Our system of government

Governor General reads speech Enlarge image

Governor-General reads the speech from the throne at the State Opening of Parliament.

Source: Office of the Clerk

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Our Government is formed from a democratically elected House of Representatives. The Government advises the Sovereign (our head of State). By convention, the Sovereign, the source of all executive legal authority in New Zealand, acts on the advice of the Government in all but the most exceptional circumstances. This system is known as a constitutional monarchy.

Our system is based on the principle that power is distributed across three branches of government — Parliament, the Executive, and the Judiciary. Parliament makes the law. The Executive (Ministers of the Crown also known as the Government) administers the law. The Judiciary interprets the law through the courts.

Head of State

New Zealand’s head of State is the Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II of New Zealand. The Governor-General is the Queen’s representative in New Zealand.

Constitutional arrangements

New Zealand has no single written constitution or any form of law that is higher than laws passed in Parliament. The rules about how our system of government works are contained in a number of Acts of Parliament, documents issued under the authority of the Queen, relevant English and United Kingdom Acts of Parliament, decisions of the court, and unwritten constitutional conventions.


New Zealand’s Parliament consists of the Sovereign and the House of Representatives. The Sovereign’s role in Parliament includes opening and dissolving Parliament, and giving the Royal assent to bills passed in the House of Representatives.

New Zealand’s Parliament is unicameral. This means it has only one chamber (the House of Representatives) and there is no upper house such as a senate.

The House of Representatives consists of members of Parliament who are elected as the people’s representatives for a term of up to 3 years. The usual number of members of Parliament is 120, but there are electoral circumstances when this could vary.

Responsible government

‘Responsible government’ is the term used to describe a system where the Government is formed by appointing Ministers who must first be elected members of Parliament. It means that in New Zealand the Government can stay in power only while it has the support (‘confidence’) of the majority of House of Representatives. This support can be tested in a confidence vote, such as passing the Budget. Ministers are responsible to Parliament, both collectively for the overall performance of the Government, and individually for the performance of their portfolios.

Proportional representation electoral system

New Zealand’s House of Representatives is elected using the mixed member proportional representation (MMP) voting system. Each elector has two votes — one for a local member of Parliament and one for a preferred political party. Political parties are represented in Parliament in proportion to the share of votes each party won in the party vote in the general election.