Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New Zealand's birthday

Today is New Zealand's birthday. Sort of. On this date one hundred years ago New Zealand ceased to be a colony and became a Dominion. It was the first step toward true independence, but it wasn't necessarily widely embraced, nor even necessarily that important.

One hundred years ago, most New Zealanders considered themselves British, and New Zealand a “better Britain”. And, anyway, New Zealand had been largely self-governing since the 1850s, so nothing much but the name was changed.

In 1931 the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster, effectively cutting the Dominions loose to make laws for themselves. Dominions that ratified the Statute received independence by removing the British Parliament's rights to make laws for the country.

However, New Zealand didn't ratify the Statute of Westminster until November 25, 1947. New Zealanders then ceased to be British Subjects and became citizens of New Zealand. Even then, New Zealand remained closely tied to Britain, right up until the 1970s when the mother country cut the apron strings by joining the Common Market (as the European Union was back then), ending New Zealand's easy access to UK markets.

It was a long and reluctant journey toward nationhood, and in some ways the country isn't fully adjusted to the idea. It's only been about sixty years that New Zealand has been making its own foreign policy, but it now steers a course clearly independent of the motherland.

There are some who argue that Dominion Day should be our National Day, but becoming a Dominion didn't really change anything. November 25 is another option, though not necessarily a stronger one. So, for now, Waitangi Day will remain the National Day. The New Zealand Herald thinks that's as it should be.

Nevertheless, today is an important anniversary of a step in New Zealand's evolution from colony to country. The evolution from monarchy to republic will be an even longer journey. Clearly New Zealanders don't feel a need to rush things.

Add that to the growing list of reasons why I love this place.

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