History & government

New Zealand has a fascinating if relatively short history. For millennia it lay totally undiscovered until ancestors of the Māori arrived.

They in turn were undisturbed for around 500 years, when Europeans first began taking an interest.

Beehive and Parliament House, Wellington.

The Beehive and Parliament House, Wellington.

We could have been colonised by the French - French explorers were active in the Pacific in the 1700s at the same time as Captain James Cook. But the British beat them to it and Britain would dominate New Zealand's subsequent history. Modern New Zealand has inherited much from its British settlers - our language, democratic institutions, legal system and more.

While New Zealand used to be known as a ’little Britain’, it has matured and established its own identity – one with a stronger focus on its indigenous people - Māori - and on its neighbours in the Pacific and Asia.

In this section:

  • A brief history

    Take a quick look at the events that have shaped our young nation.

  • The Treaty of Waitangi

    See how this founding document influences our government today.

  • Our constitution

    Understand what defines our institutions, their powers and how they can be used.

  • Central Government

    Learn about our system of government and how elections work.

  • Local Government

    Check out the organisations responsible for things at the local, community level.

  • Legal system

    Get an overview of our internationally regarded, independent legal system.

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Page last updated: 22/06/2020

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