That’s just, like, your legal opinion, man

Almost nothing irritates me like the way politics is reduced to a series of “they saids” – as though nothing is factual, everything is relative, and it’s all about the game, and how you play it.

A classic example which is burned into my brain for no particular reason is the initial reporting around the Employment Relations Amendment Bill back in 2013:

Labour Minister Simon Bridges said the bill would speed up the process at the Employment Relations Authority, increase confidence and make it easier to get jobs.

But CTU president Helen Kelly believes the bill will remove workers’ rights and make it easy for employers to simply walk away from collective agreements.

If you read that, the amount of weight you give to either side is probably most informed by where you already sit on the political spectrum. You either think Helen Kelly is a staunch advocate of workers and therefore is more trustworthy than a Tory who hates unions, or you think unions hate the entire concept of work and always demand too much from innocent businesspeople. Or maybe you’re not particularly political and you honestly don’t know who to believe – because all you’re getting to base your judgement on is warring “he said, but she believes …” statements.

But “the bill will remove workers’ rights” isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s a testable statement. Previous to the bill, workers had the unequivocal right to a minimum set of rest breaks, depending on the length of their shift. After the bill passed, they didn’t.

You can debate whether this is necessary, ethical, safe, exploitative, fair, too far, not far enough – those are subjective matters of opinion. You can’t debate “this bill removes existing rights from the law”. It either does or it doesn’t.

And so we get to Anne Tolley’s recent comments on the establishment of a sex offender registry.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson tabled a report on the bill, saying it breached the Bill of Rights Act.

But Mrs Tolley had a different view.

“There are no restrictions placed on where the individual can live or work, who they can live or associate with, or when and where they can travel – including overseas.

I’m honestly not sure exactly why Anne Tolley’s opinion – based on her extensive lack of legal expertise – is relevant to the question of whether the bill breaches the BORA.

BORA vetting is something every government bill has to go through. From the Ministry of Justice website:

Under section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Attorney-General is required to notify the House of Representatives of any provision in any Bill introduced into the House that appears to be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. Parliament may form a different view about whether a particular right or freedom is limited or whether the limitation is justified. The purpose of section 7 is to help ensure that decisions made by Parliament to limit fundamental rights and freedoms are not taken without its full knowledge and proper consideration. The section 7 process also ensures that Bill of Rights considerations are a significant focus in the development of policy and the drafting of legislation.

Yes, Parliament isn’t bound by the vetting process – they don’t have to change bills to be in line with basic human rights if they decide it’s “justified”. Anne Tolley is entitled to her unqualified, self-justifying opinion on the matter and even to pass whatever legislation she can get on the table.

My issue is that there’s no context given. We don’t know what the specific BORA issues are with the bill. We don’t have a public conversation about whether or not people’s human rights are being breached, or if that breach is justified in some way. It’s just “a bunch of Ministry of Justice officials said there are some problems with this, but Anne Tolley said ‘nah, bro, she’ll be right.'” As though those two sets of opinions on the matter are equally meaningful.

As though we should trust a minister in this government to take human rights seriously when they’ve got their eyes set on publicly punishing another demonized group of people in order to bolster their tough-on-crime credibility.

No Right Turn is also scathing about the supposed benefits of the register.

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