New Zealand was one of the last major landmasses settled by humans. Radiocarbon dating, evidence of deforestation and mitochondrial DNA variability within Māori populations suggest New Zealand was first settled by Eastern Polynesians between 1250 and 1300, concluding a long series of voyages through the southern Pacific islands. Over the centuries that followed, these settlers developed a distinct culture now known as Māori. The population was divided into iwi (tribes) and hapū (subtribes) who would sometimes cooperate, sometimes compete and sometimes fight against each other. At some point a group of Māori migrated to Rēkohu, now known as the Chatham Islands, where they developed their distinct Moriori culture. The Moriori population was all but wiped out between 1835 and 1862, largely because of Taranaki Māori invasion and enslavement in the 1830s, although European diseases also contributed. In 1862 only 101 survived, and the last known full-blooded Moriori died in 1933.
The first Europeans known to have reached New Zealand were Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and his crew in 1642. In a hostile encounter, four crew members were killed and at least one Māori was hit by canister shot. Europeans did not revisit New Zealand until 1769 when British explorer James Cook mapped almost the entire coastline. Following Cook, New Zealand was visited by numerous European and North American whaling, sealing and trading ships. They traded European food, metal tools, weapons and other goods for timber, Māori food, artefacts and water. The introduction of the potato and the musket transformed Māori agriculture and warfare. Potatoes provided a reliable food surplus, which enabled longer and more sustained military campaigns. The resulting intertribal Musket Wars encompassed over 600 battles between 1801 and 1840, killing 30,000–40,000 Māori. From the early 19th century, Christian missionaries began to settle New Zealand, eventually converting most of the Māori population. The Māori population declined to around 40% of its pre-contact level during the 19th century; introduced diseases were the major factor.
In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip assumed the position of Governor of the new British colony of New South Wales which according to his commission included New Zealand. The British Government appointed James Busby as British Resident to New Zealand in 1832 following a petition from northern Māori. In 1835, following an announcement of impending French settlement by Charles de Thierry, the nebulous United Tribes of New Zealand sent a Declaration of Independence to King William IV of the United Kingdom asking for protection. Ongoing unrest, the proposed settlement of New Zealand by the New Zealand Company (which had already sent its first ship of surveyors to buy land from Māori) and the dubious legal standing of the Declaration of Independence prompted the Colonial Office to send Captain William Hobson to claim sovereignty for the United Kingdom and negotiate a treaty with the Māori. The Treaty of Waitangi was first signed in the Bay of Islands on 6 February 1840. In response to the New Zealand Company's attempts to establish an independent settlement in Wellington and French settlers purchasing land in Akaroa, Hobson declared British sovereignty over all of New Zealand on 21 May 1840, even though copies of the Treaty were still circulating throughout the country for Māori to sign. With the signing of the Treaty and declaration of sovereignty the number of immigrants, particularly from the United Kingdom, began to increase.
New Zealand, still part of the colony of New South Wales, became a separate Colony of New Zealand on 1 July 1841. The colony gained a representative government in 1852 and the first Parliament met in 1854. In 1856 the colony effectively became self-governing, gaining responsibility over all domestic matters other than native policy. (Control over native policy was granted in the mid-1860s.) Following concerns that the South Island might form a separate colony, premier Alfred Domett moved a resolution to transfer the capital from Auckland to a locality near the Cook Strait. Wellington was chosen for its central location, with Parliament officially sitting there for the first time in 1865. As immigrant numbers increased, conflicts over land led to the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s and 1870s, resulting in the loss and confiscation of much Māori land.
In 1891 the Liberal Party, led by John Ballance, came to power as the first organised political party. The Liberal Government, later led by Richard Seddon, passed many important social and economic measures. In 1893 New Zealand was the first nation in the world to grant all women the right to vote and in 1894 pioneered the adoption of compulsory arbitration between employers and unions.
