Dominion of New Zealand

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Dominion of New Zealand

1907–1947 [note 1]
Motto: "Onward"
Anthem: "God Save the King"
New Zealand (orthographic projection) 2.svg
StatusDominion of the British Empire
Capital Wellington
Common languagesEnglish, Māori
Government Parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Edward VII
George V
Edward VIII
George VI
William Plunket (first)
Bernard Freyberg (last)
Prime minister  
Joseph Ward (first)
Peter Fraser (last)
Legislature General Assembly (Parliament)
 Upper house
Legislative Council
 Lower house
House of Representatives
26 September 1907
25 November 1947 [note 1]
Currency New Zealand pound
ISO 3166 code NZ
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of New Zealand.svg Colony of New Zealand
New Zealand Flag of New Zealand.svg
Cook Islands Flag of the Cook Islands.svg
Niue Flag of Niue.svg
Part of a series on the
History of New Zealand
A Maori man and Joseph Banks exchanging a crayfish for a piece of cloth, c. 1769.jpg
General topics
Prior to 1800
19th century
Stages of independence
World Wars
Post-war and contemporary history
See also
Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealandportal

The Dominion of New Zealand (Māori : Te Tominiana o Aotearoa) was the historical successor to the Colony of New Zealand. It was a constitutional monarchy with a high level of self-government within the British Empire.

Māori language Polynesian language spoken by New Zealand Māori

Māori, also known as te reo, is an Eastern Polynesian language spoken by the Māori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand. Closely related to Cook Islands Māori, Tuamotuan, and Tahitian, it gained recognition as one of New Zealand's official languages in 1987. The number of speakers of the language has declined sharply since 1945, but a Māori language revitalisation effort slowed the decline, and the language has experienced a revival, particularly since about 2015.

Colony of New Zealand constitutional monarchy in Oceania between 1841-1907

The Colony of New Zealand was a British colony that existed in New Zealand from 1841 to 1907, created as a Crown colony. The power of the British Government was vested in a governor, but the colony was granted self-government in 1852. The 1852 Constitution was inaugurated after the first parliament was elected in 1853, and the first government of New Zealand was formed in 1856. The Colony of New Zealand had three capitals: Old Russell (1841), Auckland (1841–1865), and Wellington. In 1907, the colony became the Dominion of New Zealand with a more explicit recognition of self-government within the British Empire.

A constitutional monarchy is a form of monarchy in which the sovereign exercises authority in accordance with a written or unwritten constitution. Constitutional monarchy differs from absolute monarchy in that constitutional monarchs are bound to exercise their powers and authorities within the limits prescribed within an established legal framework. Constitutional monarchies range from countries such as Monaco, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain, where the constitution grants substantial discretionary powers to the sovereign, to countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, Sweden and Japan, where the monarch retains no formal authorities.


New Zealand became a separate British Crown colony in 1841 and received responsible government with the Constitution Act in 1852. New Zealand chose not to take part in Australian Federation and became the Dominion of New Zealand on 26 September 1907, Dominion Day, by proclamation of King Edward VII. Dominion status was a public mark of the political independence that had evolved over half a century through responsible government.

Crown colony, dependent territory or royal colony were dependent territories under the administration of United Kingdom overseas territories that were controlled by the British Government. As such they are examples of dependencies that are under colonial rule. All Crown colonies were renamed "British Dependent Territories" in 1981. Since 2002, Crown colonies have been known officially as British Overseas Territories.

Responsible government is a conception of a system of government that embodies the principle of parliamentary accountability, the foundation of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. Governments in Westminster democracies are responsible to parliament rather than to the monarch, or, in a colonial context, to the imperial government, and in a republican context, to the president, either in full or in part. If the parliament is bicameral, then the government is responsible first to the parliament's lower house, which is more representative than the upper house, as it usually has more members and they are always directly elected.

New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 Statute of the Parliament of the United Kingdom

The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that granted self-government to the Colony of New Zealand. It was the second such Act, the previous 1846 Act not having been fully implemented.

Just under one million people lived in New Zealand in 1907 and cities such as Auckland and Wellington were growing rapidly. [1] The Dominion of New Zealand allowed the British Government to shape its foreign policy, and it followed Britain into the First World War. The 1923 and 1926 Imperial Conferences decided that New Zealand should be allowed to negotiate its own political treaties, and the first commercial treaty was ratified in 1928 with Japan. When the Second World War broke out in 1939 the New Zealand Government made its own decision to enter the war.

