New Zealand: Legislation: 1907-2024 - Archontology
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New Zealand: Legislation: 1907-2024


The Statute of Westminster (11 Dec 1931) provided for the Parliaments of the "Dominions" to exercise independent authority, but for Australia, New Zealand, and Newfoundland its effectiveness was subject to the respective Dominion's Parliament "adopting" the Statute. For New Zealand, this was done by the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act, effective 25 Nov 1947. This date may reasonably be considered as establishing New Zealand as a sovereign polity. However, any remaining doubts regarding sovereignty were extinguished by the Constitution Act 1986. Its Section 26 provided: "As of the commencement of this Act (1 Jan 1987) the following enactments of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, namely, ... (b) The Statute of Westminster 1931 ... shall cease to have effect as part of the law of New Zealand."

Polity Style: Dominion of New Zealand

A Royal Proclamation, dated 9 Sep 1907, effective 26 Sep 1907 (thereafter styled Dominion Day) replaced the style "Colony of New Zealand and its Dependencies" by the style "Dominion of New Zealand". This style, confirmed by the Letters Patent of 18 Nov 1907, effective 27 Nov 1907 (see The Times, issue of 30 Nov 1907) and of 11 May 1917, effective 28 Jun 1917 (see The Times, issue of 28 Jun 1917, and Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand [issued 28 Oct 1983, gazetted 31 Oct 1983, in effect 1 Nov 1983]), remained the official style. However, responding to actual practice, in 1946 Prime Minister Peter Fraser instructed government departments not to use the term 'Dominion', as it was obsolete (this fact was mentioned in a speech by Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright, 2 Oct 2001). The style "Dominion of New Zealand" may be regarded as tacitly extinguished by the provisions of the Letters Patent 1983, and definitively by the Constitution Act 1986.

Polity Style: Realm of New Zealand

By the time of the issuing of the Letters Patent 1983 the Constitutional situation had become complicated by the establishment of the self-governing states of the Cook Islands and of Niue, in addition to statutory issues regarding Tokelau and the Ross Dependency.

The term "Realm of New Zealand", both for what historically is known as New Zealand and the whole complex, is claimed by some sources to have been tacitly accepted in connection with the Royal Titles Act 1953 and the consequent Royal Titles Proclamation, which provided for the phrase "Her other Realms and Territories." Ultimately the term "Realm" was officially recognized as existing in law by the Letters Patent 1983, which defined the scope of the Governor-General's authority as

"Our Realm of New Zealand, which comprises -
(a) New Zealand; and
(b) The self-governing state of the Cook Islands; and
(c) The self-governing state of Niue; and
(d) Tokelau; and
(e) The Ross Dependency."

It should be noted that in the Royal Style itself, as proclaimed in the Royal Titles Act 1974, assented to 6 Feb 1974, the polity style is and remains "New Zealand"; and the Constitution Act 1986 does not mention "Realm of New Zealand" at all.

In practice, the style "Realm of New Zealand" occurs very sparingly; it appears to be used only when the applicability to all the polities listed in the Letters Patent 1983 is significant; specifically, e.g., on passports, where the style "The Governor-General in the Realm of New Zealand" is used.

Style of the Governor/Governor-General and the Administrator

The Letters Patent of 18 Nov 1907, effective 27 Nov 1907; of 11 May 1917, effective 28 Jun 1917; and of 28 Oct 1983, effective 1 Nov 1983 all constitute the office of Governor/Governor-General "in and over Our" Dominion/Realm of New Zealand; but

(a) both in the superscription of the Letters Patent and in official practice, the phrase "in and over" is uniformly replaced by "of"; in order to record an official style, "in and over Our" is appropriately replaced by "in and over the", as in the reference in the Letters Patent of 1983 to the Letters Patent of 1917; and

(b) in practice the term "the Realm of New Zealand" is replaced, in the Governor-General's style, by "New Zealand".

The officer carrying out the functions of the Governor/Governor-General during a vacancy in that office is specified in the Letters Patent, under a "Dormant Commission" to be, first in line, the Chief Justice, and that officer's style is specified to be "Administrator of the Government".

Māori-language Issues

1. Māori became an official language as provided by the Māori Language Act 1987, with commencement date 1 Aug 1987. Beyond declaring Māori to be an official language, the Act only deals with the establshment and functioning of a "Māori Language Commission" and the certification of competency in the language. The cited Act does not provide for the expression of official styles in Māori. (The situation is similar to the lack of information on the establishment of French-language styles in Canada).

2. The name of the polity. There appears to be no statutory provision specifying the Māori equivalent for "New Zealand", but it is abundantly clear from official documents that this equivalent is "Aotearoa". Another term, "Niu Tireni", appears to be in existence as a transcription of the English/Dutch term "New Zealand" found in the form "Nu Tirani" in the Treaty of Waitangi = Te Tiriti o Waitangi of 6 Feb 1840. "Niu Tireni" occurs, for instance, in a 2005 legislative bill setting out the English and Māori language forms of oaths such as the Oath of Allegiance; in the Māori versions occurs the form "Kuini o Niu Tireni" for "Queen of New Zealand".

3. Polity Style. Usually this is found as "Aotearoa". However, in passports the style "Whenua o Aotearoa" appears, translating "Realm of New Zealand". The same reluctance to use this extended term in English appears to be applicable to Māori.

4. The Royal Style. Although not legally defined, the royal style is rendered in Māori as "I raro i te Maru o Te Atua, te Kuini o Aotearoa me ana ake Rohe me ana Whenua, te Upoko o Nga Herenga ki Ingarangi, te Kaiwaowao o te Whakapono".

5. Style of the Governor-General. "Governor-General" is rendered in Māori as "Kāwana-Tianara" in all sources. In passports, "The Governor-General in the Realm of New Zealand" is rendered in the more extended form "Kāwana-Tianara O te Whenua o Aotearoa".