Organisational chart of the New Zealand political system
in New Zealand is based on the principle that "The Queen reigns, but the government rules".
Although an integral part of the process of government, the Queen and her governor-general remain politically neutral and are not involved in the everyday aspects of governing. Ministers
are selected from among the democratically elected members of the House of Representatives. Most ministers are members of the Cabinet
, which is the main decision-making body of the New Zealand Government
. The prime minister
is the most senior minister, chair of the Cabinet, and thus head of government
. Other ministers are appointed by the governor-general upon the advice of the prime minister, and are all accountable to Parliament.
Main office holders
Laws are first proposed to the House of Representatives as bills
. They have to go through a process of approval by the House and governor-general before becoming Acts of Parliament
(i.e. statutory law
(legislators) are known as members of Parliament
, or MPs.
Parliament is elected for a maximum term of three years, although an election may be called earlier in exceptional circumstances. Suffrage
is nearly universal for permanent residents eighteen years of age and older,
women having gained the vote in 1893
As in many other parliamentary systems of government, the executive (called "the Government") is drawn from and is answerable to Parliament—for example, a successful motion of no confidence
will force a government either to resign or to seek a parliamentary dissolution
and an early general election
Criticism of the FPP system began in the 1950s and intensified after Labour lost elections in 1978
despite having more overall votes than National.
An indicative (non-binding) referendum to change the voting system
was held in 1992, which led to a binding referendum during the 1993 election
As a result, New Zealand has used the mixed-member proportional
(MMP) system since 1996.
Under MMP, each member of Parliament is either directly elected by voters in a single-member district via FPP or appointed from their party's list
Parliament currently has 120 seats,
though some past elections have resulted in overhang
. By rarely producing an overall majority for one party, MMP ensures that parties need to come to an agreement with other parties to pass laws.
for MPs elected on a separate Māori
roll. However, Māori may choose to vote in and to run for the non-reserved electorates and for the party list (since 1996), and as a result many have now entered Parliament outside of the reserved seats.
Elections and party politics
The first political party in New Zealand
was founded in 1891, and its main rival was founded in 1909—New Zealand had a de facto two-party system
from that point until the adoption of MMP in 1996. Since then New Zealand has been a multi-party system, with at least five parties elected in every election since. No party was able to govern without support from other groups from 1996 until 2020, making coalition government
Historically the two largest, and oldest, parties are the New Zealand Labour Party (centre-left
, formed in 1916) and the New Zealand National Party (centre-right
, formed in 1936).
Other parties represented in Parliament, following the October 2020 general election, are ACT New Zealand
), the Green Party
), and the Māori Party
Party vote percentage
" is the seat of the New Zealand Government
Main office holders
Since the Queen is not usually resident in New Zealand, the functions of the monarchy are conducted by her representative, the governor-general.
As of 2017, the Governor-General is Dame Patsy Reddy
A governor-general formally has the power to appoint and dismiss ministers
and to dissolve
Parliament; and the power to reject or sign bills into law by Royal Assent
after passage by the House of Representatives.
He or she chairs the Executive Council
, which is a formal committee consisting of all ministers, who advise
the governor-general on the exercising of the prerogative powers. Members of the Executive Council are required to be members of Parliament (MPs), and most are also in the Cabinet.
is the senior decision-making body in Government, led by the prime minister
, who is also, by convention, the parliamentary leader
of the largest governing party.
The prime minister, being the de facto
leader of New Zealand, exercises executive functions that are formally vested in the sovereign (by way of the prerogative powers).
Ministers within Cabinet make major decisions collectively, and are therefore collectively responsible
for the consequences of these decisions.
Governments are granted a "mandate
" from electors, thus the Executive Council comprises elected MPs. Following a general election, a government
is formed by the party or coalition
that can command the confidence (support) of a majority of MPs in the House of Representatives.
Since 2020, the Labour Party holds a majority of seats
in the House—this is exceptional as majorities are atypical in New Zealand's political system
—and forms the Sixth Labour Government
, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Ardern is New Zealand's third female head of government,
and has been in office since 2017.
