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Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Amendment Bill

Third Reading

Tuesday 22 July 2008 Hansard source (external site)

Debate resumed from 19 June.

TureiMETIRIA TUREI (Green) Link to this

I am presenting the Green Party position supporting this bill on the basis of points that have been provided by my colleague Keith Locke who sat on the Government Administration Committee, which considered this legislation, but who is unable to be here tonight to deliver our position himself.

First of all, this bill was a victory—in our view—for the MMP system. When this bill had its first reading most parties in the House, including the Greens, were not aware that it so fundamentally undermined the free access that we have had to births, deaths, and marriages records, access we have had since 1848. The country’s genealogists, historians, biographers, and journalists soon put us straight and their complaints dominated the select committee hearings. Two of the smaller MMP parties, the Greens and United Future, then got together to restore open access and Peter Dunne and my colleague Keith Locke made a joint submission to the select committee; the fact that Labour no longer had the majority for the original bill meant that it had to be dramatically transformed, possibly more than any other bill in recent times.

Open access is largely preserved in this reformed bill. There will be some access restricted by regulation, which is why it is important to put clearly on record in this third reading—to guide future regulation makers—what MPs intended when voting for this bill. It is not intended that anyone can simply exercise a choice to close off records or to close them off for any period that one may like, and it is not intended that there be more than a few cases of this happening in any one year. Those wishing to close off their own birth, marriage, or civil union records have to have a substantive reason, as laid down in regulation, which means something like being chased by a former partner who may want to find out one’s new location details from those marriage or civil union records. This is an issue of safety. Also, the closure must be for a defined period, which does not mean many years other than in exceptional circumstances, and renewals should not be easy to get.

This retention of openness is particularly important for us as a young nation. Many New Zealanders are desperate to trace their family roots and for Māori being denied access to records that could prove one’s whakapapa would be very hurtful. My colleague thinks it is also a sentiment among select committee members to keep down the costs of access. As far as Government costs go they should be cheaper than in the past because of the increasingly computerised databases. We would expect people in the future to be able to access details by computer, with the right identification provided, and their access actions will be added to the new access register under this bill.

The whole question of the effect of the computer and Internet age on how this legislation works is still a bit uncertain. The idea expressed in this bill is that the Government helps access through the computerisation of records, keyword checking, and the like, and we sincerely hope that this happens. When we review the legislation, under the review clause in the legislation, we can deal with those matters further. It is best that the Government matches up to the task of providing easy access, because the reality is that we live in an age when everything is being digitalised and there is no way of stopping people accessing birth, death, and marriage records in newspaper files or in other ways, using keyword searches, or the classic techniques. Genealogical databases are being stored on overseas sites beyond the reach of our law.

We agree that the Government was right to be worried about identity fraud, but there was not that much evidence that the Births, Deaths, and Marriages database was much of a source of false identities. The main problem with identity fraud is that many private agencies in New Zealand are slack when checking identities, and the law cannot substitute for those agencies getting their act together and providing a quality service. Actually, there is a huge amount of information about us on various databases, and any agency can ask any applicant for a credit card, or for whatever, plenty of tricky questions so that he or she would have to be the genuine person to be able to answer them properly.

In effect, the Greens are pleased with the outcome of this bill. We are very pleased to have worked with the other MMP parties to make the changes that were made. We are pleased that the MMP parties were able to exercise the influence that MMP was designed to provide to those parties. It is a victory for openness, for the community, and for MMP itself. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

SharplesDr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party) Link to this

