New Zealand Parliament

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The New Zealand Parliament is the legislative body of the New Zealand government.

Technically, the term "Parliament" encompasses both the monarch and the normally 120-member House of Representatives, but to most people, "Parliament" refers to the House of Representatives alone. Under the Constitution Act 1986, this usage became formal.

Originally, as specified in the British New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, the New Zealand had a bicameral Parliament, with the House of Representatives as the lower house and the Legislative Council as the upper house. Since the abolition of the Legislative Council in [[1951 the Parliament has been unicameral.

New Zealand essentially follows the Westminster System of government.


Members of Parliament

Prime Minister
Deputy Prime Minister
Speaker of the House
Leader of the Opposition
Political parties
Political topics
Supreme Court
State sector
Regional authorities

The House of Representatives takes as its model the British House of Commons. It normally consists of 120 reprentatives, known as "Members of Parliament" or MPs. Until 1951 they had the title of 'Members of the House of Representatives' or MHRs. Seats in the debating chamber form a horseshoe pattern, with members of the governing party or coalition sitting on one side and members of the opposition sitting opposite. The Speaker of the House of Representatives acts as the presiding officer.

The executive branch of the New Zealand government (the Cabinet) draws its membership exclusively from Parliament, based on which party or parties can claim a majority. The Prime Minister (PM) leads the government: the Governor-General appoints the PM from a party or from a coalition which appears to have enough support in the House to govern. This support is immediately tested through a Motion of Confidence. The current government is a coalition between Labour and the Progressive Party; the Prime Minister is Helen Clark. The Leader of the Opposition is the leader of the largest opposition party. Currently the Leader of the Opposition is Don Brash of the National Party.

For information on current members of Parliament, see 47th New Zealand Parliament.

Parliamentary elections

Election to the New Zealand Parliament is by the MMP electoral system, which provides for proportional representation. The MMP system means that there are usually several parties present in Parliament — at present, there are eight. The MMP system replaced the old "first-past-the-post" system after a referendum in 1993. The first MMP vote was at the 1996 election.

Under the MMP system, the size of Parliament is normally 120 MPs. Slightly more than half of these (referred to as 'electorate MPs') are chosen from geographical electorates on a first-past-the-post basis; the remainder are chosen from closed party lists and are known as 'list MPs'. A candidate may contest an electorate, appear on the list, or both; candidates who have won electorate seats are eliminated from party lists before the list MPs are named.

The number of electorate MPs is calculated in three steps. The less populated of New Zealand's two principal islands, the South Island, has a fixed quota of 16 seats. The number of seats for the North Island and the number of special reserved seats for Maori are then calculated in proportion to these. (The Maori seats have their own special electoral roll; people of Maori descent may opt to enroll either on this roll or on the general roll, and the number of Maori seats is determined with reference to the number of adult Maori who opt for the Maori roll.)

The number of electorates is recalculated, and the boundaries of each redrawn so as to make them approximately equal in population within a tolerance of plus or minus 5%, after each quinquennial census. After the 2001 census, there were 7 Maori electorates and 62 general electorates, or 69 electorates in total. There were therefore normally 51 list MPs. By a quirk of timing, the 2005 election will be the first election since 1990 at which the electorates have not been redrawn since the last election. The next census will be in 2006 and will apply to the 2008 election.

A party is not entitled to any list MPs unless it either wins 5% of the "party vote" (the more important of the two votes in MMP, which determines the overall proportionality of Parliament) or wins at least one electorate seat. The electorate-seat escape clause has twice saved parties from Parliamentary oblivion: New Zealand First in 1999 gained 4.26% of the party vote and five MPs thanks to its leader's razor-thin 63-vote margin in his home electorate of Tauranga, and Jim Anderton's Progressive Coalition (since renamed the less ponderous "Progressive Party") gained two MPs from 1.7% of the vote after its leader comfortably held his electorate of Wigram. In addition, in both 1996 and 1999 the United Party won an electorate, but not enough party votes to entitle it to any additional list MPs.

