News Item

June 2016

Proposed Constitution for NZ encourages public debate

The Law Foundation is backing work led by former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer to draft a model New Zealand Constitution, with the intention of stimulating public debate.

Sir Geoffrey says the country needs a constitution that is “fit for the modern age” to prevent governments from abusing power.

He is working on the proposed draft Constitution with constitutional expert, and Law Foundation Chair, Dr Andrew Butler. They plan to publish a book on their work in September this year, along with a website to take public comment on their proposals.

Sir Geoffrey says a key difficulty is that our constitution is not located in one place. He refers to it as being “formed by a jumble of statutes, some very old English ones; a plethora of obscure conventions, letters patent and manuals, and a raft of decision of the courts”. He says that trying to understand the current New Zealand Constitution is difficult and frustrating.

He believes that the Constitution is the foundation of law and politics in any country and should be easy to find, so people know the basic rules of government and that public power is regulated. New Zealand is one of the few countries where a citizen cannot find those rules from a single source.

Sir Geoffrey says the changes to be proposed are a necessary part of preserving democratic freedom in New Zealand, and of protecting the fundamental principles that anchor public power and strengthen government accountability. Unlike other countries, nearly all of New Zealand’s constitutional rules could be altered too easily by simple majorities of MPs.

The proposed flexible New Zealand Constitution will be designed to protect the freedom of individuals, advance open and transparent institutions and offer efficient accountability mechanisms.

A constitution is for the people, so the authors will issue their proposals for public feedback before making a formal submission to Government. They intend presenting their final view in 2017 on what should be in a constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand.

For more in-depth coverage of this project refer to Law Foundation column by Director Lynda Hagen: LawTalk, 890, p40 (17 June 2016)

The book, Constitution Aotearoa, will be published by Victoria University Press in September 2016.

The Law Foundation is contributing $10,000 towards the research for this publication