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The three branches of government

Aotearoa has three branches of government:

  • The Legislature (Parliament)
  • The Executive (the Government)
  • The Judiciary (the Courts)

While the branches work with each other, they are independent. This makes sure no one part of government has too much power.

The video below helps explain the difference between Parliament and Government.

Video transcript available for Open Close
Parliament versus Government: What's the Difference?

Narrator: To help understand the differences between what Parliament and Government do, let’s start with a quick overview of how Aotearoa is governed. Under New Zealand’s constitutional system, state power is split into three separate arms: the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.

These three arms of power are responsible for making, implementing and interpreting the laws that govern our country

Parliament is the supreme legislative power and is responsible for making our laws.
Parliament is made up of the House of Representatives and the Sovereign usually represented by the Governor-General

The Government’s job is to decide policy and administer the laws through the day to day running of the country. And finally, the Judiciary interprets and applies the law in the courts.

That’s a very simple overview of the whole system, now let’s have a closer look at how Parliament and Government work. After an election, every candidate who won an electorate seat or came in on their party list becomes a member of Parliament.

The party, or group of parties, that form the majority in parliament forms the Government, which is made up of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and around 30 Ministers.

The Prime Minister’s job is to lead the Government while each of the Ministers and associated ministries manage the work of a specific sector like fisheries or health.
Together they are responsible for running the country and making decisions around things like how tax will be collected, and how it should be used.

So, while Parliament is made up of every candidate who became an MP after the results of the election, only a small selection of them make up the Government.

The most important function of Parliament is to make the laws by which the country is governed, which can have important impacts on our everyday lives.

To do this, Parliament guides bills introduced by Ministers and MPs through several stages to scrutinise them before they are agreed to by the House and the Governor General to become law.

A lot of Parliament’s work happens at select committees, where MPs from each party examine issues or proposed new laws in detail.
They also hear opinions from the public before reporting back to the House.

In Parliament, the biggest party outside of the Government is known as the Opposition.

Their job is to question the Government’s decisions and hold it to account for its policies, actions, and spending. Overall, Parliament uses its systems of checks and balances to make sure the Government is acting in the best interests of the people of Aotearoa.

Remember that Parliament is here to represent you and there are lots of ways you can have your say.

You can also visit us by coming on a tour or watching a select committee or the house in action.

To get the details, or if you want to find out more about Parliament and Government in Aotearoa,

The Legislature (Parliament)

The Legislature, also known as Parliament, is made up of House of Representatives and the Head of State. Its main role is to make our laws.

The Legislature’s job is to:

  • Represent the people of Aotearoa.
  • Provide us with a government.
  • Keep the Government accountable for its decisions.
  • Approve, monitor and review government spending.
  • Make new laws and amendments to current laws.

Māori seats in parliament

There are seven seats Māori electorate seats in parliament. They are voted in by Māori who choose to vote in the Māori roll during the General Election. Celebrated rangatira like Sir Apirana Ngata, Sir Māui Pōmare, Iriaka Rātana, and Matiu Rata held Māori seats in parliament.

Māori can choose to be on either the General or the Māori roll, and you can always switch if you change your mind. Your roll choice can change the number of Māori seats in parliament. The more people there are on the Māori roll, the more Māori seats there will be.

You can learn about the origins of the Māori seats on the Parliament website.

The Executive (The Government)

The Executive is the elected Government of the day and all government departments. This includes the Prime Minister and Ministers who are responsible for different areas, such as Health and Education. Most Ministers are part of Cabinet.

The political party or parties that have the majority of seats in parliament forms the Executive. If political parties combine to gain the majority, it’s referred to as a ‘coalition Government’.

The Government’s job is to:

  • Develop policies or plans.
  • Set the Government budget.
  • Propose laws by drafting bills (to be approved by process below)
  • Formally announce new laws.
  • Administer the law.
  • Oversee and direct Government departments.

The Judiciary (The Courts)

This branch of government also includes all the judges and judicial officers. The head of the Judiciary is the Chief Justice of New Zealand/Te Tumu Whakawā o Aotearoa.

Judges and our courts interpret and apply the law when hearing and deciding cases. The Judiciary is independent from the other branches and this independence helps protect our human rights. The Governor-General appoints all judges and judicial officers at the recommendation of the Attorney-General.

There are four main levels in the court system. Each court has a different role.

Court structure diagram showing Tribunals and Authorities at bottom, District (Civil, Criminal, Youth and Family), High, and Supreme courts. Māori Land Court and Appellate Court, Environment Court, Employment Relations Authority, Employment Court to side

Making laws

There is a formal process in parliament for making laws and amending laws. They involve different groups of people, including the public.

Diagram showing progress of new laws through parliament from Introduction to First Reading to Select Committee to Second Reading  to TCommitee of the Whole House to Third Reading to Royal Assent and New Law.