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The Treaty of Waitangi

Signed by the British Crown and the majority of Māori chiefs in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi aimed to hand over sovereignty to the English while protecting the rights of Māori to keep their land, forests, fisheries and treasures. Soon after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, Britain let Aotearoa New Zealand form a representative government, and in 1854, the first Parliament met in Auckland.

There are differences between the English and te reo Māori versions of the text and not everyone agrees on when and how sovereignty passed from Māori to the Crown. What’s important to know is that today the principles of the Treaty are part of New Zealand’s law and constitution. Treaty principles include things like partnership between Māori and the Crown and a duty of the Crown to actively protect Māori.

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Parliament: The governing system of Aotearoa New Zealand

The governing system in Aotearoa New Zealand is a Parliament that is made up of two parts:

  • House of Representatives - made up of members of Parliament, and
  • the Head of State - the Sovereign, a King or a Queen.

Parliament’s job is to:

  • represent the people of Aotearoa New Zealand
  • provide us with a Government
  • make decisions about how tax money is spent
  • make laws for the country
  • keep the Government accountable for its decisions.

The following video also gives a summary of how Parliament and Government work in Aotearoa New Zealand:

House of Representatives

As Aotearoa New Zealand is a representative democracy, meaning it consists of elected officials, the House of Representatives is made up of members of Parliament (called MPs for short) that are voted into their seats using the MMP system. Every three years New Zealanders choose who their MPs will be by taking part in a General Election.

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The Head of State

The Head of State in Aotearoa New Zealand is a Sovereign - a King or a Queen. Here the Sovereign is represented by a New Zealander appointed as the Governor-General.

After a law goes through the various stages of approval, the last step before it is made law is having the Governor-General sign it off, giving the new law what is called ‘the Royal assent’. The Governor-General also appoints the Government after an election and represents Aotearoa New Zealand at important international ceremonies, among other duties.

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The ‘Government’ is decided by which party or group of parties can rely on the votes of the majority of seats within the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives is generally made up of 120 seats.

If one party doesn’t have a majority on its own, it can ask other parties to join it to create a majority together, and form the Government this way. This is called a coalition Government. Under MMP, the Government is usually made up of more than one party. The remaining party or parties who are not in the Government majority form another group called the Opposition.

Ministers vs. MPs

The Prime Minister appoints other Government MPs as Ministers. The Prime Minister and these Ministers together are called the Executive. The Executive is responsible for making decisions for things such as transport, education and health. Members of Parliament that aren't part of the Executive are simply called MPs.

Māori Representation in Parliament

Seven of the 120 seats within the House of Representatives are Māori seats. These seats are reserved for people who are of Māori descent to vote on. If you are New Zealand Māori, or a descendant of a New Zealand Māori, you can choose to enrol and vote on the Māori roll or the General election roll.

The Opposition

The Opposition is made up of the largest political party not in Government and not in coalition with a Government party (meaning it does not contain Ministers like the Government does). The Opposition keeps the Government accountable by asking questions in the House and debating proposed laws.

How are laws made?

When a new law is proposed, it is called a bill. Bills need to go through many formal stages before they are finalised and then become new laws. New laws are called Acts of Parliament.

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What this means for you

Aotearoa New Zealand is a democracy, so the people have a say in who makes up the Government. Take the opportunity to help select who will represent you in making the country what it is by casting your vote.

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Key Websites

  • New Zealand Parliament: The home site of New Zealand Parliament, where you can learn about Parliamentary business, MPs and electorates and how to get involved.