Human Rights Commissioner made to wait 100 days after urgent request to discuss traffic light settings

The Human Rights Commissioner was made to wait more than 100 days for a meeting with the Prime Minister after he expressed significant concerns over the traffic light system.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, released under the Official Information Act, Paul Hunt said he was worried the system might lead to a more divided society.

“My sense is that ‘othering’ is accelerating.”

His comments were in reference to the fact that under the traffic light system, those without Covid vaccinations were precluded from entering premises that required a vaccination pass.

National’s Covid spokesman Chris Bishop said making Hunt wait so long was an unbelievable oversight from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“The traffic light system clearly had human rights implications and clearly did create a sense of division in New Zealand,” he said.

“The Human Rights Commissioner wanted to discuss that and to mitigate some of those areas of concern with the Prime Minister and she didn’t think it was even worth meeting him for three months.”

He said Ardern needs to explain why she refused to meet him for so long.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said it’s not usual for Ardern to have regular meetings with the Human Rights Commissioner.

But Covid officials did meet with Hunt in early February when a meeting with the Prime Minister was arranged.

On December 2, Hunt sent a letter to Ardern, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, Justice Minister Kris Faafoi and Covid Minister Chris Hipkins requesting an “urgent meeting”.

“Since my appointment three years ago, I have not asked to meet you,” Hunt said.

An official from the Prime Minister’s office replied soon after, saying Ardern’s schedule at the end of the year, and the start of 2022, was too tight to meet.

“However, we will be in touch in the new year to organise a time for a meeting.”

Despite this, the Prime Minister’s public diary shows Ardern only met with Hunt on March 22 – 110 days later.

In his letter, Hunt said for the most part, the Human Rights Commission had “robustly supported” the Government’s approach to Covid-19.

“However, I’m becoming increasingly aware of troubling short and long-term unintended consequences of the traffic light system.

“To grossly oversimplify: While the alert level system tended to be unifying (and collective), the traffic light system leans towards divisive (and individualistic) effects,” he said.

“In the traffic light system, I’m seeing an increasing intolerance on both sides – that is, from those who favour vaccinations and those who don’t.”

Hunt would not be drawn when followed up on if he was upset that it took so long to meet with Ardern, saying only that the meeting was “constructive and about substantive human rights issues”.

“We discussed a range of issues, including social cohesion, harmful speech and the role for human rights – and wellbeing and Te Tiriti o Waitangi – to be placed front and centre in the policymaking process.

“We also discussed the protest and the issues of concern to the protesters.”

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