Auckland Metropolitan area in North Island, New Zealand

Auckland is a city in the North Island of New Zealand. The most populous urban area in the country, Auckland has an urban population of around 1,570,100. It is located in the Auckland Region—the area governed by Auckland Council—which includes outlying rural areas and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, resulting in a total population of 1,618,400. Auckland is a diverse, multicultural and cosmopolitan city, home to the largest Polynesian population in the world. A Māori-language name for Auckland is Tāmaki or Tāmaki Makaurau, meaning "Tāmaki with a hundred lovers", in reference to the desirability of its fertile land at the hub of waterways in all directions.

Wellington Capital city of New Zealand

Wellington is the capital and second most populous urban area of New Zealand, with 418,500 residents. It is located at the south-western tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Remutaka Range. Wellington is the major population centre of the southern North Island, and is the administrative centre of the Wellington Region, which also includes the Kapiti Coast and the Wairarapa. It is the world's southernmost capital of a sovereign state. Wellington features a temperate maritime climate, and is the world's windiest city by average wind speed.

Imperial Conference

Imperial Conferences were periodic gatherings of government leaders from the self-governing colonies and dominions of the British Empire between 1887 and 1937, before the establishment of regular Meetings of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in 1944. They were held in 1887, 1894, 1897, 1902, 1907, 1911, 1921, 1923, 1926, 1930, 1932 and 1937.

In the post-war period, the term Dominion has fallen into disuse. Full independence was granted with the Statute of Westminster in 1931 and adopted by the New Zealand Parliament in 1947. However, the 1907 royal proclamation of Dominion status has never been revoked and remains in force today. [2] [3]

Post-war Interval immediately following the end of a war

In Western usage, the phrase post-war era or postwar era usually refer to the time since the end of World War II, even though many nations involved in this war have been involved in other wars since.

Statute of Westminster 1931 United Kingdom legislation

The Statute of Westminster 1931 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom whose modified versions are now domestic law within Australia and Canada; it has been repealed in New Zealand and implicitly in former Dominions that are no longer Commonwealth realms. Passed on 11 December 1931, the act, either immediately or upon ratification, effectively both established the legislative independence of the self-governing Dominions of the British Empire from the United Kingdom and bound them all to seek each other's approval for changes to monarchical titles and the common line of succession. It thus became a statutory embodiment of the principles of equality and common allegiance to the Crown set out in the Balfour Declaration of 1926. As the statute removed nearly all of the British parliament's authority to legislate for the Dominions, it had the effect of making the Dominions largely sovereign nations in their own right. It was a crucial step in the development of the Dominions as separate states.

Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947 Act of Parliament in New Zealand

The Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947 was a constitutional Act of the New Zealand Parliament that formally accepted the full external autonomy offered by the British Parliament. By passing the Act on 25 November 1947, New Zealand adopted the Statute of Westminster 1931, an Act of the British Parliament which granted full sovereign status and Commonwealth membership to the Dominions ratifying the statute. New Zealand was the last Dominion to do so, as the Dominion of Newfoundland voted to become a part of Canada in 1948.

Dominion status


The alteration in status was stirred by a sentiment on the part of the prime ministers of the self-governing colonies of the British Empire that a new term was necessary to differentiate them from the non-self-governing colonies. At the 1907 Imperial Conference, it was argued that self-governing colonies that were not styled 'Dominion' (like Canada) or 'commonwealth' (like Australia) should be designated by some such title as 'state of the empire'. [4] After much debate over lexicon, the term 'Dominion' was decided upon. [4]

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

The Imperial Conference of 1907 was convened in London on 15 April 1907 as the Colonial Conference of 1907 and concluded on 14 May 1907. During the sessions a resolution was passed renaming this and future meetings Imperial Conferences. The chairman of the conference was British prime minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.

Commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. Historically it has sometimes been synonymous with "republic". The noun "commonwealth", meaning "public welfare general good or advantage", dates from the 15th century. Originally a phrase it comes from the old meaning of "wealth", which is "well-being", and is itself a loose translation of the Latin res publica (republic). The term literally meant "common well-being". In the 17th century, the definition of "commonwealth" expanded from its original sense of "public welfare" or "commonweal" to mean "a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people; a republic or democratic state".

