26 Feb 2013

Ignorance big challenge for constitutional panel

9:42 pm on 26 February 2013

A panel set up by the Government to seek people's views on the constitution says its biggest challenge is that many do not even know what a constitution is.

The 12 panel members, including former politicians, academics and community leaders, are tasked with finding out how the public wants New Zealand to be run in the future.

A constitution is the set of rules that determines how a country is governed.

New Zealand is one of just three nations, including Israel and the United Kingdom, which doesn't have its constitution written down in a single document.

Instead, the rules are spread across the Bill of Rights Act, the Constitutional Act, and the Treaty of Waitangi.

The panel has a wide mandate - it has to find out what people think about human rights, about the Treaty of Waitangi and whether there should be a written constitution.

It also wants to know how often elections should be held, how many MPs should be elected and whether Maori should get special seats in Parliament.

Panel co-chair Sir Tipene O'Regan says a large part of its role will be educating the public and he will try to engage people with relevant questions.

Sir Michael Cullen, another panellist and former deputy prime minister, says they are simply driving the conversation, not pushing any agenda.

New Zealanders have until 1 July this year to share their opinions with the panel and can do so by post, email or online.