Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers report of New Zealand

7 May 2012

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of New Zealand on that country’s implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, Debbie Power, Deputy Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development of New Zealand, said as a founding member of the United Nations, New Zealand had always been committed to the Organization, and to its obligations under the Covenant and other core international human rights treaties to which it was party.  Recent measures to strengthen implementation of the Covenant included welfare reform, new legislation governing the treatment of prisoners, responsibility for children, provision for civil unions and wider recognition of personal relationships, making Sign Language an official language, introduction of paid parental leave, action to reduce violence against children and young people, and measures to reduce poverty, including increases in minimum wage. 

Committee Experts noted that New Zealand had a strong and long-standing reputation for promoting and protecting human rights, but asked in-depth questions on areas including child poverty and school drop-out rates; health, housing and resource issues for the Māori communities, unemployment rates, the gender pay gap, health and safety at work, tobacco consumption, and the suicide rate. 
In concluding remarks, Ms. Power reiterated the commitment of New Zealand to improve the lives of disadvantaged groups, especially Maori, Pacific people and persons with disabilities.  The Government was also committed to reducing poverty through work opportunities and protecting children from abuse and neglect.
In preliminary concluding observations, Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay, Committee Chairperson, said that the overall message which the Committee had received was one of the dedication of New Zealand to human rights and its determination to address effectively multifaceted challenges to economic, social and cultural rights.  There was indeed room for the further strengthening of economic, social and cultural rights in New Zealand and for making all those rights beneficial to all people.

The New Zealand delegation consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Social Development, the Crown Law Office, the Department of Labour and the Permanent Mission of New Zealand to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Monday, 7 May when it will begin consideration of the fifth periodic report of Spain (E/C.12/ESP/5).
Report of New Zealand

The third periodic report of New Zealand can be read via the following link (E/C.12/NZL/3).

Presentation of the Report of New Zealand

DEBBIE POWER, Deputy Chief Executive, Ministry of Social Development of New Zealand, said New Zealand was a small and diverse democracy in the Asia Pacific region with a population of four million principally of Māori, European, Asian and Pacific Island descent who lived side by side in a tolerant and inclusive society.  Over the past 170 years New Zealand had welcomed successive generations of migrants and refugees.  Integral to its national identity was the relationship between the Government and Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand.  Māori represent 15 per cent of the population and were a vibrant and growing part of New Zealand’s society.  The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi gave effect to that relationship, which continued to evolve.  During the reporting period New Zealand had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.  In 2010 New Zealand indicated its support for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 
As a founding member, New Zealand had always been committed to the United Nations, and to its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other core international human rights treaties to which it was party.  The report covered the period 1998 to 2007, and was prepared in consultation with civil society.  The Constitution included specific human rights protections, such as the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, while specialised bodies such as the Human Rights Commission, Office of the Ombudsmen, and Independent Police Conduct Authority monitored compliance with national and international human rights law.  The New Zealand judiciary enjoyed complete independence and was strongly committed to human rights.  Measures to strengthen implementation of the Convention included welfare reform, new legislation governing the treatment of prisoners, responsibility for children, provision for civil unions and wider recognition of personal relationships, and expanded powers and procedures for non-discrimination law. 
In recent years human rights protections had been further strengthened in legislation, as seen in the Immigration Act 2009, which meant it was no longer an offence for a school to enrol a child who did not hold an appropriate visa.  That Act also specified a role for the Human Rights Commission in immigration matters.  Most asylum seekers in New Zealand were granted open work visas allowing them to work or apply for benefits.  Ms. Power referred to Mana ki te Tangata which was Māori for the New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights.  It was developed by the Human Rights Commission and identified human rights priority areas – many of which had led to substantial initiatives.  Those included making Sign Language an official language, introduction of paid parental leave, action to reduce violence against children and young people, and measures to reduce poverty including increases in minimum wage.  Challenges remained, notably reducing long-term welfare dependency, supporting vulnerable children, boosting skills and employment, reducing crime, and improving interaction with Government, and New Zealand was committed to meeting them. 
