Unlike the UK, USA, Australia, Canada or many other countries, New Zealand doesn’t have state or provincial governments. So our system of government is more compact and straightforward.
There are just two tiers. There is the central government which makes decisions affecting New Zealand as a whole. Then there is local government, which looks after the interests and needs of specific communities through regional, city or district councils.
Who does what
Housing, welfare, education, health, justice, immigration and the police are all run by the central government along with energy, the national road and rail systems, defence, foreign policy and public finances. Central government regulates employment, import and export, and workplace safety.
Local government bodies provide local services such as water, rubbish collection and disposal, sewage treatment, parks, reserves, street lighting, roads, local public transport and libraries. They also process building and environmental consents and administer other regulatory tasks.
Personal income tax, business taxes, GST (the goods and services tax that is added to almost all goods and services in New Zealand) are all levied by the central government.
Local governments levy taxes on property, which are called ‘rates’.
Choosing a central government
New Zealand’s central government is decided by democratic vote every three years when voters decide on representatives from their electorate (voting district) to go to Parliament.
Unlike many other countries, New Zealand doesn’t have an upper house or Senate. We elect around 120 Members of Parliament (MPs) to a single chamber of Parliament called the House of Representatives.
MPs each belong to a political party. The party with enough MPs to win important votes (e.g. the vote to accept the Government’s Budget each year) forms the Government.
Under our current system of voting, New Zealand governments are usually coalitions of various parties.
How we elect MPs
New Zealand has a system of proportional representation which means that a party’s share of seats in Parliament reflects its share of the national vote. So, a party with 25% of the vote would get 30 of the 120 seats available.
But those 30 would be a mix of MPs chosen from specific geographic electorates and a national list, which is why our system is called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).
Here’s how it works.
Voters get two votes - one for a local electorate MP, and one for their preferred party. There are 70 electorate seats, each with roughly equal numbers of voters, and around 50 list seats available.
When it comes to the electorate seats, whichever candidate in a local electorate gets the most votes goes to Parliament. The remainder of the share of seats his or her party is entitled to on a national level is made up of List MPs.
So, if the party that got 25% of the vote nationally won 18 electorate seats, it would add 12 List MPs to make up its tally of 30.
You can find out more about the MMP system at the Electoral Commission’s website.
How government works
Once a government is formed it is then accountable to Parliament for its actions and policies.
The main decision-making body of the Government is called the Cabinet, and it is made up of Ministers who are responsible for running the various aspects of the Government. Only elected MPs can be Ministers.
Ministers must answer to Parliament for their actions and policies and also for the departments and agencies that they are responsible for.
Most of the time, proposed changes to the law go to a select committee, where MPs from a range of parties debate the issues and often suggest further changes.
The New Zealand Parliament website has more information - you can even watch live webcasts of proceedings when it is in session.
Who can vote
In New Zealand the voting age is 18. Any citizen or permanent resident over that age can vote.
You must enrol to vote in New Zealand if you are eligible. You are eligible if you are 18 years old or older, are a NZ citizen or permanent resident, and have lived in New Zealand continuously for more than a year. Enrolling to vote is compulsory, but voting is optional.
Electoral records are maintained by the Electoral Commission and are updated regularly.
Every New Zealand citizen who is enrolled to vote can also stand for Parliamentary and local elections.
For full information about eligibility and how to enrol to vote, visit the Elections website.
This information is also available on the Elections website in Arabic, Burmese, Chinese (simplified or traditional), Cook Islands Maori, Farsi - Persian, French, Gujarati, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Niuean, Punjabi, Russian, Samoan, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Thai, Tokelauan, Tongan, and Vietnamese.