If a party wins more electorate seats than it would be entitled to proportionally, the size of Parliament is increased by the number of these so-called "overhang MPs" until the next election. This has not yet occurred.

Passage of legislation

The New Zealand Parliament's model for passing Acts of Parliament is similar (but not identical) to that of other Westminster System governments.

Laws are initially proposed to Parliament as bills. They become Acts after being approved three times by Parliamentary votes and then receiving Royal Assent from the Governor-General. The majority of bills are promulgated by the government of the day (that is, the party or parties that have a majority in Parliament). It is rare for government bills to be defeated. It is also possible for individual MPs to promote their own bills, called member's bills — these are usually put forward by opposition parties, or by MPs who wish to deal with a matter that parties do not take positions on.

First Reading

The first stage of the process is the First Reading. The MP introducing the bill (often a minister) will give a detailed speech on the bill as a whole. Debate on the bill generally lasts two hours, with MPs making ten-minute speeches on the bill's general principles. Speaking slots are allocated based on the size of each party, with different parties using different methods to distribute their slots among their MPs.

The MP introducing the bill will generally make a recommendation that the bill be considered by an appropriate Select Committee (see below). Sometimes, it will be recommended that a special Committee be formed, usually when the bill is particularly important or controversial. Parliament then votes as to whether the bill should be sent to the Committee for deliberation. It is not uncommon for a bill to be voted to the Select Committee stage even by parties which do not support it — since Select Committees can amend bills, parties will often not make a final decision on whether to back a bill until the Second Reading.

Select Committee stage

The Select Committee will scrutinise the bill, going over it in more detail than can be achieved by the whole membership of Parliament. The public can also make submissions to Select Committees, offering support, criticism, or merely comments. The Select Committee stage is seen as increasingly important today — in the past, the governing party generally dominated Select Committees, making the process something of a rubber stamp, but in the multi-party environment there is significant scope for real debate. Bills are frequently altered by Select Committees, with prompts for change coming from the MPs on the Committee, officials who advise the Committee, and members of the public. When a majority of the Committee is satisfied with the bill, the Committee will report back to Parliament on it. Unless Parliament grants an extension, the time limit for Select Committee deliberations is six months.

Second Reading

The Second Reading, like the first, generally consists of a two-hour debate in which MPs make ten-minute speeches. Again, speaking slots are allocated to parties based on their size. In theory, speeches should relate directly to the findings of the Select Committee, although in practice, they tend to be discussions of the bill in general. Parties will usually have made their final decision on a bill after the Select Committee stage, and will make their views clear during the Second Reading debates.

The Minister of Finance has the power (given by Parliament's Standing Orders) to veto any bill which would have a major impact on the government's budget and expenditure plans. Although this veto can be invoked at any stage of the process, it is usually employed at the Second Reading.

If a bill received majority support, it goes on to to be considered by a Committee of the whole House.

Committee of the whole House

A Committee of the whole House consists of all members of Parliament, and discusses the bill clause by clause. MPs may make five-minute speeches on a particular clause of the bill, but may not make general speeches on the bill's overall goals or principles. The extent to which a bill changes during this process varies. If the Select Committee that considered the bill was dominated by the opposition, and made significant alterations, the government may make major "corrective" amendments. The opposition may also put forward wrecking amendments, although these are generally just symbolic.

Third Reading

The final Reading takes the same format as the First and Second Readings — a two-hour debate with MPs making ten-minute speeches. The speeches once again refer to the bill in general terms, and represent the final chance for debate. A final vote is taken. If a bill passes its third reading, it is passed on to the Governor-General, who will (assuming constitutional conventions are followed) give it Royal Assent as a matter of course. It then becomes law.