Questions from Experts
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of New Zealand, welcomed the delegation and expressed the Committee’s deep sympathy on the sorrowful consequences of the recent series of earthquakes, in particular the terrible tragedy which racked Christchurch last year.  The third periodic report of New Zealand, delivered on time, contained comprehensive and valuable information, including a great amount of highly illustrative statistical data.  The State party had taken measures to address most of the concerns raised in the Committee’s concluding observations of 2003, even if not all problems had been totally resolved yet.
Mr. Kedzia’s questions were focused within the context of the common law system and the principle of Parliament’s supremacy in New Zealand.  He asked the delegation about the role of the Covenant in New Zealand’s jurisprudence, and inconsistencies between it and domestic legislation.  Taking into account New Zealand’s ‘dualist jurisdiction’ the question of domestic legislation was important: would the Government consider adding economic, social and cultural rights to the Bill of Rights?  During its Universal Period Review in 2009 New Zealand did not accept the recommendation to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, but at the same time did not exclude revisiting the issue.  Had any further thoughts been given to the ratification, and if appropriate, could the delegation share with the Committee the reasons for the Government’s reluctance to ratify the Optional Protocol?
An Expert asked about development assistance, and noted with pleasure a recent Government decision to increase its level of Official Development Assistance contributions, and to promote the objective of the Covenant through its overseas funding.  However, the current level was well below half of the current target of 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), amounting to only 0.28 per cent of GDP.  Would New Zealand take steps to ensure they reached the 0.7 per cent target as soon as possible?  To what extent did New Zealand follow a human rights approach in its Official Development Assistance contributions?
It was a pleasure to see a delegation headed by a woman, an Expert noted, something that was unfortunately quite unusual.  The Expert then turned to the National Human Rights Action Plan and the work of the Human Rights Commission, the latter which enjoyed international respect for its work and had ‘A’ status.  Had the Government adopted the Action Plan?  Regarding discrimination against Māori people, people with disabilities and women, there was certainly room for improvement – although it was noteworthy that New Zealand was the first country in the world that gave women the right to vote!  The Expert also noted that New Zealand enjoyed a high-level ranking in both the United Nations Development Programme’s economic report and the World Economic Forum’s annual report.  What had been the impact of the policy of privatization on the Covenant?
Following the earthquake disaster in Christchurch, the entire city must now be rebuilt, an Expert said.  As part of the recovery, would the Government consider re-constructing the new city following a universal design that allowed access and ease of movement for persons with disabilities? 
New Zealand had a strong and long-standing reputation for promoting and protecting human rights, said an Expert.  However, that was not to say the Committee had no questions!  The Expert said his first issue related to the extent to which the Māori people enjoyed rights to benefit from the exploitation of natural resources – including offshore resources, fresh water and geo-thermal energy – in their lands.  Of course that was a debate in many countries, including Australia, but it would be helpful to know the impact of the Government’s statement that it now supported the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? 
It seemed the Treaty of Waitangi did not give the Māori people access to redress or compensation – was that correct, and was it right?  What was the relationship between the Māori people and the majority of the population?  Was there a policy of assimilation?  Were there many inter-relations or inter-marriages between Māori and non- Māori persons?
How was human rights education taught in school?  Was it a broad subject, and did it specifically cover economic, social and cultural rights?  Furthermore, what awareness-raising of the Covenant was given to the judiciary?
Response by the Delegation
A delegate described the background to New Zealand’s ratification of the Covenant in 1978 and its position that civil rights were not possible without social rights.  It was true that New Zealand had a dualist system, and also that it did not have a single rights instrument that gave expression to the rights of the Covenant.  However that position was mediated in a few respects: first that the rights were addressed through legislative schemes which applied obligation to the State; there were also dedicated review and appeal mechanisms.  A second way in which the dualist position was mediated was the considerable openness of the New Zealand domestic courts to international human rights legal instruments.  Most recently, for example, the New Zealand High Court had a case in which the Covenant’s right to social security was considered in a decision about social security payments for housing, and played a determinative role in the outcome.  There was judicial education on international human rights standards and instruments, and the very active role of a number of the members of New Zealand’s judiciary did suggest they were very much apprised. 
