Should Parliament decide about international treaties and defence missions?

Parliament – not the Government – should decide when New Zealand can sign up to binding international treaties, declare war, and send troops overseas, says Sir Geoffrey Palmer

In New Zealand’s current constitutional arrangements, decisions about international relations and defence are left to the Government. It is Ministers who decide whether New Zealand should sign up to international treaties, even when those treaties are binding on the country have far-reaching effects.

Ministers also decide whether to declare war, and whether to send New Zealand troops overseas on defence and peacekeeping missions.


Parliament has very little say on these matters. It did not vote, for example, on whether New Zealand should adopt the Trans Pacific Partnership in 2016. Its only role was to consider law changes made necessary because of the Government’s decision to commit New Zealand to that partnership.

This isn’t compatible with modern democratic standards. Parliament is democratically elected, and it’s Parliament’s role to make laws and to oversee government activity. Parliament should therefore make decisions about international treaties, and about New Zealand’s involvement in international conflicts. That’s what Dr Andrew Butler and I propose in A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand.

You can read the International Relations and Defence chapter of our book here. And read our specific proposals in Parts 9 and 10 of the draft constitution here.

What are your views?