The Constitution Aotearoa NZ project


Image of Sir Geoffrey Palmer
2016 – A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand

In September 2016, Geoffrey Palmer and Andrew Butler published A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand.

They argued that New Zealand's rules of government were hard for people to find and understand, unclear, and easy for Parliament and the Government to ignore or change.

The book argued for change. It proposed a new, written Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand.

A Constitution that would set out the rights of citizens and the rules of government in clear, plain language so that everyone could understand them.

A Constitution that would reflect New Zealand's identity and nationhood, protect rights and liberties, and prevent governments from abusing power.


Image of Sir Geoffrey Palmer
2018 – Towards Democratic Renewal

The aim of A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand was to start a conversation about New Zealand's rules of government.

The book achieved that. During 2016 and 2017, the authors toured New Zealand, speaking with more than 3500 people. They received hundreds of written submissions and emails. And their proposals were debated in news and social media.

As a result of that feedback, Palmer and Butler made extensive changes to their original proposals.

They remain committed to the central element – that the main rules of government should be written in one place so that New Zealanders can find and understand them.

But the feedback convinced them to produce a simpler, more streamlined Constitution than their original draft.

It also persuaded them to revise some of their proposals for reform, and it showed them that constitutional reform on its own will not be enough.

Greater openness is also needed to involve citizens in public decision-making restore confidence in the institutions of government.

Their modified proposals are set out in a new book, Towards Democratic Renewal, published by Victoria University Press in April 2018.

They hope, by publishing this new book, to continue the debate, and to provide a basis for ongoing discussion about New Zealand's constitutional arrangements.


Read the 2016 proposals

The full text of the original 2016 Constitution Aotearoa NZ proposals – along with videos, articles and blogs by Geoffrey Palmer, Andrew Butler, and guest contributors – are available on the website


The authors


Image of Sir Geoffrey Palmer
Geoffrey Palmer

Sir 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 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 most recent being 2016's A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand and 2013's Reform – a Memoir, both published by the Victoria University Press.


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Andrew Butler

Andrew Butler 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).


Image of Sir Geoffrey Palmer


The books Towards Democratic Renewal and A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand are supported by the New Zealand Law Foundation.