Following the 1907 conference, the New Zealand House of Representatives passed a motion respectfully requesting that King Edward VII "take such steps as he may consider necessary" [5] to change the designation of New Zealand from the Colony of New Zealand to the Dominion of New Zealand. [6]

New Zealand House of Representatives Sole chamber of New Zealand Parliament

The New Zealand House of Representatives is a component of the New Zealand Parliament, along with the Sovereign. The House passes all laws, provides ministers to form a Cabinet, and supervises the work of the Government. It is also responsible for adopting the state's budgets and approving the state's accounts.

The adoption of the designation of Dominion would, "raise the status of New Zealand" stated Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward and "… have no other effect than that of doing the country good". [7] Ward also had regional imperial ambitions. He hoped the new designation would remind the world that New Zealand was not part of Australia. It would dignify New Zealand, a country he thought was "the natural centre for the government of the South Pacific". [8]

Dominion status was strongly opposed by Leader of the Opposition Bill Massey, an ardent imperialist, who suspected that the change would lead to demands for increases in viceregal and ministerial salaries. [8]

Royal proclamation

A royal proclamation granting New Zealand the designation of 'Dominion' was issued on 9 September 1907. On 26 September the Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward, read the proclamation from the steps of Parliament:

Edward R. & I. Whereas We have on the Petition of the Members of the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of Our Colony of New Zealand determined that the title of Dominion of New Zealand shall be substituted for that of the Colony of New Zealand as the designation of the said Colony, We have therefore by and with the advice of Our Privy Council thought fit to issue this Our Royal Proclamation and We do ordain, declare and command that on and after the twenty-sixth day of September, one thousand nine hundred and seven, the said Colony of New Zealand and the territory belonging thereto shall be called and known by the title of the Dominion of New Zealand. And We hereby give Our Commands to all Public Departments accordingly. Given at Our Court at Buckingham Palace, this ninth day of September, in the year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and seven, and in the seventh year of Our Reign. God save the King [9]

Effect and reception

The New Zealand Observer (1907) shows Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward as a pretentious dwarf beneath a massive 'Dominion' top hat. The caption reads: The Surprise Packet:
Canada: "Rather large for him, is it not?"
Australia: "Oh his head is swelling rapidly. The hat will soon fit." Dominion-of-new-zealand.gif
The New Zealand Observer (1907) shows Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward as a pretentious dwarf beneath a massive 'Dominion' top hat. The caption reads: The Surprise Packet:
Canada: "Rather large for him, is it not?"
Australia: "Oh his head is swelling rapidly. The hat will soon fit."

With the attaining of Dominion status, the colonial treasurer became the minister of finance and the Colonial Secretary's Office was renamed the Department of Internal Affairs. The proclamation of 10 September also designated members of the House of Representatives as "M.P." (Member of Parliament). Previously they were designated "M.H.R." (Member of the House of Representatives). [10]

Letters patent were issued to confirm New Zealand's change in status, declaring that: "there shall be a Governor and Commander-in-Chief in and over Our Dominion of New Zealand". [11] Dominion status allowed New Zealand to become virtually independent, while retaining the British monarch as head of state, represented by a governor appointed in consultation with the New Zealand Government. Control over defence, constitutional amendments, and (partially) foreign affairs remained with the British Government. [11]

Joseph Ward had thought that New Zealanders would be "much gratified" with the new title. However, Dominion status was received with limited enthusiasm or indifference from the general public, [8] who were unable to discern any practical difference. [12] Dominion status symbolised New Zealand's shift to self-governance, but this change had been practically accomplished with the first responsible government in the 1850s. [12]

Historian Keith Sinclair later remarked:

… the change of title, for which there had been no demand, produced little public interest. It was largely regarded as Ward's personal show … it was merely cosmetic. [8]

According to Dame Silvia Cartwright, 18th Governor-General of New Zealand, in a 2001 speech:

This event passed relatively unheralded. It attracted little comment. This illustrates that what may appear as a constitutional landmark, particularly from this point in time needs to be seen in its context. And so, although new Letters Patent and Royal Instructions were issued in 1907, and the requirement to reserve certain classes of Bill for His Majesty's pleasure was omitted, New Zealand certainly didn't embrace dominion status with the vigour of a young nation intent on independence. [13]

In 1917, letters patent were issued again re-designating the Governor as 'Governor-General'. The changes in the viceroy's title were intended to reflect more fully New Zealand's self-governing status. The 1917 letters patent constituted the office 'Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Our Dominion of New Zealand'. [14]

The national flag, depicting the British Union Flag, remained the same. [15] Until 1911 New Zealand used the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom on all official documents and public buildings, however following its new status a new coat of arms for New Zealand was designed. A royal warrant granting armorial ensigns and supports was issued on 26 August 1911 and published in the New Zealand Gazette on 11 January 1912. [16]

