Politics of New Zealand

From Academic Kids

New Zealand coat of arms
Politics of New Zealand
Prime Minister
Deputy Prime Minister
Speaker of the House
Leader of the Opposition
Political parties
Political topics
Supreme Court
State sector
Regional authorities

New Zealand functions as a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. The basic system is closely patterned on that of the United Kingdom, although a number of significant modifications have been made. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, but actual government is conducted by a Prime Minister and Cabinet drawn from an elected Parliament.



New Zealand has no formal, written constitution; the constitutional framework consists of a mixture of various documents (including certain acts of the United Kingdom and New Zealand Parliaments) and constitutional conventions. Most constitutional provisions became consolidated into the Constitution Act 1986. There have, at times, been proposals for a formal constitution, but there have not yet been any serious moves to adopt one.


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The Queen of New Zealand

New Zealand's head of state is the Queen of New Zealand, currently Elizabeth II. The New Zealand monarchy has been distinct from the British monarchy since the New Zealand Royal Titles Act of 1953, and all Elizabeth II's official business in New Zealand is conducted in the name of the Queen of New Zealand, not the Queen of the United Kingdom. In practice, the functions of the monarchy are conducted by a Governor-General, appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. As of 2004, the Governor-General is Silvia Cartwright.

There have occasionally been proposals to abolish the monarchy and establish a republic. Unlike its neighbour Australia, New Zealand has not yet held a referendum on the matter, but a number of prominent politicians (including the current Prime Minister) believe that an eventual move to republicanism is inevitable.

See also: Republicanism in New Zealand


The Cabinet, which is responsible to Parliament, exercises executive authority. (The Cabinet forms the practical expression of a formal body known as the Executive Council.) The Prime Minister, as the leader of the political party or coalition of parties holding the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, leads the Cabinet. All Cabinet Ministers must be Members of Parliament (MPs) and are collectively responsible to it.


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The Right Honorable Helen Clark, MP, Prime Minister of New Zealand and leader of the Labour Party

New Zealand has a unicameral Parliament, the 120-seat House of Representatives. Since 1996, New Zealand has used the mixed member proportional (MMP) system, under which each MP is either elected by voters in a single-member (First Past the Post electoral system) constituency or appointed from party lists. Several seats are currently reserved for members elected on a separate Maori roll. However, Maori may choose to vote in and to run for the non-reserved seats, and several have entered Parliament in this way. Parliaments have a maximum term of three years, although an elections can be called earlier. In New Zealand, everyone (male and female) over the age of 18 years can vote, women having gained the vote in 1893.

Elections last took place on 27 July 2002; the next General Election must be held no later than 24 September 2005. In 2002 the Labour Party and the Progessive Coalition (later renamed "New Zealand Progressive Party") joined in forming the Government coalition; the United Future party undertook to support the Government on essential matters ("confidence and supply"). The National Party remained the official Opposition.


The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, the Court of Appeal of New Zealand, the High Court, the District Courts, and other courts and tribunals. Some Judges may sit on more than one.

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. The maintenance of the Privy Council in London as the final court of appeal and judges' practice of following British decisions, even though, technically, they are not bound by them, both bolstered this uniformity. However, in October 2003, the House of Representatives passed legislation to end this right of appeal from 2004, and to establish the Supreme Court of New Zealand in Wellington, which began hearings in July 2004.

Local government

New Zealand is a unitary state rather than a federation — regions are created by the authority of the central government, rather than the central government being created by the authority of the regions. Local government in New Zealand has only the powers conferred upon it by Parliament. These powers have traditionally been distinctly fewer than in some other countries. For example, police and education are run by central government, while the provision of low-cost housing is optional for local councils. Many of them used to control ports and gas and electricity supply, but nearly all of that was privatised in the late 20th century.

At the highest level of sub-national government in New Zealand are the sixteen regions. Most Regions have a two-tier administrative structure — a Regional Council administers services across the whole Region, while several smaller territorial authorities (either city councils or district councils) work below it. There are also four instances in which regional and territorial authorities are combined into a single unitary authority, and the isolated Chatham Islands have a body with its own special legislation, making it very like a unitary authority.

Election of the members of councils is directly, by citizens. Each council may use a system chosen by the outgoing council (after public consultation), either the First Past the Post electoral system or single transferable vote.


Regional councils each generally have a ward or constituency system, and the elected members elect one of their number to be chairperson. They set their own levels of rates (tax), though the mechanism for collecting it usually involves channeling through the territorial authority collection system. Regional council duties include:

Cities and districts

The 74 territorial authorities — 16 city councils, 57 district councils in more rural areas, and one council for the Chatham Islands — each generally have a ward system, but an additional councillor is the mayor, who is elected at large and chairs the council. They too set their own levels of rates.

The territorial authorities may delegate powers to local community boards. These boards, instituted at the behest of either local citizens or territorial authorities, advocate community views but cannot levy taxes, appoint staff, or own property.

District health boards

After many restructurings in the 20th century, New Zealand entered the new century with some restoration of local input into how public hospitals and related services are run. In 2004 a couple of dozen district health boards were elected by citizens, using the single transferable vote system.

Party politics

Main article: Political parties in New Zealand

New Zealand has a strong party system in place. The first political party was founded in 1891, and its main rival was founded in 1909 — from that point until a change of electoral system in 1996, New Zealand had a two-party system in place. Today, New Zealand has a genuinely multi-party system, with eight parties currently represented in Parliament. Neither of the two largest parties has been able to govern without support from other groups since 1996, meaning that coalition government is common.

The two largest parties are the Labour Party (centre-left progressive) and the National Party (centre-right conservative). Other parties currently represented in Parliament are New Zealand First (populist), ACT (free market), the Greens (left-wing, environmentalist), United Future (family values), the Progressives (leftist), and the Maori Party (ethnic).

Modern political history

The conservative National Party and the left-leaning Labour Party have dominated New Zealand political life since a Labour government came to power in 1935. During 14 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 40-hour working week, a minimum basic wage, and compulsory unionism. The National Party won control of the government in 1949 and adopted many welfare measures instituted by the Labour Party. Except for two brief periods of Labour governments in 1957 - 1960 and 1972 - 1975, National held power until 1984.

After regaining control in 1984, the Labour government instituted a series of radical market-oriented reforms in response to New Zealand's mounting external debt. It also enacted anti-nuclear legislation that effectively brought about New Zealand's suspension from the ANZUS security alliance with the United States of America and Australia.

In October 1990, the National Party again formed a government, for the first of three 3-year terms. In 1996, New Zealand inaugurated the new electoral system, Mixed Member Proportional (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. Since 1996, neither National nor Labour has had an absolute majority in Parliament, and for all but one of those years a minority government has ruled.

After 9 years in office, the National Party lost the November 1999 election. Labour under Helen Clark outpolled National by 39% to 30% and formed a coalition, minority government with the left-wing Alliance. The government often relied on support from the Green Party to pass legislation.

The Labour Party retained power in the 27 July 2002 election, forming a coalition with Jim Anderton's new party, the Progressive Coalition, and reaching an agreement for support with the United Future party. Helen Clark remained Prime Minister.

See also


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