New Zealand’s Constitution

The Treaty of Waitangi
 
The Treaty of Waitangi. Te Tiriti O Waitangi. Waitangi Sheet. Photo courtesy of Archives New Zealand/Te Whare Tohu Tuhituhinga o Aotearoa. Head Office, Wellington. Archives Reference IA 9/9.

New Zealand is an independent sovereign nation.  Because it is a monarchy, New Zealand is called a "Realm."  The Realm of New Zealand comprises New Zealand, Tokelau, the Ross Dependency and the self-governing states of the Cook Islands and Niue.

As Head of State of New Zealand, Queen Elizabeth's formal New Zealand title is: "Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith." 

The Governor-General is the representative of the Head of State, Elizabeth II, Queen of New Zealand.  The office and powers of the Governor-General are set out in the Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand.   The Letters Patent were completely revised in 1983 and amended in 1987 and 2006.

The Queen appoints the Governor-General, whose formal title is Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in and over New Zealand, on the advice of New Zealand's Prime Minister, usually for a term of five years.

New Zealand is often incorrectly described as not having a "written constitution".   New Zealand has a constitution, but it is not all in one document, and it includes crucial pieces of legislation, several legal documents, common law derived from court decisions as well as established constitutional practices known as conventions.  Increasingly, New Zealand's constitution reflects the Treaty of Waitangi as a founding document of government in New Zealand.

The Constitution Act 1986 is a key formal statement of New Zealand's system of government, in particular the executive, legislature and the judiciary.  The Act recognises the Queen as the Head of State of New Zealand and the Governor-General as her representative.  

Other laws that outline the powers and functions of the three branches of government in more detail include the State Sector Act 1988, the Electoral Act 1993, the Judicature Act 1908 and the Supreme Court Act 2003.   Other important legislation includes the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, Ombudsmen Act 1975, the Official Information Act 1982, the Public Finance Act 1989, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Human Rights Act 1993.  Some British laws, such as parts of Magna Carta 1297 and The Bill of Rights 1688, and the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Royal Marriages Act 1772, have been incorporated into New Zealand law by the Imperial Laws Application Act 1988.

Tours of Government House Wellington for the public, schools and community groups are being offered, starting in the New Visitor Centre.

Find out more.

Features

  • The Governor-General and Government Formation After the Election
  • Government House Recipes - Orange and Olive Oil Syrup Cake
  • New Year message - 2014
    Governor-General's 2014 New Year message
  • New Year Honours 2014
    Queen honours New Zealand's best
  • Nelson Mandela
    Governor-General pays tribute to South African leader
  • Niue and the Cook Islands
    Visits reaffirm special relationships within the Realm of New Zealand
  • Badge of the General Fono of Tokelau
    Governor-General hosts ceremony at Government House
  • Leadership Week
    Governor-General leads the Sir Peter Blake Trust Dream Team
  • Matariki 2013
    Governor-General recognises the contribution of women
  • Coronation Diamond Jubilee
    The Governor-General looks back at the Queen's 1953 Coronation
  • AIDS Candlelight Memorial
    Message from the Governor-General
  • South Canterbury and North Otago Regional Visit
    20-23 February: An overview
  • Waitangi Day - 2013
    Governor-General and Lady Janine visit Waitangi and Auckland
  • New Year Message 2013
    Governor-General issues his 2013 New Year message
  • New Year Honours 2013
    New Zealanders recognised by The Queen of New Zealand
  • Birthday cake
    Secrets of Government House birthday cake revealed
  • Diamond Jubilee visit
    Royal couple to visit Auckland, Wellington, Manawatu and Christchurch
  • Royal reception
    Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall prepare for trip to downunder
  • New Zealand's Governor-General
    Government House publishes new booklet
  • 2012 London Olympic Games
    The Governor-General supports the NZ Olympic Team in London
  • Diamond Jubilee message
    The Governor-General's Diamond Jubilee message
  • Open to view - credentials ceremonies
    Watch the video of a credentials ceremony at Government House
  • Western Bay of Plenty regional visit
    The Governor-General makes his first official visit.
  • Open Days 2014
    Government House Open Days 2014
  • Christchurch and Canterbury Earthquake Anniversary
    The Governor-General's Programme
  • Waitangi Celebrations 2012
    The Governor-General's first Waitangi Day Programme
  • Governor-General's New Year Message
    Sir Jerry Mateparae issues his 1st New Year message - watch the video
  • State Opening of Parliament
    Governor-General announces the Government's plans
  • Speaker-elect confirmation ceremony
    Dr Smith confirmed as Speaker of the House
  • Appointment of the new Government
    The Governor-General appoints the new Government
  • Queen's Diamond Jubilee Emblem
    New emblem to mark the Diamond Jubilee
  • Rugby World Cup
    Message from the Queen of New Zealand on the All Blacks' victory
  • State Swearing-in of Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae
    A Government House short film
  • Royal NZ Navy 70th Anniversary
    The Governor-General hosted and attended associated events
  • New Zealand Gallantry Awards
    Government House has today issued a special honours list
  • One year on from the 4 September 2010 Canterbury earthquake
    Governor-General issues a message
  • Swearing in ceremony
    Sir Jerry Mateparae to become NZ's 20th Governor-General
  • Sir Paul Reeves
    New Zealand's first Governor-General of Maori descent dies
  • Visit by King George Tupou V of Tonga
    The Governor-General hosted a State Welcome for the King of Tonga
  • Māori King visits Government House
    The King plants a tree to mark the visit
  • Matariki
    The Governor-General's 2011 Matariki Message
  • The Royal Wedding
    Sir Anand and Lady Susan attended the Royal Wedding on 29 April
  • ANZAC Day message
    The Governor-General's message for ANZAC Day commemorations
  • The National Christchurch Memorial Service
    Details and photos are available here.
  • Christchurch Earthquake
    Governor-General offers the support of all New Zealanders
  • Canterbury earthquake
    World leaders send messages of support to New Zealand
  • Waitangi Day 2011
    Sir Anand Satyanand's last Waitangi Day as Governor-General
  • New Year Message
    Governor-General issues his message for 2011
  • Pike River Mine Tragedy
    World leaders send messages of support to New Zealand
  • Governor-General visits Canterbury
    A visit to support and encourage those affected by the earthquake
  • New Year Message
    Governor-General issues his message for 2010
  • Governor-General's 2009 New Year Message
    New Zealanders urged to volunteer