Independence of New Zealand

Independence of New Zealand

The independence of New Zealand occurred gradually over the twentieth century by a series of Royal proclamations, Imperial Conferences and Acts of the British and New Zealand Parliaments. Thus, New Zealand has no single date of official independence. The concept of a national 'Independence Day' is therefore also unknown in New Zealand.

Declaration of Independence

On 28 October 1835, the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand was signed by the United Tribes of New Zealand, a loose confederation of Māori tribes organised by British resident James Busby. This document recognised Māori independence, and most academics agree this declaration was abrogated five years later by the Treaty of Waitangi, which ceded the independence (recognised by King William IV of the United Kingdom) of Māori to the British Crown.

Colonisation: The Treaty of Waitangi

The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840 marked the beginning of organised British colonisation of New Zealand. New Zealand was originally a sub-colony of New South Wales, but in 1841 it was created a colony in its own right. Waitangi Day is thus celebrated as New Zealand's national day. Some constitutional lawyers, such as Moana Jackson, have argued that the Treaty did not cede total sovereignty of New Zealand to the British Crown, and argue that the Treaty intended to protect "tino rangatiratanga" or the absolute independence of Māori. Others dispute this, pointing to the use of the term "kawanatanga" (governorship) in the Treaty deducts from "rangatiratanga", equating the term to Māori control of Māori assets.

New Zealand became a self-governing colony in 1853 following the passage of the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, which established responsible government in the colony. The New Zealand Parliament was bound by a number of Acts of the British Parliament, such as the Colonial Laws Validity Act and the Colonial Navy Defence Act 1865 which led to the creation of the Flag of New Zealand in 1869.


In 1901 New Zealand did not ratify the Australian Constitution, and so rejected membership of the Australian Commonwealth. Hence, on 26 September 1907 the United Kingdom granted New Zealand (along with Newfoundland, which later became a part of Canada) "Dominion" status within the British empire. Thus New Zealand became known as the "Dominion of New Zealand". The date was declared Dominion Day, but never reached any popularity as a day of independence. As a potential national day, Dominion Day never possessed any emotional appeal, although the term "Dominion" was popular. "The Dominion" newspaper began on Dominion Day, 1907. To regard it as a national independence day is incorrect. With Dominion status, New Zealand did not have any control over its foreign affairs or military; these issues remained the responsibility of Britain.

Despite this new status, there was some apprehension in 1919 when Prime Minister Bill Massey signed the Treaty of Versailles (giving New Zealand membership of the League of Nations), which indicated that New Zealand did have a degree of control over its foreign affairs. Massey was unequivocally an Imperialist, and fervently supported the British Empire.

In 1926, the Balfour Declaration declared that the British Dominions were equal, which had the effect of granting New Zealand control over its own foreign policy and military. The legislation required to effect this change, the Statute of Westminster 1931 was not adopted by New Zealand until some 16 years later. By 1939, the Governor-General ceased to be Britain's High Commissioner to New Zealand, instead an independent officer was appointed.

Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations

The Institute of Taxation Research (ITR) has suggested with considerable weight that with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and joining the League of Nations on 10 January 1920, New Zealand received full independence, as the League of Nations was only open to sovereign nations. Under International Law only a sovereign state can sign a international treaty, so New Zealand must have quite a large degree of state affairs.

At the 1921 Imperial Conference British Prime Minister Lloyd George said: "In recognition of their service and achievements during the war, the British Dominions have now been accepted fully into the comity of the nations of the whole world. They are signatories to the Treaty of Versailles and all other treaties of peace. They are members of the Assembly of the League of Nations, and their representatives have already attended meetings of the League. In other words, they have achieved full national status and they now stand beside the United Kingdom as equal partners in the dignities and responsibilities of the British Commonwealth. If there are any means by which that status can be rendered even more clear to their own communities and to the world at large, we shall be glad to have them put forward."

This appeared to be reaffirmed with the Balfour Declaration.

On 3 September 1939 New Zealand declared war on Nazi Germany. However like signing international treaties a colony (or Dominion) cannot declare war. It is a right reserved only for sovereign nations. [ [| 'Constitutional Timebomb' by Ian Wishart] ]

tatute of Westminster and Realm

At the outset of the Second World War, then Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage, who had been critical of the British policy of appeasement, famously declared "Where [Britain] stands, we stand". Savage's successor, Peter Fraser, did not withdraw New Zealand troops from the Middle East in 1942 (unlike Australia), based on an assessment of New Zealand interests. [ [ Why they came: US forces in New Zealand] ]

In the 1944 Speech from the Throne the Governor-General announced the Fraser government's intention to adopt the Statute of Westminster.cite book|author=Michael Bassett|title=Tommorrow Comes the Song A Life of Peter Fraser|date=2001|publisher=Penguin Books] However, there was a strong outcry by the opposition that this would weaken the British Empire in a time of need. Ironically, the failure of a private members bill to abolish the upper house by future Prime Minister Sidney Holland led to the Statute's adoption. In 1946, Fraser instructed Government departments not to use the term "Dominion" any longer, and the following year New Zealand adopted the Statute of Westminster Act on 25 November 1947 with the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947. This Act allowed the New Zealand Parliament full legislative powers, extra-territorial control of the New Zealand military and legally separated the New Zealand Crown from the British Crown. Thus, the New Zealand Monarchy is legally speaking independent of the British Monarchy.

