New Zealand 'still a colony'

A century after New Zealand proclaimed itself a loyal Dominion of the British Empire, the country is still technically a "dominion", or self-governing colony, say legal experts.

The dominion status proclamation, which upgraded New Zealand from a "colony" to the marginally less downtrodden status of "dominion", took effect 100 years ago on Wednesday, and has never been revoked, even though Britain's right to pass laws on our behalf ended in 1947.

Now Greens leader Jeanette Fitzsimons is calling for the country to formally shuck off this tie to the long-gone British Empire.

According to background papers for a symposium on Dominion Day at parliament last week, "New Zealand's formal title may therefore still include the term 'dominion"'.

"It remains technically in force," said constitutional expert Alison Quentin-Baxter. She said the government shied away from revoking the title in the 50s because of fears it would stir up divisions. "New Zealand really had a very deep attachment to Britain."

Historians have long remarked on New Zealand's extreme reluctance to move from a junior player in the empire to a grown up, independent nation.

New Zealand initially refused to ratify the 1931 British Statute of Westminster, which removed Britain's right to legislate for the dominions. Only in 1947 did New Zealand agree, the last dominion to do so. After that "dominion" quietly faded from government use, to be replaced by the "Realm of New Zealand".

Revoking the proclamation would require a decision by the Executive Council (a committee of government ministers), and then a statement by the governor-general.

Quentin-Baxter said to do so could still be divisive, because of what might be read into it. "It would be seen by some people to signal there was an intention of making New Zealand a republic," she said.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said through a spokeswoman that revoking the title "was not under consideration at this time".

Sunday Star Times