Despite the new status, there was some apprehension in 1919 when Prime Minister Bill Massey signed the Treaty of Versailles (giving New Zealand membership of the League of Nations). This act was a turning point in New Zealand's diplomatic history, indicating that the Dominion had a degree of control over its foreign affairs. [17] Massey himself did not view it as a symbolic act and would have preferred New Zealand to maintain a deferential role within the empire. [17]

Dominion Day

To mark the granting of Dominion status, 26 September was declared Dominion Day. The first Dominion Day was celebrated on 25 September 1907, when one politician said it would be remembered as New Zealand's Fourth of July. [4]

Today, it is observed only as a Provincial Anniversary Day holiday in South Canterbury. There is support in some quarters for the day to be revived as an alternative New Zealand Day, instead of renaming Waitangi Day, New Zealand's current national day. [18]

Dominion gets larger

The Antarctic territory of the Ross Dependency, previously under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, is today regarded by New Zealand as having become part of the Dominion of New Zealand on 16 August 1923. [19] The legality of that contemporary assertion has been questioned [20] but is nonetheless the position of New Zealand.

The Cook Islands and Niue each already formed part of the Dominion of New Zealand on the date it was proclaimed. Both had become part of the Colony of New Zealand on 11 June 1901. [21] Western Samoa was never part of New Zealand, having instead been the subject of a League of Nations Mandate and subsequently a United Nations Trusteeship Agreement. However, in 1982 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council allowed Samoans born under New Zealand administration (i.e. prior to 1962) to claim New Zealand citizenship. [22]

Changes to Dominion status

Balfour Declaration

King George V with his prime ministers at the 1926 Imperial Conference. Standing (left to right): Monroe (Newfoundland), Coates (New Zealand), Bruce (Australia), Hertzog (Union of South Africa), Cosgrave (Irish Free State). Seated: Baldwin (United Kingdom), King George V, William Lyon Mackenzie King (Canada) ImperialConference.jpg
King George V with his prime ministers at the 1926 Imperial Conference. Standing (left to right): Monroe (Newfoundland), Coates (New Zealand), Bruce (Australia), Hertzog (Union of South Africa), Cosgrave (Irish Free State). Seated: Baldwin (United Kingdom), King George V, William Lyon Mackenzie King (Canada)

The 1926 Imperial Conference devised the 'Balfour formula' of Dominion status, stating that:

The United Kingdom and the Dominions are autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth

The Balfour Report further resolved that each respective governor-general occupied "the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs in the Dominion" as was held by the monarch in the United Kingdom. [24] Consequently, the only advisers to the governor-general (and the monarch in New Zealand) were his New Zealand ministers.

Prime Minister Gordon Coates, who led the New Zealand delegation to the conference, called the Balfour Declaration a "poisonous document" that would weaken the British Empire as a whole. [2]

Statute of Westminster

In 1931, the British (Imperial) Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster, which gave effect to resolutions passed by the imperial conferences of 1926 and 1930. It essentially gave legal recognition to the "de facto independence" of the Dominions by removing Britain's ability to make laws for the Dominions without their consent: [25]

No Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to a Dominion as part of the law of that Dominion, unless it is expressly declared in that Act that that Dominion has requested, and consented to, the enactment thereof.

Statute of Westminster, Section 4. [26]

New Zealand initially viewed the Statute of Westminster as an "unnecessary legal complication that it perceived would weaken imperial relations." [27] The New Zealand Government only allowed the Dominion of New Zealand to be cited in the statute provided that the operative sections did not apply unless adopted by the New Zealand Parliament. [28] Preferring the British Government to handle most of its foreign affairs and defence, New Zealand held back from adopting the Statute of Westminster Act. [29]

The Labour government of Peter Fraser adopted the Statute of Westminster in 1947. Peter Fraser.jpg
The Labour government of Peter Fraser adopted the Statute of Westminster in 1947.

