Dominion status

Page 7 – Dominion status symposium, 2007

To mark the centenary of New Zealand's adoption of dominion status, a symposium was held at the Legislative Council Chamber, Parliament Buildings, on Dominion Day, 26 September 2007. A range of speakers discussed concepts of nationhood, how New Zealanders have represented these ideas, how they have changed over time, different approaches to nationhood, and possible future developments.

The symposium was hosted by the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Helen Clark, who opened proceedings and chaired the keynote address. The Prime Minister also hosted an official reception that followed immediately after the symposium.

The sessions were recorded by Radio New Zealand and will be available on their website. The speakers' abstracts and links to the full papers are provided below.


James Belich ‘Globalisation and the nation’

After considering questions of definition, this paper asks how much space the twin spectres of globalisation and the nation have left for each other in New Zealand historiography and history. Speculation about the future follows discussion of the interaction between earlier New Zealand trans-national and national identities.

Professor Belich (History, University of Auckland) is a graduate of Victoria University of Wellington and Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He has published widely on New Zealand history and its place in the British Empire, including The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict (1986) which was the basis for a television documentary series. He is the author of a two-volume history of New Zealand: Making Peoples: A history of the New Zealanders from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century (1996), and Paradise Reforged: A History of the New Zealanders from the 1880s to the Year 2000 (2001).

Professor Giselle Byrnes ‘Rethinking national identity in New Zealand’s history’

This paper argues for a revision of the concept of national identity in rethinking New Zealand’s history. It asks: What is the relationship between history and national identity? How has the concept been employed in the past? And what are the implications for citizens of the early 21st century New Zealand ‘nation-state’? The paper challenges the implicit homogeneity contained in the idea of ‘ New Zealand identity’. It plays with the suggestion that national identity is an artificial ideal, a rhetorical device which legitimises continuing ‘cultural colonisation’.

The paper also considers how the relationship between history and national identity is complicated in Aotearoa New Zealand by the rhetoric of biculturalism, claims for Maori self-determination, the intervention of post-colonial perspectives, and the reality of transnationalism. It questions whether national identity still offers a useful way to explain our past. New historical scholarship is fracturing the dominance of national identity narratives in this country; there are many alternative ways to frame New Zealand’s past.

Professor Byrnes has recently been appointed Professor of History at the University of Waikato. She is editing the New Oxford History of New Zealand, a revisionist national history with 28 authors which offers alternative ways to understand and explain New Zealand history. In particular, it critiques the idea of national identity in the New Zealand context. Her research expertise is in the fields of cultural interaction and colonial history and most recent book is The Waitangi Tribunal and New Zealand History (2004).

Colin James ‘Resetting and settling the settler society’

A settler society takes many generations to settle, to secure legitimacy in its displaced place. It must reset its coordinates. It must leave the empire. It must establish unquestioned dominance over any previous occupant or negotiate joint occupancy. It must discover and delight in a distinct voice, make and live a new culture and create symbols to mark the transition from settler to settled. It must re-link with the ancestral society as a distinct equal but also learn to own and integrate its ancestral heritage. Its members’ cultural attachment to it must become so deep that it persists despite immigration and becomes embedded in the subconscious of the descendants of the immigrants. Since 1907 many of the coordinates have been reset. New Zealand’s settler society of the original Dominion Day has moved a long way down the path towards a settled Aotearoa. But securing legitimacy in and an enduring cultural attachment to this place may take much of the next 100 years.

Colin James is a political journalist and commentator who writes a weekly column in the New Zealand Herald and a monthly column in Management magazine. He analyses the policy environment and runs a forecasting service, the Hugo Group. He has written six books and a guide to journalists covering elections, and has contributed papers to seminars in New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom. He has held several university fellowships, including the J.D. Stout Research Fellowship at Victoria University of Wellington (1991) and was the inaugural New Zealand Fellow at the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at the University of Melbourne (1993).

Dr Andrew Ladley (and Elinor Chisholm) ‘Who cut the apron strings - and when? Adopting the Statute of Westminster in New Zealand in 1947’

New Zealand’s ‘progressive independence’ from the United Kingdom can be seen as a process with a number of key steps between its formal foundation in 1840 and the Constitution Act 1986 (NZ). For most of the dominions, the Statute of Westminster 1931 ( UK) was central to this process. The Statute was intended to clarify the status of dominion law as equal to UK law, and also to enact the convention that the UK Parliament would not legislate for a dominion without its express request and consent.

