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Treaty of Waitangi [Archives of New Zealand]
The Treaty of Waitangi is not a single large sheet of paper but a group of nine documents: seven on paper and two on parchment. Together they represent an agreement drawn up between representatives of the Crown on the one hand and representatives of Māori iwi and hapū on the other. The Treaty is named after the place in the Bay of Islands where it was first signed on 6 February 1840, but it was also signed in a number of other locations around the country in the following months. © Archives of New Zealand, (CC BY 2.0)

New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy. The prime minister is the head of New Zealand’s government, which must have majority support of members of Parliament.

New Zealand became a self-governing British colony in 1856, a Dominion in 1907, and fully independent in 1947. New Zealand is an independent state of the Commonwealth.
The Governor General represents the Queen of England in New Zealand.

New Zealand law guarantees at least six of those seats are set aside for Maori and the political parties’ electoral processes have made provision for further Maori representation.

Government is run by coalition partners, the Labour Party and the Progressive Coalition, with the support of two minor parties – the Greens and United Future parties.

The country’s laws are made by Parliament, which is based on the British Westminster system.
New Zealanders aged 18 and over can vote for members of Parliament (MPs). Elections are held every three years.

Under the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) Parliamentary system of 120 seats, New Zealanders cast two votes – one for a political party, and one for a local MP. The number of seats each party gains in Parliament is decided by how much of the total party vote the party gets.

New Zealand is fully independent, but it is also a constitutional monarchy: the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II. She is represented in New Zealand by the governor general, who traditionally does what the government advises him or her to do.

In 2004 the prime minister, the chief justice and the governor general were all women.

The Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of modern New Zealand. It is named after the place (Waitangi) in the Bay of Islands where it was first signed on 6 February 1840. It was signed by William Hobson and other people representing the British Crown (Queen Victoria), and a large number of Māori chiefs.

The chiefs agreed that the British should have some authority in New Zealand, and that European people could settle there. They understood that in turn they would keep their own lands and customs, and that the authority of the chiefs would remain.

Promises made to Māori in the treaty were not always kept, and there is debate about what it means. The Waitangi Tribunal deals with claims from Māori tribes about their land and other issues to do with the treaty.

Independence and nationhood

Thousands of settlers, mostly from England, Scotland and Ireland, began to arrive in New Zealand from the 1840s, and they set up their own government in the 1850s. Over the next 150 years the country became less dependent on the British government. But there are still many signs of the historic link with Britain – for example, you can see the Queen’s head on New Zealand coins.


New Zealand is a small independent country which plays an active role in the United Nations and the British Commonwealth. It is a distinctive nation, with its own traditions and ways of life. It has its own flag, coat of arms, national anthem and national holidays.

New Zealand is a member of the United Nations and is a party to approximately 2,500 international treaties. Many of these are multilateral environmental agreements such as the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992). The Kyoto Protocol, the next development of this Convention, will introduce binding commitments for countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

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