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New Zealand

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New Zealand country brief

New Zealand country brief

General information

New Zealand comprises two main narrow and mountainous islands, the North Island and the South Island, separated by Cook Strait, and a number of smaller outlying islands. Its total land area is approximately 263,310 square kilometres (about the combined area of Victoria and Tasmania). New Zealand claims a maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of a little over four million square kilometres, the fifth‑largest in the world and more than 15 times its land mass. It has a cool temperate climate, strongly influenced by oceanic factors.

New Zealand has a population of 4.93 million (estimated at the end of 2018). Its rate of natural increase is about one per cent per year, boosted by increased immigration levels (expected to fall under the Ardern government) and in 2018 its population increase was estimated at 1.7 per cent, down slightly on recent years. Until recently, most inward migration had been from the United Kingdom, Australia and northern Europe. A growing number of migrants now come from the Pacific island countries, particularly Samoa, the Cook Islands and Niue, and from Asia. Australia is a major destination for New Zealand migrants and tourists. New Zealand's capital, Wellington, is situated on the south-west tip of the North Island and is about the same latitude as Launceston.

Bilateral Relations

Australia and New Zealand are natural allies with a strong trans-Tasman sense of family. Migration, trade and defence ties, keen competition on the sporting field, and strong people-to-people links have helped shape a close and co-operative relationship. Hundreds of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders cross the Tasman each year as tourists, for business purposes, or to visit family members. It is estimated that around 650,000 New Zealand citizens live in Australia (close to 15 per cent of New Zealand's population), while there are around 70,000 Australians in New Zealand. Freedom of travel is facilitated through the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangements (TTTA) of 1973, which allow Australians and New Zealanders to visit, live and work in either country without restrictions. For more information on the TTTA, see New Zealand citizens. Information on access to benefits can be found at New Zealand citizens claiming payments in Australia.

While New Zealand chose not to join the Australian federation in 1901, it maintains close political contact. At a government-to-government level, Australia's relationship with New Zealand is the closest and most comprehensive of all our bilateral relationships. Prime ministers hold annual formal talks and foreign, trade and defence ministers meet regularly. New Zealand ministers and government officials participate with their Australian federal and state counterparts in relevant meetings of the Council of Australian Governments.

Australia and New Zealand cooperate closely in global and regional fora, including the United Nations, APEC, East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum and Pacific Islands Forum. We are both prioritising long-standing collaboration with our Pacific island partners through Australia's Pacific Step-up and New Zealand's Pacific Reset policies.

Australia and New Zealand have a proud history of joint deployments dating back to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli. Our defence relationship remains as important as ever, and includes recent operations in Timor-Leste, Solomon Islands and today in Afghanistan, the Multinational Force and Observers mission in the Sinai, and the Building Partner Capacity mission in Iraq.

Formal expressions of our security partnership are found in the 1944 Canberra Pact and 1951 ANZUS Treaty. Our bilateral defence relationship is underpinned by the 1991 Closer Defence Relations agreement (CDR), updated in 2018, which provides a broad strategic framework for the bilateral defence relationship. In accordance with the recommendations of the 2011 Review of the Australia-New Zealand Defence Relationship, a framework for closer consultation and engagement on defence has been implemented since 2012.

The 1983 Australia‑New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (ANZCERTA) is one of the world's most open and successful free‑trade agreements. The Australia, New Zealand and ASEAN free‑trade agreement, AANZFTA, entered into force on 1 January 2010. Both Australia and New Zealand cooperate closely in pursuing WTO goals, notably through participation in the Cairns Group, a coalition of 19 agriculture‑exporting countries promoting the liberalisation of trade in agriculture.

The Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum (ANZLF), established in 2004, is an annual private sector-led event which brings together Australian and New Zealand business and government leaders to reinforce and develop the trans-Tasman economy and business environment. The twelfth ANZLF was held in Sydney in March 2018. The ANZLF, which is supported by DFAT (and its New Zealand counterpart, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) is co-chaired on the Australian side by Ann Sherry AO, Chairman of Carnival Australia, and on the New Zealand side by Adrian Littlewood, Chief Executive of Auckland Airport.

Australian and New Zealand prime ministers hold an annual Leaders' Meeting, the most recent of which took place in Auckland on 22 February 2019. During that meeting, Prime Ministers Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern emphasised the importance of strengthening the trans‑Tasman single economic market (SEM), with emphasis on emerging technologies. Leaders also emphasised trans‑Tasman commitment to promoting the rule of law and to liberalised trade in the region and globally.

Joint Statement by Prime Ministers the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern and the Hon Scott Morrison MP

Foreign ministers meet biannually for trans-Tasman Foreign Minister Consultations, the most recent of which were held in Auckland on 18-19 February 2019 between Foreign Minister Marise Payne and New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters. Trade ministers hold formal trade talks annually to discuss developments concerning ANZCERTA as well as global and regional trade issues.

