facts blacked out, according to Otago University Law Lecturer Andrew Geddis.

Geddis cited section 70E in the bill:

[When this law kicks in], no complaint based in whole or in part on a specified allegation [that the policy unlawfully discriminates] may be made to the Human Rights Commission, and no proceedings based in whole or in part on a specified allegation [that the policy unlawfully discriminates] may be commenced or continued in any court or tribunal.

What this means is that the Government’s decision to pay relatives only the minimum wage and only when the person’s needs are high or very high cannot be considered by the Human Rights Commission as an act of discrimination.

This decision by the Government has been challenged by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson in a report to Parliament:

[Section 70E] appears to limit the right to judicial review because it would prevent a person from challenging the lawfulness of a decision on the basis that it was inconsistent with [the Freedom from Discrimination section] of the Bill of Rights Act… On balance, I have concluded that limitation cannot be justified under s5 of the Bill of Rights Act.

(s5 of the Bill of Rights Act says that the Bill of Rights “may be subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”).

The issue has been labeled by Geddis as a breach of NZ’s constitution and has been slammed by (warning: strong language) Public Address blogger, Keith Ng.

I tweeted Ng, asking what would be the best way to express dissent. He replied, simply, “Electorally.”

Taking this to mean contact MPs, I emailed the Minister for Disability Issues, my local MP and opposition member. Below is the text of my email, which I encourage you to copy and send to the Minister and your local representatives as well.

old man in hat with crutchRemember, there’s strength in numbers, people.

Dear Hon Tariana Turia, [your MP] and [if appropriate your local Labour MP]

As the Minister for Disability Issues, my local MP [and opposition member], respectively, I would like you to raise, on my behalf, in the most appropriate forum and manner, my concern about the constitutional implications of passing the Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill.

My understanding is that Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has said in his report to Parliament:

“[Section 70E] appears to limit the right to judicial review because it would prevent a person from challenging the lawfulness of a decision on the basis that it was inconsistent with [the Freedom from Discrimination section] of the Bill of Rights Act… On balance, I have concluded that limitation cannot be justified under s5 of the Bill of Rights Act.”

This seems to be a breach of civil and human rights, which is unjustifiable in a first world country such as NZ. It also fundamentally undermines the spirit and intention of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, of which NZ is a signatory.

I would ask you to take urgent steps to ensure this Bill is repealed.

Yours sincerely

[Your name]

Email to Tariana.Turia@parliament.govt.nz — other MPs firstname.lastname@parliament.govt.nz

 

 

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