Regarding assessment of consistency with the Covenant, the cabinet decision-making process did consider human rights as a necessary step when considering proposals for new policy.  The process was robustly informed.  New Zealand was also committed to evidence-based policy, in that it looked at the impact of any policy on the rights of various groups of society.  It operated as a transparent process, and the papers involved were released almost routinely.  It was always the exception that any policy-making process was not released to the public.  The Human Rights Commission’s current research into looking at the efficiency and effectiveness of international human rights standards was a great contribution to that process.  The element of transparency in circulating draft Government policies also meant that it was very easy to spot non-governmental organization contributions, which helped ensure the contributions were made in the first instance. 
There was a dedicated Health and Disability Commissioner who had a statutory jurisdiction to oversee health and disability rights.  The rights of persons with disabilities were an ad hoc principle at the moment, but there were plans to entrench the position, with draft legislation currently before paperwork. 
The dedicated complaint procedures, through the Human Rights Review Tribunal, provided an accessible and practical means for individuals whose rights and interests had been affected to seek recourse, either through monetary damages or more commonly practical redress and resolution. 
International human rights standards were included on the compulsory school curriculum. 
Regarding the impact of privatisation on the implementation of the Covenant, a delegate said there was provision to include social obligations in the process of privatization – or corporatization - of former State assets, such as electricity.
New Zealand recalled that it had moved to support the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The Treaty of Waitangi did have Constitutional status given effect by a number of legislative tools.  Redress could be sought and was made available.  The Waitangi Tribunal took an extensive enquiry into New Zealand practice in Māori cultural and related interests and subsequently made a number of comments.  Regarding sharing resources from Māori lands, there was a recent consultation on offshore resource extraction, which could not be commented upon today as it was an open case, but in general the Government was taking substantial steps to consult with Māori people on exploitation of resources. 
The New Zealand Government was committed to increasing its level of Overseas Development Assistance.  The current level was New Zealand dollars 470 million for 2009 to 2010.  The Government intended to increase that by a quarter, to New Zealand dollars 620 million, in the next two years.  The recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study on developed countries assistance indicated New Zealand was at the higher end of OECD increases at a time when other OECD countries were having to, for understandable reasons, cut their development assistance.  The body responsible for dispersing New Zealand’s overseas aid compiled a guide to mainstreaming aid while taking human rights standards into account. 
New Zealand had some good non-discrimination laws in place, although it acknowledged that for groups such as Māori, Pacific and people with disabilities more work could be done. 
Considering universal design in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, the Government made a commitment that social housing would be built to last for a lifetime, and that would be taken into account in the rebuilding of Christchurch.  The Minister responsible for the rebuilding would take accessibility for persons with disabilities into account during the reconstruction, and there was more information in the report. 
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked for details on the current situation of unemployment, especially given the global financial crisis which affected most countries in the world.  According to the report, in 2008 the number of unemployed women was higher than the number of unemployed men, and there was also a distance between employment rates of the Māori – had those gaps been reduced?  According to reports the Pacific Islanders group often earned less than the minimum wage; had the situation been addressed? 
Regarding the gender pay gap and the International Labour Organization (ILO) ethos of ‘equal pay for work of equal value’, the laws of New Zealand were not fully in line with the Convention’s views on equal pay.  The actual salary gap between men and women, according to an ILO report, was quite shocking as it was higher in the public sector – 15 per cent – than in the private sector where it was 11 per cent. 
Under collective agreements the length of the working week could exceed 70 hours.  That was a heavy working week.  It seemed that there was no ceiling, no maximum hours of work per week: could the delegation please confirm?  The Expert also asked for information on health and safety in New Zealand. 