The Supreme Court building, Wellington
The New Zealand judiciary has four basic levels of courts:
The Supreme Court was established in 2004, under the Supreme Court Act 2003
and replaced the Privy Council
in London as New Zealand's court of last resort
The High Court deals with serious criminal offences and civil matters, and hears appeals from subordinate courts. The Court of Appeal hears appeals from the High Court on points of law.
The chief justice
, the head of the judiciary, presides over the Supreme Court, and is appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister.
As of 2019 the incumbent Chief Justice is Dame Helen Winkelmann
All other superior court judges are appointed on the advice of the chief justice, the attorney-general
, and the solicitor-general
Judges and judicial officers are appointed non-politically and under strict rules regarding tenure to help maintain judicial independence
from the executive government.
Judges are appointed according to their qualifications, personal qualities, and relevant experience.
A judge may not be removed from office except by the attorney-general upon an address of the House of Representatives for proved misbehaviour.
New Zealand law
has three principal sources: English common law
, certain statutes of the United Kingdom Parliament enacted before 1947 (notably the Bill of Rights 1689
), and statutes of the New Zealand Parliament.
In interpreting common law, the courts have endeavoured to preserve uniformity with common law as interpreted in the United Kingdom and related jurisdictions.
New Zealand is a unitary state
rather than a federation
—local government has only the powers conferred upon it by the national Parliament.
These powers have traditionally been distinctly fewer than in some other countries; for example, police and education are run by central government
Local government is established by statute, with the first Municipal Corporations Act having been passed by the Legislative Council in 1842. Local governance is currently defined by the Local Government Act 2002
Historically New Zealand aligned itself strongly with the United Kingdom
and had few bilateral relations with other countries. In the later 20th century, relationships in the Asia-Pacific
region became more important. New Zealand has also traditionally worked closely with Australia
, whose foreign policy followed a similar historical trend.
In turn, many Pacific Islands (such as Samoa
) have looked to New Zealand's lead. A large proportion of New Zealand's foreign aid
goes to these countries and many Pacific people migrate to New Zealand for employment.
Despite the 1986 rupture in the ANZUS
military alliance (as a result of New Zealand's nuclear-free policy
), New Zealand has maintained good working relations with the United States
and Australia on a broad array of international issues.
Political change in New Zealand has been very gradual and pragmatic, rather than revolutionary.
The nation's approach to governance has emphasised social welfare
which is based on immigration
, social integration,
and suppression of far-right politics
that has wide public and political support.
New Zealand is regarded as one of the most honest countries in the world, and it was ranked first in the world in 2017 for lowest perceived level of corruption
by the organisation Transparency International
and rule of law
are founding political principles in New Zealand. Early Pākehā settlers
believed that traditional British legal principles (including individual title
to land) would be upheld in New Zealand.
The nation's history, such as the legacy of the British colonial rule evidenced in the Westminster system
, continues to have an impact on political culture. As at 2016, New Zealand is identified as a "full democracy
" in the Economist Intelligence Unit
's Democracy Index
The country rates highly for civic participation in the political process, with 80% voter turnout
during recent elections, compared with the OECD
average of 68%.
are manifestations of this. From the 1990s New Zealand's anti-nuclear position has become a key element of government policy (irrespective of party) and of the country's "distinctive political identity".
Prior to New Zealand becoming a British colony in 1840, politics in New Zealand was dominated by Māori chiefs as leaders of hapu
, utilising Māori customs
as a political system.
After the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi
, a colonial Governor and his small staff acted on behalf of the British government based on the British political system.
Whereas Māori systems had dominated prior to 1840 governors attempting to introduce British systems met with mixed success in Māori communities. More isolated Māori were little influenced by the Government. Most influences were felt in and around Russell
, the first capital
, and Auckland
, the second capital.
The first voting rights
in New Zealand were legislated in 1852 as the New Zealand Constitution Act for the 1853 elections and reflected British practice.
Initially only property owners
could vote, but by the late 1850s 75% of British males over 21 were eligible to vote compared to 20% in England and 12% in Scotland.
Around 100 Māori chiefs voted in the 1853 election.
During the 1850s provincial
-based government was the norm. It was abolished in 1876.
