Home | Browse Topics | Individual rights & freedoms | Discrimination | Government bodies, public services, and schools

Individual rights & freedoms

Jobs, shops, flats and other areas of life where discrimination is illegal

Government bodies, public services, and schools

Are the government and public bodies allowed to discriminate?

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 19 Human Rights Act 1993, ss 20J, 21A

Generally, no. The Bill of Rights Act prevents the government and public bodies (like state-owned enterprises, district health boards and schools) from discriminating against you when you’re dealing with them. This applies to discrimination on any of the illegal grounds specified in the Human Rights Act 1993 (see: Race, gender and other illegal grounds of discrimination”).

The rules against discrimination in the Bill of Rights apply to public bodies in all their activities and conduct. This is different from the rules against discrimination by private bodies and individuals under the Human Rights Act 1993, which apply only in particular areas of life, such as employment, education, and access to goods and services.

Exceptions for government and other public bodies

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 19(2) Human Rights Act 1993, ss 20L, 66, 73

The Bill of Rights contains the following exceptions, which allow the government and public bodies to discriminate on the illegal grounds in certain cases, or to otherwise act in discriminatory ways:

  • Reasonable and justifiable discrimination – The government and other public bodies can discriminate if the particular policy or practice that discriminates is reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. However, that exception doesn’t apply to the following areas, so in these areas the public sector is on the same footing as private businesses and individuals:
    • discrimination in employment
    • sexual harassment, racial harassment and inciting racial disharmony
    • victimising a person for exercising their rights under the Human Rights Act 1993 or under the Protected Disclosures Act 2000 (which protects whistle-blowers).
  • Affirmative action – The government and other public bodies can discriminate if the particular policy or practice is done in good faith to assist a group that has been disadvantaged by discrimination.

Did this answer your question?


Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata/Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights Commission website provides information about human rights in Aotearoa and outlines how you can make a complaint to the Commission.

Website: www.tikatangata.org.nz or www.hrc.co.nz
Email: infoline@hrc.co.nz
Phone:  0800 496 877 (0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS)

To make a complaint online, download a complaint form or find out more about the complaints process: www.tikatangata.org.nz/resources-and-support/make-a-complaint

Human Rights Review Tribunal

This website provides information about the tribunal and the hearing process and contains the relevant application forms.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/tribunals/human-rights

Make a claim to the Human Rights Review Tribunal: www.justice.govt.nz/tribunals/human-rights/make-a-claim

The Office of Human Rights Proceedings

The Office of Human Rights Proceedings can provide free legal representation to people wanting to bring unlawful discrimination proceedings in the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

Website: www.tikatangata.org.nz/about-us/office-of-human-rights-proceedings
Email: ohrp@ohrp.org.nz
Phone: 09 375 8623

Also available as a book

The Community Law Manual

The Manual contains over 1000 pages of easy-to-read legal info and comprehensive answers to common legal questions. From ACC to family law, health & disability, jobs, benefits & flats, Tāonga Māori, immigration and refugee law and much more, the Manual covers just about every area of community and personal life.

Buy The Community Law Manual

Help the manual

We’re a small team that relies on the generosity of all our supporters. You can make a one-off donation or become a supporter by sponsoring the Manual for a community organisation near you. Every contribution helps us to continue updating and improving our legal information, year after year.

Donate Become a Supporter

Find the Answer to your Legal Question

back to top