New Zealand says no to federation with Australia

30 May 1901

Cartoon about New Zealand joining the Australian federation (Alexander Turnbull Library, J-040-008)

A 10-man Royal Commission reported unanimously that New Zealand should not become a state of the new Commonwealth of Australia.

Although New Zealand had participated in Australian colonial conferences since the 1860s, federation only became a serious prospect following the decision to unite Australia’s six colonies in 1899.

Premier Richard Seddon preferred to be the leader of an independent country rather than an Australian state. He set up the Royal Commission in 1900 to buy time and get a sense of public opinion. While most submissions opposed union with Australia, many farmers were in favour, fearing new trade barriers to their produce.

The prevailing view was that New Zealanders were of superior stock to their counterparts across the Tasman. New Zealand’s trade was mostly with the United Kingdom; Australians were economic rivals rather than partners. Although New Zealand and Australia eventually signed a Free Trade Agreement in 1965, and the two economies have become closely integrated, political union is no closer today than it was in 1901.

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