Table 1: Selected New Zealand Parliaments
||MPs per 100k
|1st 1853 (bicameral)
|10th 1887 (bicameral)
|20th 1919 (bicameral)
|30th 1951 (unicameral)
|40th 1981 (unicameral)
|50th 2011 (unicameral)
By the 20th parliament, gender discrimination in voting and eligibility to parliament had been removed. The universal adult franchise was introduced in 1893 and women became eligible to stand as a member for parliament in 1919. However, it was not until 1933 that the first woman MP, Elizabeth McCombs, was elected. The 49th Parliament holds the record for the most women MPs (41) and the largest share of Parliament to date (34 percent). There are 39 women MPs in the 50th parliament.
By the 30th parliament New Zealand had become both a fully sovereign parliament – with the capacity to make (and unmake) all law – and a unicameral parliament. In 1947 the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947 and the New Zealand Constitution Amendment (Request and Consent) Act 1947 repealed the provision in the New Zealand Constitution Amendment Act 1857 (UK), that entrenched a bicameral parliament in New Zealand. This enabled the New Zealand Parliament to legally proceed with abolishing the Legislative Council (New Zealand’s upper house) in 1950.
The 40th parliament saw the New Zealand population surpassing the 3 million mark. Although the total number of seats had been fixed at 80 from 1908, faster population growth in the North Island had resulted in the number of South Island seats being periodically adjusted downwards. The Electoral Amendment Act 1965 fixed the number of South Island electorates at 25, but by 1981 had allowed the total number of general seats to increase to 92.
The 50th parliament is the sixth parliament elected under the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system, which has impacted parliament in several respects. There are currently eight political parties represented in Parliament, substantially more than FPP facilitated between 1853 and 1993.
While there are fewer electorates than under FPP, the North Island and Māori electorates continue to be adjusted for population growth – the total number of electorates has increased from 65 in 1996 to 70 in 2011. Correspondingly, the number of list seats has reduced from 55 to 50 over the same period. However, the number of South Island electorates (16) is now fixed as is the total number of seats (120), subject to overhang.
The current number of 121 MPs means that New Zealand has 2.7 MPs for every 100,000 people. In terms of MPs per capita New Zealand is ranked the 5th lowest among the 15 OECD nations with unicameral parliaments, and below the average of 2.8 MPs per 100,000 people among lower houses in the 34 member OECD as a whole.
Dr John Wilson, Research Services Analyst
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