Politics was initially dominated by conservative
and wealthy "wool lords" who owned multiple sheep farms, mainly in Canterbury
. During the gold rush era starting 1858 suffrage was extended to all British gold miners who owned a 1-pound mining license. The conservatives had been influenced by the militant action of gold miners in Victoria
at Eureka. Many gold miners had moved to the New Zealand fields bringing their radical ideas. The extended franchise was modelled on the Victorian system. In 1863 the mining franchise was extended to goldfield business owners. By 1873 of the 41,500 registered voters 47% were gold field miners or owners.
After the brief Land War period ending in 1864, Parliament moved to extend the franchise
to more Māori. Donald McLean
introduced a bill for four temporary Māori electorates
and extended the franchise to all Māori men over 21 in 1867. As such, Māori were universally franchised 12 years prior to European men.
In 1879 an economic depression
hit, resulting in poverty and many people, especially miners, returning to Australia. Between 1879 and 1881 Government was concerned at the activities of Māori activists based on confiscated land at Parihaka
. Activists destroyed settlers' farm fences and ploughed up roads and land
which incensed local farmers. Arrests followed but the activities persisted. Fears grew among settlers that the resistance campaign was a prelude to armed conflict.
The government itself was puzzled as to why the land had been confiscated and offered a huge 25,000-acre reserve to the activists, provided they stopped the destruction.
Commissioners set up to investigate the issue said that the activities "could fairly be called hostile".
A power struggle ensued resulting in the arrest of all the prominent leaders by a large government force in 1881. Historian Hazel Riseborough describes the event as a conflict over who had authority or mana
—the Government or the Parihaka protestors.
's statue stands outside Parliament buildings in Wellington.
In 1882 the export of meat in the first refrigerated ship started a period of sustained economic export-led growth. This period is notable for the influence of new social ideas and movements such as the Fabians
and the creation in 1890 of the first political party, the Liberals
. Their leader, former gold miner Richard Seddon
from Lancashire, was Premier from 1893 to 1906. The Liberals introduced new taxes to break the influence of the wealthy conservative sheep farm owners. They also purchased more land from Māori.
(By 1910, Māori in parts of the North Island retained very little land, and the amount of Māori land would decrease precipitously as a result of government purchases.
, which represented organised workers. The West Coast
town of Blackball
is often regarded as the birthplace of the labour movement in New Zealand,
as it was the location of the founding of one of the main political organisations which became part of the New Zealand Labour Party.
Māori politics and legislation
Māori political affairs have been developing through legislation
such as the Resource Management Act 1991
and the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993
and many more.
Since colonisation in the 1800s, Māori have had their customary laws oppressed, with the imposition of a Westminster democracy and political style. As reparations from the colonial war and general discrepancies during colonisation, the New Zealand Government has formally apologised to those iwi
affected, through settlements and legislation. In the 1960s Māori Politics Relations began to exhibit more positivity. The legislature enacted a law to help Māori retrieve back their land, not hinder them, through the Māori Affairs Amendment Act 1967.
Since then, this progressive change in attitude has materialised as legislation to protect the natural environment or Taonga, and the courts by establishing treaty principles that always have to be considered when deciding laws in the courts.
Moreover, the Māori Lands Act 2016 was printed both in te reo Māori
and English—the act itself affirms the equal legal status of te reo Māori.
Women in politics
Women's suffrage was granted after about two decades of campaigning by women such as Kate Sheppard
and Mary Ann Müller
and organisations such as the New Zealand branch of the Women's Christian Temperance Union
. On 19 September 1893 the governor, Lord Glasgow
, signed a new Electoral Act into law.
As a result, New Zealand became the first self-governing nation in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
Women first voted in the 1893 election
, with a high 85% turnout (compared to 70% of men).
Women were not eligible to be elected to the House of Representatives until 1919 though, when three women, including Ellen Melville
stood. The first woman to win an election (to the seat held by her late husband) was Elizabeth McCombs
in 1933. Mabel Howard
became the first female cabinet minister in 1947, being appointed to the First Labour Government.
Modern political history
The right-leaning National Party
and the left-leaning Labour Party
have dominated New Zealand political life since a Labour government came to power in 1935. During fourteen years in office (1935–1949), the Labour Party implemented a broad array of social and economic legislation, including comprehensive social security
, a large scale public works
programme, a forty-hour working week, and compulsory unionism
The National Party won control of the government in 1949, accepting most of Labour's welfare measures. Except for two brief periods of Labour governments in 1957–1960 and 1972–1975, National held power until 1984.