Tēnā koe. Nā reira, kei te tautoko te Pāti Māori ki tēnei pire kia mōhio mai ā tātau mokopuna ko wai rātau, nō whea rātau. Kia kitea hoki ēnei mātauranga e ngā mokopuna, e ngā kairangahau nā te mea he hītori, he kōrero rānei mō te whanaungatanga me te mana o te hapū, o te iwi hoki. Kia kaua e noho huna ēnei kōrero. Kia puta ēnei kōrero nā reira, mehemea e pīrangi ana te Pāti Reipa ki te moe tahi i a mātau o te Pāti Māori, ka pai! Ka whakakite mai, kia kaha ki te whakapuakina. Kaua e noho wahangū. Mēnā hoki he tino wawata tā te Pāti Nāhinara me kuhu ki roto i te moenga o te Pāti Māori anō. Whakakitea ki te ao, kia rongo ai ngā kaipōti katoa. Hei aha te kōhimuhimu, erangi whakapuakina mai i runga rā anō i ngā tihi rākau ki te ao. Nā reira, Mr Deputy Speaker, tēnā koe, tēnā tātou.

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[The Māori Party supports this bill so that our grandchildren will know who they are and where they are from—so that grandchildren and researchers as well can find items of knowledge such as these, because they are historical, or about relationships, or about tribal and subtribal jurisdiction, too. These matters should never be hidden; they should be made public. So if the Labour Party wants to get into bed with the Māori Party, that is OK. But make it known, make it really public, so that voters hear about it. Do not keep it quiet. Now if the National Party really wants to get into bed with the Māori Party as well, make it known, say it, so that the whole world knows about it. Never mind the whispers; shout it out to the world from the treetops! So greetings to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to us as well.]

ConnellBRIAN CONNELL (National—Rakaia) Link to this

I have to say that I am very deeply indebted to the National junior whip for giving me this opportunity to come down and speak on a bill that is of such interest to the House and to me personally. Anyone who has followed this debate in the House knows my position on this Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Amendment Bill very clearly, and it is this. This bill has been introduced into this House because we have a very tired Government coming to the end of its tenure, and thank God for that! The voting public of New Zealand, who are desperately—

CosgroveHon Clayton Cosgrove Link to this

Speaking of political deaths, bring out the body bag for this member.

ConnellBRIAN CONNELL Link to this

Oh, the pigeon puff from Waimak is at it already, and I have hardly even got into my speech. But I will come back to him in a couple of minutes. All I can say is that he is all the evidence we need to accept the fact that genetically modified organisms have escaped. I say that Mr Cosgrove should leave it at that, while he is ahead.

The point I was making is that this bill is on the legislative agenda because the Government was desperate to find something to fill up its programme. That is the only reason that this garbage is before the House. The member for the Green Party made some good comments; I accept that. She shared my concerns about the state of the bill when it was first introduced to the House, and I think that some progress was made on it through the select committee process. But I will come to that, because it is easier to read history backwards.

The only reason that this bill is in the House is the Government’s lack of a legislative agenda, but the bill will not solve anything. It will not solve anything, because there was never a problem to fix in the first place. It will not add anything other than to the frustration and compliance costs of those who want to engage in legitimate, authorised genealogical research. Those people will be frustrated.

A number of renowned guest submitters come to the Government Administration Committee, and I will quote to the House from a selection of their comments. A journalist by the name of Graeme Hunt had this to say to the committee: “The bill encroaches on well established principles held sacred within open and free democracies.” He went on to state that the latest Government move to clamp down on the public’s right to sight public information is an outrage, and that it is out of step with the trends in similar democracies, such as the United Kingdom and the United States. But still the Minister wanted to punch on.

So why does the Government want to do this? First, we were told by the Minister that it was to stop identity fraud. That is a smokescreen if ever I have seen one. Just a cursory investigation of the evidence about identity fraud in this country blew that argument right out of the water. Officials could quote something like only six to eight cases in our recent history, and I think I am making a very liberal interpretation of the evidence that they presented to the committee. I do not think that it was even as many as that. Secondly—and here is the real reason the Government is putting this legislation before the House—some of the Government’s PC mates, and they were probably using an example of one, wanted to restrict access to information. They wanted to restrict access to information, and that very issue brought submitter after submitter to the select committee to say that this is not right and that it is an attack on our democracy. The suggestion, to use their PC speak, was to incorporate appropriate privacy safeguards.

