New Zealand -- Geography --
Official Name: New Zealand
Languages: English (official), Maori (official), Sign Language (official)
Currency: New Zealand dollar
Religions: Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, others
Population: 4 173 460 (2008)
Land Area: 268 680 sq km
Landforms: Predominately mountainous with some large coastal plains
Land Divisions: 16 regions
New Zealand -- History --
The history of New Zealand dates back at least
700 years to when it was discovered and settled by Polynesians,
who developed a distinct Maori culture centred on kinship links and land.
The first European explorer came to New Zealand in 1642. From the late
18th century, the country was regularly visited by explorers and other
sailors, missionaries, traders and adventurers. In 1840 the Treaty of
Waitangi was signed between the British Crown and various Maori chiefs,
bringing New Zealand into the British Empire and giving Maori equal rights
with British citizens. There was extensive European and some Asian settlement
throughout the rest of the century. War and the imposition of an European
economic and legal system led to most of New Zealand's land passing from
Maori to Pakeha (European) ownership, and most Maori subsequently became
From the 1890s the New Zealand parliament enacted a number of progressive initiatives,
including women's suffrage and old age pensions. From the 1930s the economy was highly
regulated and an extensive welfare state was developed. Meanwhile, Maori culture underwent
a renaissance, and from the 1950s Maori began moving to the cities in large numbers.
This led to the development of a Maori protest movement which in turn led to greater
recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi in the late twentieth century. In the 1980s the
economy was largely deregulated and a number of socially liberal policies, such as
decriminalisation of homosexuality, were put in place. Foreign policy, which had
previously consisted mostly of following Britain or the United States, became more
independent. Subsequent governments have generally maintained these policies, although
tempering the free market ethos somewhat.
New Zealand -- Economy --
New Zealand has a modern, prosperous, developed economy
with an estimated nominal Gross domestic product (GDP) of US$128.1 billion
(2008). The country has a relatively high standard of living with an estimated
GDP per capita of US$30,234 in 2008, comparable to Southern Europe, e.g. Spain
US$33,385, but lower than the United States at US$46,820. Since 2000 New Zealand
has made substantial gains in median household income. New Zealand, along with Australia,
largely escaped the early 2000s recession that affected most other Western countries.
New Zealand is a country heavily dependent on free trade, particularly in agricultural products.
Exports account for around 24% of its output,] which is a relatively high figure (it is around
50% for many smaller European countries). This makes New Zealand particularly vulnerable to
international commodity prices and global economic slowdowns. Its principal export industries
are agriculture, horticulture, fishing and forestry. These make up about half of the country's
exports. Its major export partners are Australia 20.5%, US 13.1%, Japan 10.3%, China 5.4%,
UK 4.9% (2006). Tourism plays a significant role in New Zealand's economy. Tourism contributes
$12.8 billion (or 8.9%) to New Zealandís total GDP and supports nearly 200,000 full-time equivalent
jobs (9.9% of the total workforce in New Zealand). Tourists to New Zealand are expected to increase
at a rate of 4% annually up to 2013.
New Zealand -- Culture --
The culture of New Zealand is a synthesis of home-grown and
imported cultures. The country's earliest inhabitants brought with them customs
and language from Polynesia and developed their own Maori and Moriori cultures.
British colonists in the nineteenth century brought their culture and had a
dramatic effect on the indigenous inhabitants, spreading their religious traditions
and the English language. Maori culture also influenced the colonists and a
distinctive Pakeha or New Zealand European culture has evolved. More recent
immigration from the Pacific, East Asia and South Asia has also added to the
There is debate about the characteristics of a Pakeha ethnic group as many of
the cultural traits associated with New Zealand Europeans can also be found in
the cultural traditions of other English-speaking Western nations, such as the
United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, Canada and the United States. Both Maori and
Pakeha have adopted and adapted cultural forms from other countries creating
recognisably New Zealand versions. New Zealand hip-hop, popular particularly
in urban Maori and Pacific Island communities is a prominent example of this
New Zealand -- Political system, law and government --
New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy.
Although it has no codified constitution, the Constitution Act 1986 is the principal formal
statement of New Zealand's constitutional structure. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state
and is titled Queen of New Zealand under the Royal Titles Act 1974. She is represented by the
Governor-General, whom she appoints on the exclusive advice of the Prime Minister. The current
Governor-General is Anand Satyanand.
The Governor-General exercises the Crown's prerogative powers,
such as the power to appoint and dismiss ministers and to dissolve
Parliament, and in rare situations, the reserve powers. The Governor-General
also chairs the Executive Council, which is a formal committee consisting of
all ministers of the Crown. Members of the Executive Council are required to
be Members of Parliament, and most are also in Cabinet. Cabinet is the most
senior policy-making body and is led by the Prime Minister, who is also, by
convention, the Parliamentary leader of the governing party or coalition.
The current Prime Minister is Helen Clark, the leader of the Labour Party.
The New Zealand Parliament has only one chamber, the House of Representatives,
which usually seats 120 Members of Parliament. Parliamentary general elections
are held every three years under a form of proportional representation called Mixed
Member Proportional. The 2005 General Election created an 'overhang' of one extra seat,
occupied by the Maori Party, due to that party winning more seats in electorates than
the number of seats its proportion of the party vote would have given it.
The highest court in New Zealand is the Supreme Court of New Zealand, established in
2004 following the passage of the Supreme Court Act 2003. The act abolished the option
to appeal to the Privy Council in London. The current Chief Justice is Dame Sian Elias.
New Zealand's judiciary also includes the Court of Appeal; the High Court, which deals
with serious criminal offences and civil matters at the trial level and with appeals
from lower courts and tribunals; and subordinate courts.