The greatest challenge to the first and later Labour governments' policies on the welfare state and a regulated economy that combined state and private enterprise came from the Labour Party itself. After regaining control in 1984, the fourth Labour government instituted a series of radical market
-oriented reforms. It privatised state assets and reduced the role of the state in the economy.
It also instituted a number of other more left-wing reforms, such as allowing the Waitangi Tribunal
to hear claims of breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi to be made back to 1840.
In 1987, the government introduced the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act
, banning visits by nuclear powered ships; the implementation of a nuclear-free zone
brought about New Zealand's suspension from the ANZUS security alliance
with the United States
In October 1990, the National Party again formed a government, for the first of three three-year terms. The new National government largely advanced the free-market reforms of the preceding government. In 1996, New Zealand inaugurated the new electoral system
(MMP) to elect its Parliament
The system was expected (among numerous other goals) to increase representation of smaller parties in Parliament and appears to have done so in the MMP elections to date. Between 1996 and 2020, neither National nor Labour had an absolute majority in Parliament, and for all but two of those years a minority government ruled (however, every government has been led by one or other of the two main parties).
MMP parliaments have been markedly more diverse, with greater representation of women, ethnic minorities
and other minority groups.
In 1996, Tim Barnett
was the first of several New Zealand MPs to be elected as an openly gay person.
In 1999, Georgina Beyer
became the world's first openly transgender MP.
After nine years in office, the National Party lost the November 1999 election
. Labour under Helen Clark
out-polled National, and formed a coalition government with the left-wing Alliance
. The coalition partners pioneered "agree to disagree" procedures to manage policy differences.
The minority government often relied on support from the Green Party
to pass legislation. Labour retained power in the 27 July 2002 election
, forming a coalition with Jim Anderton
's new party, the Progressive Party
, and reaching an agreement for support with the United Future
party. Helen Clark remained Prime Minister. In early 2004, Labour came under attack for its policies on the ownership of the foreshore and seabed
eventually culminating in the establishment of a new break-away party, the Māori Party
Following the 2005 general election
on 17 September 2005, negotiations between parties culminated in Helen Clark announcing a third consecutive term of Labour-led government. The Labour Party again formed a coalition with Jim Anderton's Progressive Party
, with confidence and supply from Winston Peters
' New Zealand First
and Peter Dunne
's United Future.
After the general election in November 2008
, the National Party moved quickly to form a minority government with ACT
, the Māori Party and United Future. This arrangement allowed National to decrease its reliance on the right-leaning ACT party, whose policies are sometimes controversial with the greater New Zealand public. In 2008, John Key
became Prime Minister
, with Bill English
his deputy. This arrangement conformed to a tradition of having a north–south split in the major parties' leadership, as Key's residence is in Auckland and English's electorate is in the South Island. On 12 December 2016, English was elected
as leader, and thus Prime Minister, by the National Party caucus after Key's unexpected resignation a week earlier. Paula Bennett
(member for Upper Harbour
) was elected Deputy Prime Minister
, thus continuing the tradition.
However this north–south arrangement ceased with the next government.
Following the 2017 general election
National retained its plurality
in the House of Representatives, while Labour greatly increased its proportion of the vote and number of seats. Following negotiations between the major and minor parties, Labour formed a minority government after securing a coalition arrangement with New Zealand First. On 26 October 2017, Jacinda Ardern, Labour leader, was sworn in as Prime Minister. The Labour government also agreed a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Green Party.
In the 2020 general election
Labour gained an outright majority of seats in Parliament, sufficient to govern alone—a first under the MMP system.
Labour's coalition partner New Zealand First lost its representation in Parliament.
Ardern's Labour government was sworn in for a second term on 6 November 2020.
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- ^ "New Zealand election: Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party scores landslide win". BBC News. 17 October 2020. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
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Palmer, Geoffrey; Palmer, Matthew (2004). Bridled Power: New Zealand's Constitution and Government
(4th ed.). South Melbourne, Vic. [u.a.]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-195-58463-9
Last edited on 29 April 2021, at 06:36
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