Freedom in the World
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In 2009, Prime Minister John Key tried to increase Maori and Pacific Islander support for the National Party-led coalition government by visiting important Maori sites and reaching out to these communities. Meanwhile, Taito Phillip Field, the first Pacific Islander elected to Parliament, was found guilty of bribery, corruption, and other criminal charges in August.
As of May 2009, nearly 5,000 foreign workers, mainly from neighboring Pacific islands, were working in the country under the 2006 Recognized Seasonal Employers Scheme (RSE). However, unemployment rates reached a record high of 7.3 percent in the December 2009 quarter. In response to popular pressure, the government implemented further restrictions on new migrant workers and their dependents. Beginning December 1, 2009, migrant workers must earn a minimum gross annual income of $33,675 in order for their children to receive visas to study in New Zealand. Many neighboring Pacific island countries welcomed the scheme as a way to increase remittance income, but critics in New Zealand argue that the plan takes jobs away from local people.
New Zealand is an electoral democracy. A mixed-member electoral system combines voting in geographic districts with proportional-representation balloting. New Zealand is a member of the Commonwealth, and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor-general. The prime minister, the head of government, is the leader of the majority party or coalition and is appointed by the governor-general. The unicameral Parliament, or House of Representatives, currently has 121 members, all elected for three-year terms.