Then‑Defence Minister Christopher Pyne met New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark in Adelaide on 28 February 2019 for the annual Australia-New Zealand Defence Ministers' Meeting. The meeting, which built on the Leaders' Joint Statement of 22 February, reaffirmed the depth of the trans-Tasman defence alliance, and the fundamental importance of the South Pacific region.

Joint Statement on Defence Cooperation in the Pacific region

Political Overview


New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy in the Westminster tradition, but with several significant differences. Its executive arm of government is drawn from its legislature, which currently has 120 members. With the abolition of its Legislative Council (upper house) in 1951, New Zealand's parliament became unicameral. The prime minister is head of government and requires the confidence of the House to govern.

On 19 October 2017, following the 23 September general election, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern negotiated a coalition with Winston Peters's New Zealand First Party and a supply and confidence agreement with the Green Party. Prime Minister Ardern named her Cabinet on 26 October 2017, with Winston Peters appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs (he is also responsible for development assistance). David Parker was named Minister for Trade and Economic Growth.

Bill English, leader of the National Party, which had governed for nine years prior to the election, stood down in February 2018, to be replaced by current leader, Simon Bridges.

HM Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State, represented by the Governor-General (Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy), who may summon, prorogue or dissolve parliament. The government's term of office is three years (the next election will be held in 2020). It is compulsory to enrol to vote but voting itself is not compulsory.

New Zealand has a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system, based on a German model. Under MMP, voters are given two votes – one for a local MP (an electorate vote) and one for a political party (a party list vote). Maori voters may choose to be on either the General or the Maori electoral roll. There are 120 seats in the current (52nd) Parliament, of which 71 are electorate seats, including seven representing Maori electorates, and 49 are party list seats. Party list seats are allocated to political parties in proportion to percentage shares of the party list vote.

With the introduction of MMP the opportunity for minor parties to gain parliamentary representation increased. As a result, coalition and minority governments have become commonplace. A referendum on the electoral system held at the 2011 general election returned a solid 58 per cent endorsement of the MMP system.

Economic Overview

Following a comprehensive reform program that began in the mid-1980s, the New Zealand economy is now largely deregulated, and more internationally competitive. The production base has diversified to include a range of elaborately transformed manufactures, while maintaining a large agriculture sector, which accounts for over 60 per cent of exports but 7.5 per cent of real Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Services account for around 65 per cent of New Zealand's GDP, while manufacturing accounts for 11 per cent. In 2018, New Zealand's main merchandise export markets were China (24.2 per cent), Australia (15.9 per cent), the United States (9.6 per cent) and Japan (6.1 per cent). New Zealand's main sources of merchandise imports were China (19.8 per cent), Australia (11.5 per cent), the United States (10.1per cent) and Japan (6.1) per cent. New Zealand's GDP grew by 3.0 per cent in 2018 and is estimated to grow by 2.5 per cent in 2018.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

The economic and trade relationship between Australia and New Zealand is shaped by the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER or ANZCERTA), which came into effect on 1 January 1983. ANZCERTA is one of the world's most open and successful free trade agreements. Two-way trans-Tasman merchandise trade has increased at an average annual rate of around eight per cent following its adoption. For detailed information see Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement.

Reflecting the high level of economic integration in the trans‑Tasman "single economic market" (SEM) created by CER, two-way merchandise trade in 2018 totalled $17.6 billion (New Zealand was our ninth‑largest goods trading partner), while two-way services trade totalled $11.7 billion. In 2018, Australian investment in New Zealand was $96.7 billion (we are by far their biggest source of foreign investment), while New Zealand invested $47 billion in Australia in the same period.

Single Economic Market (SEM)

In August 2009, Australia and New Zealand committed to a process called the Single Economic Market (SEM) agenda, designed to create a seamless trans-Tasman business environment. The SEM agenda builds on the ANZCERTA by identifying innovative, low-cost actions to reduce discrimination and costs arising from different, conflicting or duplicate regulations or institutions in either country. The SEM agenda has already brought significant economic benefits to both countries by lowering business costs and increasing the ease with which both businesses and people can operate across the Tasman.

Australian and New Zealand ministers agreed at the 2016 Sydney SEM ministerial meeting to drive the SEM to promote mutual growth, competitiveness and prosperity.

During their meeting in Auckland on 22 February 2019, the Australian and New Zealand prime ministers highlighted the importance of the SEM in growing both economies by both facilitating trans‑Tasman business and remaining ambitious and responsive to new opportunities and challenges presented by the future of work, growth of the digital economy, data and emerging technologies.

Australian and New Zealand Ministers met in Auckland on 13 September 2019 to advance the Single Economic Market (SEM) agenda, building on the success of the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations (CER) Trade Agreement. Ministers recognised the need to make sure the SEM agenda continues to meet the day-to-day needs of trans-Tasman business and remains ambitious and responsive to new opportunities and challenges such as the future of work, transitioning to a circular economy, and the growth of the digital economy, data and emerging technologies.

Last Updated: 21 October 2019
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