Probably some of the Government’s placard-waving Labour supporters raised this issue because they were concerned about which side of the bed grandma or grandma had slept on 20, 30, or 50 years ago—as if anyone really gives a damn. But the Minister jumped into it, anyway. He just could not help himself, because he thought he had an issue. [Interruption] Sorry, no—grandad or grandma—I agree with that. Even if there was a privacy issue, this legislation will not fix the issue. I thank Ms Rich. I think that I did get that wrong, but with the benefit of hindsight, I will put it right later in the debate.

The Hon Peter Dunne in the course of the select committee debate summed up the flaw in this legislation very nicely when he said: “Wander down to any cemetery and you will be able to do your own research and find all the information you want about any individual any time you like.” None of these arguments is new, which of course is the irony about this. Peter Dunne, the National Party, and hordes of people who came to the select committee pleaded with the Government to back off. But it still pushed on—too proud, too blinkered, too arrogant to heed advice.

Let us sample some of the advice that we got from some of those submitters at the select committee. The first submitter I want to refer to is Professor Geoffrey Rice who is none other than the head of the school of history at Canterbury University. He said to us: “If passed, this amendment bill will render the writing of New Zealand’s 20th century history well nigh impossible.” What a chilling warning that is. One of New Zealand’s leading academics, a historian, told the select committee that and still the Labour members on the select committee and the Minister rejected that advice. He went on to say that the Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr Barker, referred to the prevention of identity theft as one of the aims of this amendment, but that such cases are rare in New Zealand, as I have already alluded to, and this legislation will not prevent them. Here is an example of a bad law being proposed to remedy a very small problem. I suggested to members of the select committee that we get some of these leading academics to come in and give their advice to the select committee so that we could be aware of all the facts and make informed decisions. But again, the Minister and the Government members of the select committee refused to do that.

The National Party commentary on the bill, which I commend to the House—it is extremely well written and very concise—also points to our concerns, and I will quote from that as well. I know it is available to members, but I doubt very much that the Labour members have taken the time to read it.

ConnellBRIAN CONNELL Link to this

Just in part. It states: “It is the view of National members that these restrictions will continue to hamper academic and genuine genealogical research, and other legitimate purposes needing access to births, deaths and marriages information. National members support openness and transparency, and we believe more can be gained from the tradition of public access to the registers with the government continuing to act in a custodial role.”

I really believe that it was when the Minister went home and picked up the National Party report for his bedtime reading that he suddenly realised the error of his ways. It was then that he started to say in the public domain that he felt he needed to start to listen to submitters who were coming to the select committee and accepted, in political-speak, that maybe he had got things wrong.

These were not isolated examples. The Minister, being torn and bruised, then introduced a Supplementary Order Paper. This is where I differ from the Green member. Although we now have legislation that will not bring the House down, what it does do is erode one fundamental principle of our democracy, and it is that by introducing a Supplementary Order Paper that completely guts the bill, it denies the public their democratic right. They were not allowed to argue or articulate their points of view in the select committee, and that is wrong. That is the fundamental reason why the National Party continues to object to this bill. None other than the Government’s own socialist rag, the Christchurch Press, went into attack mode over this as well, and climbed into the Government by saying: “There is no compelling need for the secrecy provisions of the bill and certainly no sign of any public call for them.”

That is the issue that I started with. There is no call for this legislation to be in this House. It is a waste of our time and it is a waste of Parliament’s time, which is the biggest offence. It will not solve a problem, because there was no problem to solve in the first place. As Peter Dunne said, the access to information will still be available and we have spent God knows how many hours in this Parliament debating legislation that will have no bite at all.

Link to this

A party vote was called for on the question,

That the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Amendment Bill be now read a third time.

Ayes 69

Noes 50

Bill read a third time.

Speeches

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