An Expert said she liked the format of New Zealand’s report, which showed not only its achievements but also indicated areas for improvement and detailed what it planned to do to remedy the gaps.  Turning to the gender pay gap and employment segregation, however, there was clearly underrepresentation of women in several sectors, especially at the top of the society.  In order for people to complain they had to know what their male counterparts were being paid and salaries were not very transparent. 
Response by the Delegation
New Zealand was very much affected by the global financial crisis as born out in unemployment statistics.  On Thursday 3 May new figures were published which showed the unemployment rate had slightly risen to 6.7 per cent.  In March 2010 unemployment figures peaked at 60,000, but over the last two years had reduced to around 53,000, as it stood at the end of March 2012.  The percentage of Māori receiving unemployment benefit was larger than any other sector of the population, around 35 per cent of the unemployed, or 20,000.  The average number of Māori people who were unemployed was 3.3 per cent.  The unemployment rate for 15 to 19 year olds was 22 per cent, for 20 to 24 year olds 15 per cent, and for Pacific Island people it was 14.4 per cent. 
Regarding the employment of persons with disabilities, many employers actively recruited persons with disabilities into the workplace, where they were entitled to various areas of support. 
Over the past ten years New Zealand had undergone a number of welfare reforms.  In 2002 sole parents who received social security or welfare were required to fill out a personal development and employment plan.  Although sole parents were not required to work, the employment and income support service encouraged them to address the issues that prevented them returning to work.  When a sole parent’s youngest child turned six they had part-time work obligations, and when their youngest child turned 14 they had full-time work obligations.  That meant the person was required to actively seek suitable work. 
There were also reforms to the youth parenting payments, which focused on 16 to 18-year-old teenage parents.  Again, there were obligations put upon those particular groups, alongside support, details of which could be provided to the Committee. 
The social security system was three-tiered, with core benefits that were adjusted according to inflation every year.  In 2007 analysis showed that after housing costs had been met, beneficiaries of social security’s income fell below the poverty line.  Those issues were very much a live debate in New Zealand today. 
In relation to child poverty rates, in 2009, out of approximately one million children, after housing costs, 22 per cent of children were found to be in poverty, which was reduced to 16 per cent in 2010.
The Employment Act and the Equal Pay Act made it unlawful for employers to not offer the employees with the same or similar qualifications the same pay, conditions, promotion and training possibilities.  Slow progress was being made on closing the gender pay gap, which in 1998 was 16.5 per cent, as opposed to 9.6 per cent in 2011.  It would be fair to say that the New Zealand Government found that rate of progress slow and was taking a number of actions to improve the pay equality.  One way to increasing women’s leadership roles was increasing women’s participation on public sector boards to 45 per cent and on private company boards to 10 per cent, by 2015.  The private sector had taken on exciting new initiatives to take advantage of gender diversity.  The company running the New Zealand stock exchange, for example, recently ruled that all of its companies had to publish statistics of how many women were on their boards. 
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs managed women’s participation through an annual sector of women on public and private sector boards, which was published every year.  The gender pay gap was a complex issue caused by issues such as patterns of occupation, discrimination and unconscious bias.  It could not be dealt with simply by legislation alone – action needed to be taken on the root causes.  Another new initiative was the ‘Good Company’ rating, which a company could achieve if it demonstrated gender equality in its policies.  As part of that initiative Department of Labour inspectors visited companies to document labour conditions. 

The minimum wage was $New Zealand dollars 13.50 per hour, following a recent increase that was somewhat higher than other wage increases across the population.  Concerning the working hours, there were a whole range of working conditions across New Zealand.  While most employment agreements set hours of work at not more than 40 hours per week, it was possible that people did have an employment agreement that provided for longer working hours, with the consent of the employer and employee.  Legislation did not preclude that although it did ensure that hours of work did not compromise health and safety
Regarding health and safety, a delegate recalled the Pike River mine disaster 18 months ago, which took the lives of 29 people when the mine exploded from a gas leak.  That tragic event focussed the nation on health and safety at work issues, which had not been in the forefront of minds for some time.  The Government initiated an enquiry into the causes of the tragedy and also into any systematic issues that may have contributed.  The Department of Labour had laid 25 charges relating to health and safety failings, cases which were due to come to court shortly.  That event signalled a significant shift in attention to matters of health and safety in New Zealand. 
