When is a letter not a parcel?
A Nelson man has used the Bill of Rights to win a battle with New Zealand Post that will benefit others posting letters containing items.
Gerald Moonen's victory follows a visit to the Nelson Postshop to send a letter containing a compact disc to friends in Wellington.
While it met the size and weight restrictions for a standard letter, which costs 70 cents to post, Moonen was told that it would have to go as a parcel, costing $3.30.
He said the woman behind the counter demanded to know what was in the letter and told him she would open it.
This outraged Moonen. "I said, ‘You can't interfere with people's mail'."
The discussion ended in a stalemate, but Moonen was not content and decided to take up the issue with the Ombudsman.
He wrote to Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem seeking clarification, arguing that the Bill of Rights provided for freedom of expression, and that this was being compromised by NZ Post.
He quoted the Bill of Rights section which says "everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form".
Moonen, 75, wrote to the Ombudsman: "What I put into this envelope to express a message to the addressee is my private business and not any concern of the staff at the Post Office or anybody else, unless the letter contains contraband or prohibited goods. This is my right as expressed in the Bill of Rights section 14."
The rules meant that if he sent a small item in a letter, such as a dried flower, a photo negative or even a microchip, then it became a parcel. This was bureaucracy gone mad, he said.
The Office of the Ombudsman advised Moonen to raise his concerns with NZ Post's chief executive. He did, and has now received a response from Brian Roche saying that the postage brochure "Sending Made Simple" contained an error, as it implied that international letter restrictions also applied to domestic items.
There had been a limited print run of the brochure, and the error had now been corrected, Roche said.
"While letters sent international may only contain paper, letters sent within New Zealand may also contain other small items, provided that they fit within the specified dimensions and weight for each size option, and do not contain restricted or prohibited items."
Moonen said he was pleased with the result.
"I am absolutely thrilled. It's a victory for the Bill of Rights."
It's not the first time Moonen has successfully used the Bill of Rights. He won a landmark decision in the Court of Appeal in a case against the Film and Literature Board of Review in 1999.