New Zealand adopted the Statute of Westminster in 1947 and was the last of the dominions to do so. Why did it take so long? The conventional reason is ‘reluctance to cut the apron strings’. There is some support for this of course. Before 1931 Wellington did not want to change the constitutional arrangements and specifically asked to be left out entirely from the Statute. The United Kingdom government apparently misunderstood this request and included New Zealand in most of the ambit of the Statute. Anger in Wellington at what was seen as a fundamental breach of the convention was hushed up at the request of the UK government. A legal mess had resulted, which could only be corrected by further British legislation. In Wellington, the early reluctance to adopt the Statute had meanwhile changed to wanting this to be done as soon as possible. But it took until 1947 to get everything organised. So, the ‘reluctance to cut the apron strings’ explanation is only half accurate — the real story is much more complicated and interesting.

Dr Ladley is the Director of the Institute of Policy Studies in the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington. He has been a constitutional and international lawyer at Victoria since 1987, with interruptions working abroad for the United Nations and Commonwealth, and in the Beehive as an adviser. His research focus on constitutions and state-building reflects his background and experience working with the United Nations, Amnesty International and other organisations in a number of areas of conflict. For his work in East Timor, Andrew was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Elinor Chisholm graduated in Political Science with Honours from Victoria University. She is presently a Commonwealth Scholar undertaking her Masters in Latin American Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Professor Ngatata Love ‘Maori approaches to nationhood’

Maori recognised the wisdom of not giving in to pressure to join the Australian Federation, and supported the New Zealand government’s decision to accept the dominion status that was proclaimed on 26 September 1907.

Maori have consistently recognised their place as tangata whenua, as tribal entities, and as partners with the Crown through their commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi, which was signed in good faith in 1840. Through the decades Maori have striven to be part of the nation while retaining their rights as a people committed to nationhood in terms of the 1840 Treaty.

Since 1907 Maori have volunteered for service in two world wars and other conflicts, and lived with the consequences of radical economic change. Maori culture and values have remained strong despite disruptions caused by rapid urbanisation.

The Maori view of nationhood has evolved over the decades through increased understanding of the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in the nation’s life. Maori commitment to New Zealand sports teams and cultural endeavours has been unstinting.

The future holds many challenges for Maori, as it does for all New Zealanders. The place of Maori in our nation will continue to depend on how these challenges are responded to.

Professor Love (Te Atiawa, Taranaki, Ngati Ruanui, Ngati Tama) is Professor of Management at Victoria University of Wellington and Emeritus Professor, Massey University. He was formerly Chief Executive, Ministry of Maori Development (Te Puni Kokiri) (1995–2000). He serves on numerous community and commercial committees and groups, and chairs the Wellington Tenths Maori Land Trust, Palmerston North Maori Reserve Lands Trust, and Port Nicholson Block Mandated Representative Team. He is a trustee of Te Tatau o Te Po Marae and a director of New Zealand Post Ltd. He holds a QSO.

Emeritus Professor David McIntyre ‘The development and significance of dominion status’

The anniversaries of 2007 — the centennial of Dominion Day, 26 September; the diamond jubilee of the adoption of the Statute of Westminster, 25 November; and the coming-of-age of the Constitution Act 1986, 13 December — provide an opportunity to review the achievement and nature of New Zealand’s independence.

Dominion Day was hailed at the time as our Fourth of July. Dominion status was our path to independence, a route trod by an elite group of some ‘restless’ and some ‘well-behaved’ British offspring. It was Sir Joseph Ward who suggested that colonies with responsible government should be designated by a separate title. In 1907, to be a ‘Dominion’ was to be politically independent. Independence in world affairs began in 1912 with separate representation at international conferences. It was confirmed in 1919 by W.F. Massey’s signature on the Treaty of Versailles, which included the Covenant of the League of Nations.

Constitutional independence was discussed from 1917. Massey believed in partnership, ‘with all that the name implies’. The ‘status formula’ of 1926 recorded that Britain and the dominions were equal in status and freely associated. The Statute of Westminster of 1931 gave legal expression to the formula, with the Crown as the symbol of free association. The New Zealand government of the day professed itself uninterested in such niceties, but from the mid-1930s New Zealand operated within the spirit of the Statute. This was formally adopted in 1947 but, as part of New Zealand law, the Statute, like the title ‘Dominion’, was to last just 39 years.

Professor McIntyre (Research Associate, Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury) was Professor of History at the University of Canterbury from 1966 until 1998. He has written 15 books on Commonwealth and New Zealand history, most recently Dominion of New Zealand: Statesmen and Status, 1907 to 1945 (2007). He has served on a number of academic and other committees, and in 2006–07 was Consultant to the Commonwealth Committee of Membership.

Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer ‘Symbols of nationhood’

This paper will explore the important functions that symbols perform in our nation. Their contribution to a sense of national unity and purpose, and to good government, will be analysed. Their constitutional aspects will be discussed. An attempt will be made to identify New Zealand’s symbols of nationhood and government. These will be examined from the point of view of the contribution they have made or can make to our national life. Some attention will be paid to how these symbols have changed over the years.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer has degrees from Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Chicago, from which he graduated LLD cum laude in 1967. The Member of Parliament for Christchurch Central from 1979 to 1990, he became Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment, and (in 1989–90) Prime Minister. Both before and after his political career he was Professor of Law at Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Iowa. He was a founding partner of Chen, Palmer & Partners. In 2005 he became President of the Law Commission. His many publications on legal and constitutional matters include Unbridled Power: An Interpretation of New Zealand’s Constitution and Government (1979, 1987).

Alison Quentin-Baxter ‘Building on the past and looking at the future’

In hindsight, the constitutional recognition of New Zealand’s exclusive power to make its own laws seems inevitable, once it had been given representative and responsible government. By 1947, we had quietly abandoned the title ‘Dominion’, with its suggestion of submission to British authority. Our independence was demonstrated by our separate New Zealand citizenship, the divisibility of the Crown, and the New Zealand government’s succession to British treaties, including the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1983, the Queen confirmed her delegation to the Governor-General of full executive authority. The duty to act on the advice of ministers is left to constitutional convention.

Since 1947, Parliament has used its plenary law-making power to make some real constitutional changes. In 1950, it abolished the Legislative Council, removing at least a theoretical check on legislation. But in 1956, some sections of the Electoral Act were made harder to change than the ordinary law. While Parliament was no real check on an executive with majority support, the appointment of an Ombudsman, an enhanced right to judicial review, an Official Information Act, and more vigorous standing select committees all had some effect. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 was a significant reform, though Parliament shied away from giving the Bill of Rights the force of supreme law. Our own Supreme Court replaced the Privy Council as our final court. Our mixed member system of proportional representation has led to the emergence of minority governments. The conventions governing their formation and survival are still evolving.The constitutional issues ahead look just as challenging.

Alison Quentin-Baxteris a Barrister of the High Court of New Zealand who specialises in constitutional and international law. She graduated LLB from Auckland University College in 1952, began her career in the Department of External Affairs, and was a Lecturer in Law at Victoria University of Wellington (1967–9), and Director of the Law Commission (1987–94). Her consultancy work has included the review of the 1917 Letters Patent constituting the office of Governor-General, and assisting the constitutional development of various Pacific and South Atlantic islands. She was awarded the QSO (1993), LLD ( Honoris Causa, Victoria University of Wellington, 2003) and the DCNZM (2007).

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal ‘Some speculations on M ā ori identity in the New Zealand of tomorrow’

Questions of identity lie at the heart of every human society and culture. Who are we? Where are we? What is our purpose? The answers to these questions are gloriously diverse. Matters of identity underlie how economies work, how culture is expressed, even how health is achieved. This paper asks whether the identity terms ‘Māori’ and ‘Pākehā’ have become obsolete.

These terms (and the powerful organising ideas associated with them) were primarily constructed through colonisation, and inevitably evoke contests of ethnicity and culture. As Edward Said put it, in reference to the 'West' and ‘Islam', identity terms operate as ‘reductive formulae’ – blunt instruments which undermine diversity. Neither term suggests a worldview, a set of values or modes of experience. They simply say that this group of people are called ‘Māori’ and that group are called ‘Pākehā’.

This paper argues the need for a new language of identity. This should be consciously attuned to the increasing diversity of our society, embracing distinctiveness whilst enabling a meaningful contribution to a larger whole. It does not advocate that Māori abandon the important values which distinguish a ‘tangata whenua’ worldview. Rather, it suggests developing a new kind of identity language in which to express that worldview in an increasingly diverse world.

For the past century and more, Māori communities have been dominated by paradigms of social justice and cultural revitalisation. Whilst these remain important, the concept of ‘creative potential’ is emerging as a mechanism for achieving these goals. The new language of identity will give expression to this new paradigm.

Dr Charles Royal (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tamaterā and Ngā Puhi) is a composer, writer, and researcher of traditional Māori knowledge (mātauranga Māori). He was Director of Graduate Studies and Research at Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, Ōtaki (1996–2002), and Kaihautū of a Māori language graduate programme in mātauranga Māori, researching theories of knowledge and worldviews. He has written and/or edited five books. In 2001, as New Zealand Senior Fulbright Scholar, he researched indigenous worldviews in North America. In 2004, he held a research residency at the Rockefeller Foundation Study and Conference Center, Bellagio, Italy.

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'Dominion status symposium, 2007', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-Apr-2017