Select Committees

Legislation is scrutinised by Select Committees. The Committees call for submissions from the public, thereby meaning that there is a degree of public consultation before a parliamentary bill proceeds into law. The strengthening of the Committee system was in response to concerns that legislation was being forced through, without receiving due examination and revision. Each Select Committee has a Chairperson and a Deputy Chairperson. MPs may be members of more than one Select Committee. There are 18 Select Committees in the House of Representatives, as follows:

  • Business
  • Commerce
  • Education and Science
  • Finance and Expenditure
  • Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
  • Health
  • Justice and Electoral Reform
  • Law and Order
  • Local Government and Environment
  • Government Administration
  • Maori Affairs
  • Officers of Parliament
  • Primary Production
  • Privileges
  • Regulations
  • Social Services
  • Standing Orders
  • Transport and Industrial Relations

Occasionally a special Select Committee will be created on a temporary basis. An example was the Select Committee established to study the foreshore and seabed bill.

Upper house

The New Zealand Parliament does not have an upper house — unlike many other legislatures, it is unicameral rather than bicameral. It did, however, have an upper house before 1951 (the Legislative Council), and there have been occasional attempts to create a new one.

Legislative Council

Main article: New Zealand Legislative Council.

The Legislative Council was intended to scrutinize and amend bills passed by the House of Representatives, although it could not initiate legislation or amend money bills. Despite occasional proposals for an elected Council, Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs) were appointed by the Governor, generally on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. At first, MLCs were appointed for life, but a term of seven years was introduced in 1891. It was eventually decided that the Council was having no significant impact on New Zealand's legislative process, and it ceased to exist at the beginning of 1951. At the time of its abolition it had 54 members, including its own Speaker.

Senate proposal

The National government of Jim Bolger proposed the establishment of an elected Senate when it came to power in 1990, thereby reinstating a bicameral system, and a Senate Bill was drafted. Senators would be elected by STV, with a number of seats being reserved for Maori, and would have powers similar to those of the old Legislative Council. The House of Representatives would continue to be elected by FPP. The intention was to include a question on a Senate in the second referendum on electoral reform. Voters would be asked, if they did not want a new voting system, whether or not they wanted a Senate. However, following objections from the Labour opposition, which derided it as a red herring, and other supporters of MMP (, the Senate question was removed by the Select Committee on Electoral Reform, and the issue has not been pursued since.

Terms of Parliament

Parliament is currently in its 47th term.

Term Elected in Government
1st Parliament 1853 election No Parties
2nd Parliament 1855 election No Parties
3rd Parliament 1860 election No Parties
4th Parliament 1866 election No Parties
5th Parliament 1871 election No Parties
6th Parliament 1875 election No Parties
7th Parliament 1879 election No Parties
8th Parliament 1881 election No Parties
9th Parliament 1884 election No Parties
10th Parliament 1887 election No Parties
11th Parliament 1890 election Liberal
12th Parliament 1893 election
13th Parliament 1896 election
14th Parliament 1899 election
15th Parliament 1902 election
16th Parliament 1905 election
17th Parliament 1908 election
18th Parliament 1911 election Reform
19th Parliament 1914 election
20th Parliament 1919 election
21st Parliament 1922 election
22nd Parliament 1925 election
23rd Parliament 1928 election United
24th Parliament 1931 election United/Reform Coalition
25th Parliament 1935 election First Labour
26th Parliament 1938 election
27th Parliament 1943 election
28th Parliament 1946 election
29th Parliament 1949 election First National
30th Parliament 1951 election
31st Parliament 1954 election
32nd Parliament 1957 election Second Labour
33rd Parliament 1960 election Second National
34th Parliament 1963 election
35th Parliament 1966 election
36th Parliament 1969 election
37th Parliament 1972 election Third Labour
38th Parliament 1975 election Third National
39th Parliament 1978 election
40th Parliament 1981 election
41st Parliament 1984 election Fourth Labour
42nd Parliament 1987 election
43rd Parliament 1990 election Fourth National
44th Parliament 1993 election
45th Parliament 1996 election Fourth National (in coalition)
46th Parliament 1999 election Fifth Labour (in coalition)
47th Parliament 2002 election

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