The First Labour Government (1935–1949) pursued a more independent path in foreign affairs, in spite of the statute remaining unadopted. [28] In 1938 Deputy Prime Minister Peter Fraser told Parliament, "this country has to make up its own mind on international problems as a sovereign country – because under the Statute of Westminster ours is a sovereign country". [28] In the 1944 Speech from the Throne the Governor-General announced the government's intention to adopt the Statute of Westminster. [30] It was forced to abandon the proposal when the opposition accused the government of being disloyal to Britain at a time of need. [30] Ironically, the National opposition prompted the adoption of the statute in 1947 when its leader, and future prime minister, Sidney Holland introduced a member's bill to abolish the Legislative Council. [28] Because New Zealand required the consent of the British Parliament to make the necessary amendments to the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, Peter Fraser, now Prime Minister, had a reason to finally adopt the statute. [30] It was formally adopted on 25 November 1947 with the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947, along with consenting legislation from the British Parliament. [29]

New Zealand was the last Dominion listed in the statute to adopt it. [29]

Dominion in disuse

After the Second World War, the country joined the United Nations as simply "New Zealand". [6] A year later in 1946, Prime Minister Peter Fraser instructed government departments not to use the term Dominion any longer. [31]

One of the first marks of New Zealand's sovereignty was the alteration of the monarch's title by the Royal Titles Act 1953. For the first time, the monarch's official New Zealand title mentioned New Zealand separately from the United Kingdom and the other Dominions, now called Realms :

Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

Royal Titles Act 1953 (NZ), s 2; Royal Titles Proclamation (1953) II New Zealand Gazette 851

The name of the state in official usage was also changed to the Realm of New Zealand. [2] [note 2] The term Dominion largely fell into disuse over the next decade. [2] The term persisted the longest in the names of institutions (for instance, the Dominion Museum was not renamed the National Museum until as late as 1972 [32] ), businesses and in the constitutions of clubs and societies. One rare surviving usage is in the title of a newspaper, The Dominion Post (formerly The Dominion). [2]

The change in style did not otherwise affect the legal status of New Zealand or its Government; the 1907 royal proclamation of Dominion status has never been revoked and remains in force today. [2] [3]

Nevertheless, the opinion of the New Zealand Government is that New Zealand became a sovereign state in 1947: "…both in terms of gaining formal legal control over the conduct of its foreign policy and the attainment of constitutional and plenary powers by its legislature". [5] In passing the Constitution Act 1986 (effective 1 January 1987), New Zealand "unilaterally revoked all residual United Kingdom legislative power". [33]

See also


  1. 1 2 Whether New Zealand's status as a British Dominion came to an end in 1947 with the enactment of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947 is unclear. For a discussion, see the relevant section of this article.
  2. In 1952 the Realm comprised New Zealand and its dependent territories, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, and the Ross Dependency in Antarctica. The Cook Islands and Niue later became self-governing states associated with New Zealand, in 1965 and 1974 respectively.

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  6. 1 2 McIntyre, W. David (2001). A guide to the contemporary Commonwealth. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave. p. 11. ISBN   9781403900951.
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  12. 1 2 "Dominion status". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 5 August 2014.
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  14. "Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand (SR 1983/225) (as at 22 August 2006) – New Zealand Legislation". New Zealand Government.
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  16. "Coat of Arms". Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
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  19. Order in Council Under the British Settlements Act, 1887 (50 & 51 Vict c 54), Providing for the Government of the Ross Dependency.
  20. See "New Zealand's Claims in the Antarctic" by Ivor L. M. Richardson, New Zealand Law Journal, Vol. 33, No. 9, p. 133
  21. "Commonwealth and Colonial Law" by Kenneth Roberts-Wray, London, Stevens, 1966. P. 891 and 897
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  24. Dawson, R. MacGregor (1 January 1937). "Review of The King and His Dominion Governors: A Study of the Reserve Powers of the Crown in Great Britain and the Dominions". The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science: 139–142. doi:10.2307/136836. JSTOR   136836.
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  27. Harshan Kumarasingham, 'The "New Commonwealth" 1947–49: A New Zealand Perspective on India Joining the Commonwealth', The Round Table, Vol. 95(385), July 2006, pp. 441–454.
  28. 1 2 3 4 McIntyre, W. David (20 June 2012). "Self-government and independence: Statute of Westminster". Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
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  30. 1 2 3 Michael Bassett and Michael King (2001). "Tomorrow Comes the Song: A Life of Peter Fraser". Penguin Books. Archived from the original on 11 August 2012. Retrieved 26 October 2007.
  31. Dame Silvia Cartwright (2001). "The Role of the Governor-General". Governor-General of New Zealand. Archived from the original on 16 October 2006. Retrieved 23 July 2006.
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  33. Philip A. Joseph, Constitutional and Administrative Law in New Zealand, Brookers Ltd., Wellington, 2001, p. 459.

Further reading

Coordinates: 41°17′20″S174°46′38″E / 41.2889°S 174.7772°E / -41.2889; 174.7772