How laws are made in New Zealand

How laws are made in New Zealand

Despite what you sometimes see on TV, politicians do more than call each other names and do the DomPost crossword when in the House. One of their key roles is to pass laws, a process that can be long and convoluted. With your support, we’ll see the Marriage Amendment Bill go right to the end! Here’s a dummies guide to How Laws Made in New Zealand.


The Introduction is simply an administrative process that is later announced in Parliament (“the House”).  A bill has no formal existence until it is introduced.

 First reading

At the first reading, a bill is debated and then voted on.  If the vote is defeated, the bill does not proceed any further.  If the vote is successful, the bill is usually referred to a select committee to be considered in more detail.

Select committee

Once a bill is referred to a select committee, the committee usually has six months to examine the bill and prepare a report for the House.

Select committees normally invite public submissions on a bill. They then hold public hearings to listen to some of those who made submissions.  After hearing submissions they work through the issues raised, and decide what changes, if any, should be made to the bill.

The select committee’s report to the House contains a reprint of the bill with recommended changes (known as amendments) and a commentary in which the committee explains its recommended changes and the issues it has considered.

Second reading

Once the select committee has reported back to the House, the bill is read a second time.  The main principles and changes recommended by the select committee are then debated and the bill is voted on:

  • Changes proposed by the select committee that are not supported by every committee member are subject to a single vote at the end of the second reading debate.
  • Changes that are supported by every committee member are automatically included in the bill if the second reading is agreed.

If the vote is defeated, the bill does not proceed.  If the vote is successful, the bill is ready for debate by a committee of the whole House.

Committee of the whole House

Any member of the House can participate when a committee of the whole House debates a bill.  The debate is a chance to examine the bill in detail.  Ministers and Members of Parliament can propose changes – those proposed changes may be published before the debate in a supplementary order paper.

There is no time limit on these debates.  Large or controversial bills may be before a committee of the whole House for several days.

Once the final form of a bill is agreed, it is reprinted to show any changes that have been made. The bill is then ready for its third reading.

Third reading

The third reading is usually a summing-up debate on a bill in its final form.

The vote at the end of the debate is the final vote in the House to either pass the bill or reject it. If the bill is passed there is one final step before it becomes law — Royal assent.

Royal assent

A bill is not a law until it is signed by the Sovereign or the Sovereign’s representative in New Zealand, the Governor-General. This is called Royal Assent.

More information on how laws are made in New Zealand is available on Parliament’s web site.

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