Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Australasian Union?

Should New Zealand be part of Australia? It’s a fair bet that plenty of Americans think it already is. Some Australian politicians think the two countries should pursue union. In fact, the Australian Constitution includes New Zealand in its definition of states:
The States shall mean such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States; and each of such parts of the Commonwealth shall be called “a State.
So, what gives?

In the late 1800s, the colonies listed above started talking about uniting. That effort culminated in the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. New Zealand, however, declined to join the new Commonwealth, though the door was left open for it to join in the future.

There are many reasons New Zealand remained separate, including especially a growing sense of nationalism, though in the context of being part of the British Empire. Richard “King Dick” Seddon became Premier in 1893, and he was opposed to joining with Australia.

Seddon dreamed of an Imperial New Zealand, and had designs on territories in the Pacific. He wanted Hawaii (and was angry with Britain for allowing the US to take it over), and he argued that Britain should claim Samoa so New Zealand could manage it. He was successful in getting Britain to allow New Zealand to annex the Cook Islands, but the Imperial dream ended there. Seddon died in office in 1906.

New Zealanders and Australians found a sense of family, for lack of a better word, in World War One, especially after the disastrous landing at Gallipoli in 1915, which both nations still commemorate on Anzac Day. There has never been much of a formal push toward union, however.

Now a committee of the Australian Parliament has issued a call to form a common currency, and a joint committee of the Australian and New Zealand parliaments to look at formal union. Neither is likely to happen any time soon.

The current Australian government has previously said it won’t drop the Australian dollar, and New Zealand’s government won’t adopt it. New Zealand, however, would consider forming a new, joint currency.

The two countries have worked to align their laws, particularly on business and commerce. Australians and New Zealanders can visit, live and work in each others’ countries without visas or permits. However, neither country seems overly eager to unite, either in a new country or by New Zealand becoming an Australian state (Kiwis in particular are cool to the second option).

So, it’s unlikely that New Zealand and Australia will even talk about union, much less do anything to make it happen, any time soon. But personally, I wouldn’t rule out some movement in that direction coming one day, perhaps a European Union-style federation in the South Pacific.

For the time being, most of us are quite happy with things as they are.

For further reading:

The Penguin History of New Zealand by Michael King (available on Amazon)
Te Ara — The Encyclopedia of New Zealand (online)
Seddon profile in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (online)
The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia (online, Parliament of Australia)

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