Comparison of Australian and New Zealand governments

Comparison of Australian and New Zealand governments

There are a great many similarities between Australia and New Zealand. They are both fully-independent former settler colonies of Britain from which they have inherited their political traditions. Both nations are relatively isolated from major powers, and in the South Pacific.

Both were also affected by the same events in Britain and around the world: World War I, the creation of the shared monarchy in 1927, the Statute of Westminster in 1931, World War II, and Britain's accession to the European Community had similar effects on both nations.


The executive is all but identical, with the British heritage of cabinet government kept intact, with the Prime Minister being the leader of the largest party in the Australian or New Zealand House of Representatives.

Until 1996, New Zealand used the first past the post voting system, inherited from the UK, but in that year, this was replaced by a system of proportional representation called Mixed Member Proportional or MMP, in which around half the MPs are elected from single member constituencies, and the remainder are chosen from party lists, to achieve a proportional result.

Australia uses instant runoff voting (known in Australia as preferential voting) for most elections, and also has compulsory voting.

The other main difference between the two countries' parliaments is that Australia's parliament is bicameral, whereas New Zealand's is now unicameral, having abolished its upper house in 1951.

The Australian Senate is elected by proportional representation, and is known as a "States' house" because each state is guaranteed equal representation. However state governments wield no power here, and state based political ideas rarely gain traction through it. However the equality of representation may have maintained the rights of several federally subsidised states. It has also been unusual for the Government to command a majority in the Senate (the situation until 1 July 2008, in which the Liberal Party-National Party coalition has a majority in both houses, was a notable exception). Furthermore, the Australian Constitution grants the Senate very wide powers over proposed legislation, extending even to a veto over money bills.

By contrast, the members of the New Zealand Legislative Council were appointed by the Governor (later Governor-General) on the advice of his ministers. Initially these appointments were for life, but following reforms in the 1890s, later appointments were for seven-year terms. This ultimately led to Government majorities in both houses, and within a few decades the opinion was widely held that the Council was ineffective and merely echoed the views of the House. Ultimately, the Council was abolished altogether.

In the past, the absence of a second chamber has led to criticism in New Zealand that legislation was badly drafted and rushed into law. However, the introduction of proportional representation has reduced the power of Governments to use majorities in the House to curb debate, while the Select Committee system, under which laws are reviewed in detail, has been strengthened. Consequently there has been little support in New Zealand for a return to bicameralism, although Jim Bolger's National government did put forward proposals for a Senate in 1990.

ubnational government

Owing to its size, Australia originally consisted of separately-governed British colonies until they became states of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Under the Australian Constitution, the states have wide powers, with only limited powers vested in the federal Government in Canberra. In practice, the federal Government's powers have tended to increase over time.

The states are further subdivided into local government areas of varying names. These divisions, each run by its own Council, have powers delegated to them by the state Governments. Local governments have no constitutional rights and can be overuled or even abolished on the whim of the containing state. Some remote areas do not have any local government (known as "unincorpated areas"), the appropriate powers being retained by the state and sometimes delegated to certain government departments or mining companies.

New Zealand, which was briefly (1840-1841) governed as part of New South Wales but came under direct rule from Britain from 1841, participated in the Federation discussions during the 1890s, but eventually decided against joining the new federation.

Between 1846 and 1876, New Zealand was divided into provinces. However, these were never given very wide powers of government, and improved transport and communication, coupled with the relatively small size of each province, led to their abolition in 1876, to be replaced by a series of Cities, Boroughs and Counties.

Owing to the country's relatively small size, political power has become concentrated in Wellington, and modern New Zealand is a centralised unitary state. Limited powers have been delegated to Regional Councils, and other powers to smaller Cities and Districts.

While there has historically been rivalry between the North and South Islands, this has not resulted in calls for political separation.


The nations share a very similar judicial system based on British common law. The highest court of appeal in both nations are now domestic, with Australia doing away with appeals to the Privy Council in 1986 and New Zealand doing the same in 2004.


The two countries differ greatly in the nature of their constitutions. The Australian Constitution is a legally entrenched document, which can only be amended by a majority of both houses of Parliament, followed by the consent of a majority of voters in a majority of States. New Zealand, like the United Kingdom, does not have such a constitution, although since 1986 there has been a Constitution Act.

Neither country has a constitutionally entrenched Bill of Rights. Australia has some laws regarding race and sex discrimination at both state and federal levels, and the state of Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory have each enacted charters, but there is no national explicit and extensive Bill of Rights. New Zealand enacted a Bill of Rights in 1990. However, this Bill does not automatically override existing laws, requiring merely that the courts, where possible, interpret laws in such a way as to make them consistent with the Bill of Rights, and that Parliament be notified of a potential conflict with the Bill when considering a proposed law.

Both countries are somewhat hesitant to adopt an American-style entrenched Bill of Rights. The arguments most often used against such a move are that it would weaken Parliament's ability to make necessary laws, and that it would politicise the judiciary by giving judges the power to make and unmake laws depending on how they "interpreted" the Bill of Rights; and that judges would then be free to make policy on matters that could be considered subjects for political debate.


Elizabeth II is the head of state of both Australia and New Zealand, though her positions as Queen of New Zealand and Queen of Australia are legally separate; Elizabeth cannot be advised on national affairs by anyone other than her ministers in the appropriate country, and when acting internally or abroad on the advice of said ministers, she does so as Queen of New Zealand or Queen of Australia, not as Queen of the United Kingdom. Both nations have a Governor-General who acts as a vice-regal representative. In 1931, King George V appointed the first Australian as Governor-General; New Zealand did not have a New Zealander Governor General until 1967.