In 1948, the New Zealand Parliament passed the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948, altering the New Zealand nationality law. From 1 January 1949 all New Zealanders became New Zealand citizens. However, New Zealanders remained British subjects under New Zealand nationality law until the Citizenship Act 1977 came into force. Prior to this Act, migrants to New Zealand were classed as either "British" (mainly from the United Kingdom itself, but also other Commonwealth countries such as Australia, South Africa and India) or "Non-British". [The New Zealand Historical Atlas, Plate 24 "Keeping the Dominion British"]

It was not until 1953, however, that the term "Dominion" was replaced legally with the term "Realm of New Zealand". In the same year the New Zealand Parliament passed the Royal Titles Act 1953, which declared the recently crowned Queen Elizabeth II "Queen of New Zealand". New Zealand was thus an independent Commonwealth Realm.

In 1967, the first New Zealand-born Governor-General was appointed to the office, Lord Poritt (although Lord Bernard Freyberg had previously been appointed in 1946; Freyberg had been born in the United Kingdom, but had lived in New Zealand from a young age). Porritt had also been resident in the United Kingdom for most of his life. The result was a greater focus on new overseas markets for New Zealand goods, mainly in the Asia-Pacific regions.

Some historians argue that a more significant move towards independence came in 1973, when Britain joined the European Economic Community. The move, although anticipated, caused major economic structural adjustment issues, as the vast majority of New Zealand's exports went to Britain at that time.

The election of the nationalist Third Labour Government of Norman Kirk in 1972 brought further changes. Kirk's government introduced the Constitution Amendment Act 1973, which altered the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 so that the New Zealand Parliament could legislate extra-territorially. In 1974, the Queen's style and titles changed once more to be solely Queen of New Zealand.

The Letters Patent of 1983 declared New Zealand as the "Realm of New Zealand", and updated the previous Letters Patent of 1917. The final practical constitutional link to Britain of New Zealand's Parliament was removed in 1986 by the Constitution Act 1986. This Act removed the residual power of the United Kingdom Parliament to legislate for New Zealand at its request and consent. The Imperial Laws Application Act 1988 clarified the application of British laws in New Zealand.

In 1996, New Zealand ceased to participate in the Imperial honours system, and ceased to recommend New Zealanders for the Order of the British Empire; see New Zealand Honours System.

The current Labour-led government of Helen Clark abolished appeals to the Privy Council and created the Supreme Court of New Zealand, a move further separating New Zealand from the United Kingdom, though there was provision for cases commenced before then to be subject to the right of appeal.

Independence in the republic debate

New Zealanders have overall shown some interest in changing their country's status from the current shared monarchy relationship with the other Commonwealth realms to a Commonwealth republic. However, most prefer to stress ethnic co-operation and an independent foreign policy as marks of nationhood while maintaining a symbolic connection with their former metropolitan power.

Supporters of a New Zealand republic have often argued that because the Act of Settlement 1701 (the Act governing the succession to the British throne) is a statute of the United Kingdom, and because the position of New Zealand's head of state is thus reserved for a person from that country, New Zealand is not fully independent. The Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand also argues that New Zealand should signal its independence to the world by becoming a republic.

In response, supporters of the monarchy, such as the Monarchist League of New Zealand, argue that New Zealand could amend the Act of Settlement if it so desired, and is thus fully legally independent of Britain. Amending the Act would mean that the succession of the New Zealand monarchy would differ from that of other Commonwealth Realms. They also point out that the Queen is separately Queen of New Zealand, since the Royal Titles Act 1974 declared Her Majesty to be so.

In 1994, National Prime Minister Jim Bolger initiated a debate on the possibility of New Zealand becoming a republic. Bolger argued New Zealand needed to focus more on the Asia-Pacific region, and noted that such a move would be part of a desire to be "independent New Zealanders". Bolger later argued that he did not believe the "Queen of England" should be New Zealand's head of state. Bolger's republicanism met little public enthusiasm, however, and three of his own ministers disowned the policy.

ee also

* History of New Zealand
* Constitution of New Zealand


New Zealand topics

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