New Zealand Politics

The politics of New Zealand function within a framework of a unitary parliamentary representative democracy. New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy in which a hereditary monarch—since 6 February 1952, Queen Elizabeth II—is the sovereign and head of state.
The New Zealand Parliament holds legislative power and consists of the Queen and the House of Representatives. The Queen is represented by the Governor-General of New Zealand when not present in the country herself. Members are elected to the House of Representatives usually every three years. Many of New Zealand’s legislative practices derive from the unwritten conventions of and precedents set by the United Kingdom’s Westminster parliament. Minority governments are common and typically dependent on confidence and supply agreements with other parties. The country has a multi-party system, though the dominant political parties in New Zealand have historically been the Labour Party and the National Party (or its predecessors).
Executive power 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.
The Economist Intelligence Unit rated New Zealand as a “full democracy” in 2016.The country ranks highly for government transparency, and has the lowest perceived level of corruption in the world.


MMP voting system
MMP is the voting system that is currently in place in New Zealand. MMP stands for ‘Mixed Member Proportional’. Political parties want to gain as many seats in parliament as possible. When people vote, they are choosing who they would want to represent the area they live in. The candidate with the most votes wins and becomes an MP.


Different branches of government

The legislature

Parliament is responsible for passing laws, adopting the state’s budgets, and exercising control of the executive government. It currently has a single chamber, the House of Representatives. Before 1951 there was a second chamber, the Legislative Council. The House of Representatives meets in Parliament House, Wellington.
Parliament House is the home of the House of Representatives 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).
The lawmakers 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.

The Executive branch

Queen Elizabeth II is New Zealand’s sovereign and head of state. 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.
Cabinet is the most senior policy-making body and is 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 monarch (by way of the prerogative powers). Ministers within Cabinet make major decisions collectively, and are therefore collectively responsible for the consequences of these decisions.
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. The most recent general election, held in September 2017, saw Labour finish in second place but able to govern through a coalition with New Zealand First, and a confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party. The Sixth Labour Government, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, was sworn in by the Governor-General on 26 October 2017.
Since 2017, the National Party has formed the Official Opposition to the Labour-led government. The leader of the Opposition heads a Shadow Cabinet, which scrutinises the actions of the Cabinet led by the prime minister. The Opposition within Parliament helps to hold the Government to account.

The Judiciary

The New Zealand judiciary has four basic levels of courts:

  • The Supreme Court;
  • the Court of Appeal;
  • the High Court;
  • and the District Court (including the Youth Court).

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.

Members of Parliament (MPs)

Members of Parliament, or MPs, are the people who are elected to Parliament, usually in a general election.
MPs have many different roles. Some MPs are in government, the political party or parties in power, and some MPs are in opposition.All MPs are representatives of the New Zealand public in the House of Representatives. They also usually represent a political party. Their duties include:

  • Representing the views and concerns of the people of New Zealand
  • Making new laws and updating laws
  • Approving how tax money is spent
  • Checking the Government makes wise and responsible decisions.

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