Unlike the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and many other countries, New Zealand does not have state or provincial governments. So our system of government is more compact and straightforward.
There are just two tiers of government in New Zealand - Central government and Local government.
- Central government makes decisions affecting New Zealand as a whole.
- Local government looks after the interests and needs of specific communities through regional, city or district councils.
Who does what
- runs housing, welfare, education, health, justice, immigration, the police, energy, the national road and rail systems, defence, foreign policy and public finances
- regulates employment, import and export, and workplace safety
- levies personal income tax, business taxes, and GST (the goods and services tax that is added to almost all goods and services in New Zealand).
Local government bodies:
- provide local services like water, rubbish collection and disposal, sewage treatment, parks, reserves, street lighting, roads, local public transport and libraries
- process building and environmental consents and administer other regulatory tasks
- levy taxes on property, which are called ‘rates’.
For more information on local government, see our Local government page.
How we choose our central government
People in New Zealand decide our central government by democratic vote - usually every three years.
Voters decide on representatives from their electorate (voting district) to go to Parliament.
- Unlike many other countries, New Zealand does not 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.
- Most MPs belong to a political party (some people run as independent candidates). The party with enough MPs to win important votes (like the vote to accept the Government’s Budget each year) forms the Government.
- Under our current voting system of MMP, New Zealand governments are usually coalitions of various parties.
Our voting system is MMP (Mixed Member Proportional).
Proportional representation 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.
Under MMP, those 30 seats would be a mix of MPs chosen from specific geographic electorates and MPs on a party list.
How MMP 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.
- The candidate that gets the most votes in an electorate goes to Parliament. The remainder of the share of seats that 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 total entitlement of 30 seats.
You can find out more about the MMP system on the Electoral Commission’s website.
How government works
Once a government is formed, it is then accountable to Parliament for its actions and policies.
Cabinet and Select Committees
The main decision-making body of the Government is called the Cabinet.
- Cabinet 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
You are qualified to enrol and vote if:
- you are 18 years or older AND
- you are a New Zealand citizen, or a residence or permanent residence visa holder, or are a Cook Island Maori, Australian, Niuean or Tokelauan AND
- you have lived in New Zealand continuously for 12 months or more at some point.
Any citizen, over that age may vote, subject to certain conditions.
Voting is optional, but all eligible voters must enrol to vote.
Every New Zealand citizen who is enrolled to vote can also stand for Parliamentary and local elections.
The Electoral Commission maintains electoral records and updates them regularly.
For full information about eligibility and how to enrol to vote, visit the Elections website.
More information on voting
The last General Election was in 2020. For that election, the Electoral Commission developed resources to help people understand the importance of voting.
These include videos by and for migrants, and election factsheets in 27 languages.