Campaigning activity, 1977.

During the 1970s social action and protest activity to advance human, civil and political rights were not uncommon.  In January 1977 protesters occupied Bastion Point after the government announced plans for a housing development on former Ngāti Whātua reserve land.  In the same year, an amendment to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act considerably expanded the agency’s monitoring powers and brought protesters to the steps of Parliament.

During this year the NZASW confirmed its commitment to human rights and social justice with campaigning activity defending the rights of prisoners to vote, and advocating womens’ rights to choose on matters of abortion.

Votes for prisoners

Since the Electoral Act of 1956, all persons “detained pursuant to convictions in any penal institution” had been excluded from electoral registration.  One of the reform measures of the third Labour government (holding office between 1972 and 1975) was to re-enfranchise prisoners under the Electoral Amendment Act 1975. The Minister of Justice at the time remarked that;

[T]he imposition of a criminal penalty involves the penalty of deprivation of liberty, but it should not  mean a deprivation of all civil rights, and after conscious consideration we have concluded it would be proper to allow people in custody, as this Bill provides, to cast a vote. (cited in Robins, 2006, p. 168)

Cover of NZ Social Work 1977
Cover of NZ Social Work 1977

Just two year later Robert Muldoon’s third National government proposed an Electoral Amendment Bill 1977 that would remove prisoners’ rights to vote.  The NZASW made a submission to the Select Committee offering eight grounds for maintaining prisoners’ rights to vote.

Submission on prisoner's right to vote.
NZASW submission on prisoner’s right to vote.

In the end the Elector Amendment Act 1977 disenfranchised prisoners once again.  Subsequent legislation modified this position and the topic of the right of prisoners to vote continues to be debated.

A woman’s right to choose

In the same year the association was also active in attempting to influence the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Bill 1977.  This Bill was proposed as a result of the work of the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion.  The NZASW contributed to a petition to ensure that any legislation concerning termination of pregnancy should be open to public debate by being referred to a Select Committee.  It also drafted a letter to all Members of Parliament making recommendations about the need for professional counselling services and commenting on other clauses contained within the Bill.

Make a comment

If you were involved in the work of either of these campaigns why not post a comment on your reflections below?

Access the resources

Download a copy of:

Submission to the Select Committee on the Electoral Amendment Bill 1977.

Abstract of report of the Petitions Committee on the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Bill 1977.

Letter to MPs on the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Bill 1977.


Robins, G. (2006). The rights of prisoners to vote: A review of prisoner disenfranchisement in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law, 4(2), 165–195. Retrieved from,-december-2006/robins.pdf