However, New Zealand has appointed a broader gender and ethnic range of its citizenry to Vice-Regal positions. New Zealand has twice had a woman as Governor-General, as well as a person of Māori origin, and a person of Indo-Fijian descent currently holds the office. The first Australian citizen to hold the post Sir Isaac Isaacs was Jewish, as was Sir Zelman Cowen, who served as Governor-General between 1977 and 1983. Additionally, a number of recent state Governors have been of ethnic minorities.

Polls in both countries over previous decades have shown shifts in the popularity of the Monarchy. To date, only Australia has held a national referendum on moving to a republican form of government, in 1999. Both countries maintain citizens' groups supporting both sides of the debate, and put forward various reasons for the success and failure of different ventures to maintain or change the status quo, including misconception and apathy, or satisfaction and distinct national identity.:"See also: Republicanism in Australia, Republicanism in New Zealand"

Indigenous peoples

Both Australia and New Zealand were inhabited long before European colonisers arrived. The Aborigines of Australia were devastated by European disease and other factors, and were not included in the population census or on electoral rolls until the 1960s. The British, and subsequently Australian governments, subscribed to the principle of "terra nullius" or 'empty land'.

By contrast, the Māori of New Zealand were more able to confront the British and establish a Treaty that guaranteed their rights under the British Crown. There is still a separate electoral roll for Māori in New Zealand, although Māori may register on the general voters' roll instead. Since 1987, Māori has had legal recognition as an official language, although only a minority of Māori speak it.

Conditions have improved, but in both countries the indigenous peoples tend to be poorer than the national average.


Both Australia and New Zealand are nations built by immigrants, but attitudes towards immigration differ substantially. Although New Zealand never had an explicitly racist policy comparable to that of the White Australia policy, it did have a de-facto policy with the same effect, and some laws explicitly restricting Chinese immigration. [Sean Brawley (1993), 'No "White Policy" in NZ: Fact and Fiction in New Zealand's Asian Immigration Record, 1946-1978', "New Zealand Journal of History", 27, 1 pp.85-100.] The White Australia policy was abolished in the 1970s. New Zealand experienced far less immigration from outside the United Kingdom and Ireland than has Australia, and has had less Irish immigration. This only began to change in the 1980s and 1990s with the arrival of immigrants from the Pacific Islands and East Asia. The New Zealand First party, which was briefly in coalition government in the late 1990s, has been a vocal critic of immigration. In Australia, John Howard promoted his One Australia policy in 1988. There was also support for Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party, which ran a populist anti Asian immigration campaign, but this has since declined.

Welfare state

Australia and New Zealand both tend to fall somewhere in the middle between the United States and Europe in terms of how extensive a welfare state they have. While New Zealand was a pioneer of the welfare state, it now has a far greater involvement of the private sector with the privatization of many government enterprises, and increasing emphasis on private education and health insurance, while Australia also now has a two-tier healthcare system.

War and peace

Neither Australia or New Zealand have been to war on their own; rather, they have fought under the leadership of first Britain and then the United States and United Nations. Australia (along with Canada) is one of the most-commonly-cited examples of a middle power — states that try to pursue their interests through multilateralism and collective security because they are not large enough to act unilaterally. New Zealand could not really be considered a military power at all in global terms as it has heavily reduced its defence spending and removed the combat capabilities of the airforce; its defence force now is essentially designed only to provide basic maritime border security and to take part in international relief efforts and in multilateral peacekeeping forces such as those conducted by the UN.

Both Australia and New Zealand were immediately and enthusiastically called to the defence of Britain in World War I. Australia and New Zealand suffered large per capita casualties, most notably during the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of 1915. The Second World War was similar in regard to both nations again springing to the aid of Britain in the fight against Germany, then becoming more focused on their own region in the fight against Japan.

The beginning of the Cold War saw both countries align with the United States, with Australia and New Zealand signing the ANZUS treaty, although this was severely undermined in 1984 by US reaction to New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy. Both Australia and New Zealand sent troops to the Korean War, joined the United States in Vietnam, and were at the forefront of the UN peacekeeping force in East Timor in 1999.

More recently, the pattern seems to have diverged as Australia participated in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, whereas New Zealand did not. However, it is not clear that this represents a long-term trend, rather than being simply a result of differing views of the respective Governments of the day. In Australia, John Howard's conservative government supported the war, while the Left-leaning Clark administration in New Zealand opposed it.

Because of her size and wealth, Australia is by far the major power amongst the Pacific Island nations group, and is often resented by the smaller nations for her dominance of the Pacific Islands Forum. New Zealand is also much larger than most of the other Pacific Islands, and also plays a dominant role in the region. Both Australia and New Zealand are often grouped together by the smaller nations as targets for criticism, with a common accusation that Australia and New Zealand (Australia particularly) act as "colonial powers". Due to their status in the region both Australia and New Zealand often combine to assist the smaller nations with law, order and stability, with both countries sending a combined force of military and Police to the Solomon Islands in 2003 in Operation Helpem Fren.

ee also

*Politics of Australia
*Politics of New Zealand
*Politics of Australia and Canada compared
*Relationship between New Zealand and Australia


External links

* [ Why New Zealand Did Not Become An Australian State]

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