The principle of the 40 hour working week was applied through various national laws and regulations, including the minimum wage legislation, excluding overtime, and exceptions could be made when both parties agreed to work more than 40 hours.  Overtime was to be negotiated separately. 
The Health and Safety Employment Act 1992 prevented any physical or mental harm to workers, or harm resulting from physical or mental fatigue. 
Questions by the Experts
An Expert pointed out that although there had been a significant decrease in tobacco consumption in the past decade, over 20 per cent of the population were smokers and the report stated that ‘smoking remains the greatest single preventable cause of premature death in New Zealand’.  The problem remained very serious.  Tobacco consumption was particularly high in areas inhabited by indigenous peoples, and cases of premature death were also higher in those areas.  To what extent did the five-year plan for tobacco control (2005 to 2009) yield results, and how was the plan being followed up?
An Expert asked what were the current suicide rates, as suicide was another big issue in New Zealand, what was being done to reduce it?
Regarding the right to health, New Zealand had made great strides, particularly in treating cancer, and it had reduced the mortality rates by a half, something other countries were very envious of.  However, the Expert said disaggregated annual data was needed year by year, and he hoped the State party could provide that by the next periodic report, as it was requested in the previous concluding observations. 
People with intellectual disabilities apparently had difficulties in accessing basic services; what was the Government doing about that?  There were lots of plans and programmes for mental health care, but no results.  What had been achieved?  What mental health treatment was available for prisoners and asylum seekers?
What was the availability of childcare facilities for children from zero to six years of age?  It was commendable that New Zealand afforded children an education irrespective of their immigration status, but did those children also have access to medical insurance?
Regarding child labour, was it correct that legislation did not specify a minimum age for employment, despite the fact that education was compulsory until the age of 16?  Furthermore, was there a relationship between the phenomenon of child labour and the high school drop-out rate, particularly among the Māori community?  What was the situation of child poverty, as although the statistics showed considerable improvement in recent years, it was surprising that child poverty was still such a persistent problem in such a developed country?
The Task Force on Sexual Violence, which was part of the criminal justice system, submitted a comprehensive report in 2009.  What recommendations did they make, and how were they implemented?  Policing could be quite harsh sometimes, according to reports, so what sort of training was given to the police? 
Response by the Delegation
Suicide had been, and still was, a problem in New Zealand, the delegation said.  However, the rate was decreasing, and in 2009 it had dropped by 25 per cent since the peak rate in 1998.  The female suicide rate was no longer the third highest of OECD countries, but the fifth, however male suicides in New Zealand were still the highest of OECD countries.  The 2006 to 2016 New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy ran a broad group of initiatives to prevent suicide among young people, and worked with district health boards which offered one-stop youth services where young people could seek free counselling and peer support.  There was also telephone counselling and a travelling service available.  Concerning the Māori, who were the focus of efforts, there were 83 Māori suicides in 2009, which was the lowest since 1999.  A $New Zealand Dollars 62 million package was pledged in 2012 to address the suicide problem, and among other measures would fund nurses to work in schools and a ‘positive behaviour’ school-wide programme to make schools a more positive environment for children, funding for primary mental health care, and a new family-centred approach. 
Bullying in schools in New Zealand continued, and there had been some very sad cases where bullying led to suicide.  The budget package recently announced by the Prime Minister to address suicides in schools would go a long way towards helping.  It was a real concern in New Zealand.  
While some New Zealanders chose to opt for private medical insurance, a comprehensive range of health and disability services was available through the publicly-funded heath care system provided by the State.  Migrants and asylum seekers could also access these services.  Dental care was generally not included in the publicly-funded heath care system. 
