A Brief Overview of the New Zealand Political System
To put it simply, New Zealand is a democratic nation. Policy making is determined by the nation’s Prime Minister and Cabinet, all of whom have been elected by the people of New Zealand. But New Zealand is also a monarchy. Their official head of state is Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen’s power, however, is mostly symbolic and she does not make any political decisions or undertake any governing of the country. This form of government is known as a parliamentary representative democratic monarchy.
As of 2008, New Zealand’s Prime Minister is John Key, leader of the National Party.
New Zealand’s parliament is unicameral (or single chambered.) The New Zealand House of Representatives (who are sometimes also – falsely – referred to as the Members of Parliament) are responsible for all legislation. The 120 Members of the House of Representatives are democratically elected.
The House of Representatives further contains several Selection Committees. Each Committee concerns a particular activity or industry such as Business, Health, Maori Affairs and Social Services. The purpose of the Selection Committee is to scrutinise legislation related to their field. Each committee is made up from members of different political parties, ensuring that legislation is not biased or swayed by one party.
The Parliament of New Zealand consists of the Queen of New Zealand and the New Zealand House of Representatives. The Governor-General of New Zealand is the Queen’s representative and will sometimes act on her behalf.
As a democracy, all New Zealand residents over the age of 18 are required to vote in all elections. Federal elections take place every three years.
New Zealand’s two major political parties are the National Party and the Labour Party. The National Party (led by John Key) are currently in power.
The National Party are a right wing conservative party. According to their website, they seek a “safe, prosperous and successful New Zealand that creates opportunities for all New Zealanders to reach their personal goals and dreams.” Their concerns lie with reducing taxes and social welfare payments, promoting free trade and restoring their traditional defence and security systems. During the 2008 election, the National Party also addressed the issue of child poverty.
The Labour Party describe themselves as centre-left (or left wing), socially liberal and progressive. While in power, they passed acts related to Maori land rights, homosexual relations and immigrants. They also passed the Constitution Act 1986 and New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Both provide a formal framework of rights for New Zealand citizens, although neither have been entrenched (as such, New Zealand has no official constitution or bill of rights).
Smaller parties in the New Zealand political system include:
The Greens, a left wing environmentalist party,
The Maori Party, who are concerned with the rights and interests of New Zealand’s indigenous population,
United Future, a Christian aligned party with policies related to family and social issues, and
Progressive Party, whose most recent focus is on job creation and development.