In 1907, at the request of the New Zealand Parliament, King Edward VII proclaimed New Zealand a Dominion within the British Empire, reflecting its self-governing status. In 1947 the country adopted the Statute of Westminster, confirming that the British Parliament could no longer legislate for New Zealand without the consent of New Zealand.
Early in the 20th century, New Zealand was involved in world affairs, fighting in the First and Second World Wars and suffering through the Great Depression. The depression led to the election of the First Labour Government and the establishment of a comprehensive welfare state and a protectionist economy. New Zealand experienced increasing prosperity following the Second World War and Māori began to leave their traditional rural life and move to the cities in search of work. A Māori protest movement developed, which criticised Eurocentrism and worked for greater recognition of Māori culture and of the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1975, a Waitangi Tribunal was set up to investigate alleged breaches of the Treaty, and it was enabled to investigate historic grievances in 1985. The government has negotiated settlements of these grievances with many iwi, although Māori claims to the foreshore and seabed have proved controversial in the 2000s.
Government and politics
New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy, although its constitution is not codified. Elizabeth II is the Queen of New Zealand and the head of state. The Queen is represented by the Governor-General, whom she appoints on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Governor-General can exercise the Crown's prerogative powers, such as reviewing cases of injustice and making appointments of ministers, ambassadors and other key public officials, and in rare situations, the reserve powers (e.g. the power to dissolve Parliament or refuse the Royal Assent of a bill into law). The powers of the Queen and the Governor-General are limited by constitutional constraints and they cannot normally be exercised without the advice of ministers.
The New Zealand Parliament holds legislative power and consists of the Queen and the House of Representatives. It also included an upper house, the Legislative Council, until this was abolished in 1950. The supremacy of Parliament, over the Crown and other government institutions, was established in England by the Bill of Rights 1689 and has been ratified as law in New Zealand. The House of Representatives is democratically elected and a government is formed from the party or coalition with the majority of seats. If no majority is formed, a minority government can be formed if support from other parties during confidence and supply votes is assured. The Governor-General appoints ministers under advice from the Prime Minister, who is by convention the parliamentary leader of the governing party or coalition. Cabinet, formed by ministers and led by the Prime Minister, is the highest policy-making body in government and responsible for deciding significant government actions. Members of Cabinet make major decisions collectively, and are therefore collectively responsible for the consequences of these decisions.
A parliamentary general election must be called no later than three years after the previous election. Almost all general elections between 1853 and 1993 were held under the first-past-the-post voting system. Since the 1996 election, a form of proportional representation called mixed-member proportional (MMP) has been used. Under the MMP system, each person has two votes; one is for electorate seats (including some reserved for Māori), and the other is for a party. Since the 2014 election, there have been 71 electorates (which includes 7 Māori electorates), and the remaining 49 seats are assigned so that representation in parliament reflects the party vote, although a party has to win one electorate or 5% of the total party vote before it is eligible for these seats.
Elections since the 1930s have been dominated by two political parties, National and Labour. Between March 2005 and August 2006, New Zealand became the first country in the world in which all the highest offices in the land—Head of State, Governor-General, Prime Minister, Speaker and Chief Justice—were occupied simultaneously by women. The current Prime Minister is Jacinda Ardern, who has been in office since 26 October 2017.
New Zealand's judiciary, headed by the Chief Justice, includes the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the High Court, and subordinate courts. Judges and judicial officers are appointed non-politically and under strict rules regarding tenure to help maintain judicial independence. This theoretically allows the judiciary to interpret the law based solely on the legislation enacted by Parliament without other influences on their decisions.
New Zealand is identified as one of the world's most stable and well-governed states, with high government transparency and among the lowest perceived levels of corruption. The country rates highly for civic participation in the political process, with 77% voter turnout during recent elections, compared to an OECD average of 68%.
Foreign relations and military
Early colonial New Zealand allowed the British Government to determine external trade and be responsible for foreign policy. The 1923 and 1926 Imperial Conferences decided that New Zealand should be allowed to negotiate its own political treaties and the first commercial treaty was ratified in 1928 with Japan. On 3 September 1939 New Zealand allied itself with Britain and declared war on Germany with Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage proclaiming, "Where she goes, we go; where she stands, we stand."