A social housing reform programme was underway in New Zealand.  A State agency provided most of the social or affordable housing in New Zealand, and operated 15 per cent of the total rental market.  The majority of people who lived in those homes paid income-related rent set at no more than 25 per cent of the tenant’s income.  It was true that for Māori the housing standards were sometimes sub-standard.  The reason for that was some households had returned to live on ancestral ‘family land’ where the housing had been owned by the family but not maintained. 
The Christchurch earthquake had a significant impact on housing in the area.  Immediately following the earthquake a number of temporary shelters were made.  Civil defence emergency ‘welfare’ centres were set up to house people for a short period of time and 200 camper vans were provided as a very short-term contingency, while building assessments were carried out on 72,000 houses in the city suburbs.  The Government was building 63 houses on the outskirts of Christchurch, all of which would be accessible for people with disabilities.  Another 7,000 houses were ‘red-zoned’, which meant the property was condemned and the land too damaged to rebuild on.  The Government was offering the owners of those houses payouts in addition to their insurance, in order for them to start a new home elsewhere.  Nearly 1,000,000 civil defence payments were made after the earthquake, while $New Zealand Dollars 203,000,000 was paid out by the Government to employers to ensure that after the earthquake people’s jobs were protected while businesses reinstated themselves. 
There had been significant improvements in relation to tobacco addiction.  One of the six Government health targets was to get smokers to quit, and it was not just specific to Māori and Pacific Island peoples but targeted at youth in general.  A smoking cessation approach was specifically developed for Māori and Pacific Island peoples.  The 2010 smoking survey results, released in March 2012, showed a record drop, especially among 14 to 15 year old Māori girls from 16.3 per cent in 2010 to 11.3 per cent in 2011, the largest drop in a record.  Tobacco advertising and sponsorship had been banned since 1990, but the ban was now being reinforced.  It would soon be forbidden to display tobacco in shops, while the Government had taken other measures such as displaying graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging.  Smoking was banned on public transport and in other public places, including community centres, playgrounds and parks.
A recent Ombudsmen report on healthcare in prisons found that while the general level of health services provided in prisons was comparable to the population at large, there was serious deficit in mental health care, and in dealing with prisoners who had serious mental health issues and would once have been living in a secure mental health unit but who had been transferred to a mainstream prison.
Child poverty rates were the lowest since the mid 1990s, based on a tax-relief programme.  Rates fell from 26 per cent in 2004 to 22 per cent in 2008.  The Government believed that paid work was the best way for parents to improve their situation and move children out of poverty, and an arrangement of packages and support had been put in place to that end.  There was no official measure of poverty, but a range of measures were published that aimed to give the full picture of poverty in New Zealand. 
New Zealand law did not provide a minimum age for work, as the Government considered its existing employment framework provided enough protection for workers, and ensured young people’s safe entry into the workplace.  The Education Act provided for compulsory full-time education until 16, and forbid employers from employing children under 16 if the work interfered with their schooling.  The Health and Safety in Employment Regulations 1995 restricted young people from working in dangerous places, such as factories or tree­-felling, from night work, and from hazardous work.  The Prostitution Act decriminalized prostitution, but explicitly forbid persons under the age of 18 from working as prostitutes and criminalized any person who bought a sexual service from anybody under 18.  Part-time employment among school-aged children was common, and an estimated 44 per cent of students worked in light part-time jobs that were well-paid and provided for.  There was no evidence that those jobs impacted on children’s schoolwork.
Māori represented 15 per cent of the population in New Zealand and the Government saw the value of the Māori language for the preservation of the culture and for education.  There was a measurable underachievement in the education of Māori children, as seen in their lower representation in early education and in their higher likelihood of leaving school without qualification.  Redressing Māori education was a key priority for the Government, and a series of efforts had been undertaken in this regard, such as curriculum revision, language recognition, community consultations and others.  This was a priority also because of the clear links between education levels and quality of life and life expectancy.  Children with disabilities received a very high level of support for education.  Tertiary student fees represented 29 per cent of the cost; the rest was paid for by the Government and through student loans disbursed with very low interest rates. 
