This is a February 2018 archive of the Constitution Aotearoa NZ website. This site was used for public consultation on the proposals in the 2016 book A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, by Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Andrew Butler.

Since the consultation was completed in November 2017, SIr Geoffrey and Dr Butler have published a new book, Towards Democratic Renewal. To find out more, please visit the current Constitution Aotearoa NZ site at

New Zealand’s basic rules of how we govern ourselves are difficult to find, hard to understand, and too easy to change. We need a modern constitution to fix that.


The book

A constitution provides the system of fundamental principles under which a nation is governed. It sets out the government’s powers and limits and how government institutions work.

New Zealand’s current constitution is formed by a jumble of statutes and is unclear and inaccessible to most citizens. It can be overridden easily by Parliament and is subject to political whims.

A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, by former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer and constitutional lawyer Dr Andrew Butler, proposes to change that.

The book proposes a new constitution that is easy to understand, reflects New Zealand’s identity and nationhood, protects rights and liberties, and prevents governments from abusing power.

It sets out the terms of a codified constitution that is accessible and clear and reflects the reality of modern New Zealand.

It aims to stimulate debate about New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements. Our goal is for ordinary New Zealanders to be able to own their constitution, and for that constitution to reflect the realities of our modern nation.

A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand makes the case for change.


The authors


Sir Geoffrey PalmerSir Geoffrey Palmer QC was a law professor in the United States and New Zealand before entering New Zealand politics as the MP for Christchurch Central in 1979.

In Parliament he held the offices of Attorney-General, Minister of Justice, Leader of the House, Minister for the Environment, Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister.

On leaving politics in 1990 he was a law professor at the University of Iowa and the Victoria University of Wellington.

In 1994 he became a foundation partner of Chen & Palmer Public Law Specialists where he remained until 2005 when he was appointed President of the Law Commission, a position he occupied until 2010.  During that period he also chaired the Legislation Advisory Committee.

He has appeared extensively in the superior courts including the Privy Council. He is a member of the Her Majesty’s Privy Council, was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1991 and was made an honorary companion to the Order of Australia the same year. He was made a member of the Global 500 Roll of Honour by the United Nations Environment Programme. He holds four honorary doctorates. He was elected a member of the American Law Institute, a Member of the American Association of International Law and a Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He is a member of the New Zealand Law Society Rule of Law Committee.

In 2010 and 2011 he chaired the Panel of Inquiry on the 31 May 2010 Flotilla Incident for the United Nations in New York that reported to the Secretary-General. For eight years he was New Zealand’s Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission.

Sir Geoffrey is a Distinguished Fellow of the New Zealand Centre for Public Law and the Law Faculty at the Victoria University of Wellington.  He has an extensive list of publications in legal periodicals and is the author or co-author of 12 books, the latest of which is Reform – a Memoir published by the Victoria University Press in November 2013.


Andrew ButlerAndrew was born in Ireland and has lived in New Zealand since 1991. Over the course of his career he has been a legal academic at Victoria University of Wellington, a Crown Counsel in the Human Rights team at the Crown Law Office, and most recently a partner at the Wellington office of the law firm Russell McVeagh. He has extensive experience in human rights and administrative law cases. High profile cases have included acting for the Crown on the Ahmed Zaoui litigation, and representing Lecretia Seales in her case seeking to clarify the law on medical aid for the dying.

He has published extensively in New Zealand and overseas on a range of topics, including as co-author of the leading text on the New Zealand Bill of Rights, The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990: a commentary (2nd ed, LexisNexis Butterworths, Wellington, 2015).


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A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand is supported by a grant from the New Zealand Law Foundation.