EmpowerNZ: Drafting a Constitution for the 21st Century

28-29 August 2012


The EmpowerNZ workshop brought fifty New Zealanders between the ages of 16 and 28 to Parliament to draft a constitution for the 21st century. New Zealand is one of the few countries this century to invite citizens to review their nation’s constitution. The August workshop aimed to create a space in which young New Zealanders could explore the future of this country’s constitutional arrangements and contribute to the current review of constitutional issues. The idea for this workshop came out of an event the Institute ran last year, StrategyNZ: Mapping our Future. Sir Paul Callaghan presented a keynote address at StrategyNZ and his influence has been fundamental in the development of this workshop.

Participants were encouraged to consider the question of what New Zealanders need, constitutionally, for the coming century – leaving open the possibility of completely reframing what our constitution might look like. The participants were inspired by a range of excellent speakers including Hon Jim McLay, whose keynote address provided a thought provoking and enlightening account of his experiences during the 1984 constitutional crisis. Over two days the participants were taken through a process, developed by Victoria University School of Law lecturer Dean Knight, called the ‘constitutional pyramid’. The process was beautifully illustrated by Megan Salole, who created a mural for the walls of the Banquet Hall during the workshop. Gillian McCarthy and her team of designers were instrumental in bringing the ideas of the participants to life. For example, Kieran Stowers’s group thought a window was an appropriate image to reflect what a constitution should be for the 21st Century.

“The window speaks of transparency and clear accountability, people who look in it can see their own reflection, which is important as a constitution needs to reflect the ambitions, the values, and mana of the People first. It’s also scalable and most importantly repairable, because no constitution is perfect.” – Kieran Stowers

2013 Submission Workshop

In July 2013 a group of participants from the 2012 EmpowerNZ workshop returned to Wellington to write a submission to the Constitutional Advisory Panel. Supported by Mihiata Pirini and Marcelo Rodreiguez Ferrere, both facilitators at last year’s EmpowerNZ workshop, the group produced a detailed submission that among other things advocates for the strengthening of New Zealand’s current constitutional structure and the promotion of civics education in the national curriculum. The group presented to a panel including Wendy McGuinness, Bernie Napp, Steven Sutton and a member of the Constitutional Review Secretariat.

Their final document was submitted to CAP in July 2013 and is available for download here.

Workshop Publication



Speakers at the workshop included:

  • MP Paul Goldsmith
  • Hon Jim McLay
  • Professor John Burrows
  • Charles Chauvel
  • Te Ururoa Flavell
  • Professor Philip Joseph
  • Hon Peter Dunne
  • Dame Dr Claudia Orange
  • Sir Tipene O’Regan
  • Metiria Turei
  • Hon Justice Joseph Williams


  • Dean Knight
  • Jess Birdsall-Day
  • Natalie Coates
  • Carwyn Jones
  • Mihiata Pirini
  • Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere
  • Diane White
  • Edward Willis


EmpowerNZ: Speaker presentations playlist
29 August, Parliament

EmpowerNZ: Workshop Finale
29 August, Parliament


McGuinness Institute Submission

Workshop submission

Personal submission
William Fussey (Participant)

Personal submission
Niki Lomax (Project co-ordinator)

Personal submission
Bernie Napp (‘Stress-tester’)


Report 14: EmpowerNZ – Drafting a constitution for the 21st century

Cover of Working Paper 2012/01

Working Paper 2012/01: The State of the Constitutional Review

EmpowerNZ workshop programme

Workshop Programme

EmpowerNZ Addendum

EmpowerNZ Survey

RNZ Interview

Treaty Debate 2 (2013): The Constitutional Review
Kim Hill chairs a panel of EmpowerNZ participants who answer the question: What issues in the constitutional review do you care about? Recorded at Te Papa 31 January 2013.