On bullying, there was scientific research going on and on a practical level there was an ongoing monitoring of all school institutions by the Education Review Office which visited every school, public and private alike, and reviewed standards covered a number of indicators of education, including the environment and the safety and security of students.  The Education Review Office published regular reports which were available to the public, while various forms of support were available to schools in which bullying was identified.  Pink Shirt Day was a public awareness initiative by civil society which encouraged everyone to wear a pink shirt to raise awareness about bullying in schools.
In 2001, 57 per cent of persons with disabilities were unemployed.  New Zealand was active in the United Nations, including in the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, and it led the resolution on the right to work for persons with disabilities.  On the tax system in New Zealand, it was a broad based system and there was a relatively low rate of taxation and very few exemptions to taxation.  New Zealand revenue was mainly derived from income tax, with other sources including company tax and goods and services taxes.  Families with children received more in tax credits then they paid in taxes and New Zealand’s tax system reduced inequalities and ensured the redistribution of wealth.  The new reduction in tax rates would not impact on the quality of Government services and health and education remained free of charge.  As part of workplace health and safety, there was a National Occupational Health Action Plan to reduce exposure in several areas and to build relationships between researchers, health professionals and industry.
Questions by the Committee
In a final series of questions, an Expert asked whether the underachievement of Māori children in education was due to segregation and were there any plans to end it.  He also requested further reflection on the appropriateness of the use of Māori language in education and its fitness for science education for example.  What services were available in the health system concerning sexual and reproductive health for all population and specifically for indigenous people?  Was Maori an official language in New Zealand and how was the Government thinking to remedy the negative factors that were blocking the progress of Māori children in education?
Response by Delegation
There was no segregated school system in New Zealand, but areas existed with a bigger or smaller Māori population.  There were no suggestions that Māori language was not sufficiently sophisticated to support the delivery of the full curriculum and data indicated relatively equal success rates for graduates of immersion schools using Māori language.  Māori was an official language in New Zealand and could be used in the Government and in social and education services.  Māori language and culture were seen as key in addressing education underachievement and New Zealand acknowledged that this gap was taking long time to close.  Measures to address education underachievement of Māori children included support for the greater enrolment and participation of Māori children in early education and the promotion of immersion environments.
The public health authorities promoted community based health services that would be well adapted to the specific needs of a community.  Sexual and reproductive health services were provided publicly and were tailored to the needs of minorities, for example the initiative to encourage cervical screening among Māori women who were under-represented in this programme.
Closing Remarks
DEBBIE POWER, Deputy Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development of New Zealand, in her closing remarks said that the delegation had received some challenging questions and it appreciated the open dialogue that would allow it not to remain complacent in face of remaining challenges.  Ms. Power thanked the Committee for their kind comments regarding the Christchurch earthquake which had been the biggest disaster since 1931 in which 182 people had lost their lives.  New Zealand reiterated the commitment to improve the lives of disadvantaged groups, especially Māori, Pacific Island people and persons with disabilities.  The Government was also committed to reducing poverty through work opportunities and protecting children from abuse and neglect.  New Zealand was keeping a very close eye on the process of the strengthening of treaty bodies and commended the use of webcasting which was very useful for small delegations.
ARIRANGA GOVINDASAMY PILLAY, Committee Chairperson, in closing observations said that the Committee was grateful for the cooperation of New Zealand and for the detailed answers provided to the questions by the delegation.  The overall message which the Committee had received was one of dedication to human rights and determination to address effectively multifaceted challenges to economic, social and cultural rights.  There was indeed room for the further strengthening of economic, social and cultural rights in New Zealand and for making all those rights beneficial to all people of New Zealand.  The Committee urged the Government to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  The concluding observations on the report of New Zealand would be made available on Friday, 18 May.

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