In 1951 the United Kingdom became increasingly focused on its European interests, while New Zealand joined Australia and the United States in the ANZUS security treaty. The influence of the United States on New Zealand weakened following protests over the Vietnam War, the refusal of the United States to admonish France after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, disagreements over environmental and agricultural trade issues and New Zealand's nuclear-free policy. Despite the United States' suspension of ANZUS obligations the treaty remained in effect between New Zealand and Australia, whose foreign policy has followed a similar historical trend. Close political contact is maintained between the two countries, with free trade agreements and travel arrangements that allow citizens to visit, live and work in both countries without restrictions. In 2013 there were about 650,000 New Zealand citizens living in Australia, which is equivalent to 15% of the population of New Zealand.
New Zealand has a strong presence among the Pacific Island countries. A large proportion of New Zealand's aid goes to these countries and many Pacific people migrate to New Zealand for employment. Permanent migration is regulated under the 1970 Samoan Quota Scheme and the 2002 Pacific Access Category, which allow up to 1,100 Samoan nationals and up to 750 other Pacific Islanders respectively to become permanent New Zealand residents each year. A seasonal workers scheme for temporary migration was introduced in 2007 and in 2009 about 8,000 Pacific Islanders were employed under it. New Zealand is involved in the Pacific Islands Forum, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (including the East Asia Summit). New Zealand is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and participates in the Five Power Defence Arrangements.
The New Zealand Defence Force consists of three services: the New Zealand Army; the Royal New Zealand Air Force; and the Royal New Zealand Navy. New Zealand's national defence needs are modest, since a direct attack is unlikely. However, its military has had a global presence. The country fought in both world wars, with notable campaigns in Gallipoli, Crete, El Alamein and Cassino. The Gallipoli campaign played an important part in fostering New Zealand's national identity and strengthened the ANZAC tradition it shares with Australia.
In addition to Vietnam and the two world wars, New Zealand fought in the Second Boer War, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, the Gulf War and the Afghanistan War. It has contributed forces to several regional and global peacekeeping missions, such as those in Cyprus, Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sinai, Angola, Cambodia, the Iran–Iraq border, Bougainville, East Timor, and the Solomon Islands.
Local government and external territories
The early European settlers divided New Zealand into provinces, which had a degree of autonomy. Because of financial pressures and the desire to consolidate railways, education, land sales and other policies, government was centralised and the provinces were abolished in 1876. The provinces are remembered in regional public holidays and sporting rivalries.
Since 1876, various councils have administered local areas under legislation determined by the central government. In 1989, the government reorganised local government into the current two-tier structure of regional councils and territorial authorities. The 249 municipalities that existed in 1975 have now been consolidated into 67 territorial authorities and 11 regional councils. The regional councils' role is to regulate "the natural environment with particular emphasis on resource management", while territorial authorities are responsible for sewage, water, local roads, building consents and other local matters. Five of the territorial councils are unitary authorities and also act as regional councils. The territorial authorities consist of 13 city councils, 53 district councils, and the Chatham Islands Council. While officially the Chatham Islands Council is not a unitary authority, it undertakes many functions of a regional council.
New Zealand is one of 16 realms within the Commonwealth. The Realm of New Zealand is the entire area over which the Queen of New Zealand is sovereign, and comprises New Zealand, Tokelau, the Ross Dependency, the Cook Islands and Niue. The Cook Islands and Niue are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand. The New Zealand Parliament cannot pass legislation for these countries, but with their consent can act on behalf of them in foreign affairs and defence. Tokelau is a non-self-governing territory, but is administered by a council of three elders (one from each Tokelauan atoll). The Ross Dependency is New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica, where it operates the Scott Base research facility. New Zealand nationality law treats all parts of the realm equally, so most people born in New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau and the Ross Dependency are New Zealand citizens.