New Zealand turns down federation with Australia

30 May 1901

Cartoon about New Zealand joining the Australian federation
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.

Community contributions

5 comments have been posted about New Zealand turns down federation with Australia

What do you know?

Jamie M

Posted: 13 Oct 2020

Ben - no. Where did you see this sign?

Ben Nichols

Posted: 19 Aug 2020

Is NZ a federation? Yes or no would do. But like most things attached to government an answer in not available, only a long winded distraction. I ask because some police stations are listed as "federal police". If NZ is not a federation then where do federal police come from?


Posted: 03 Jun 2018

While Australia left an empty chair for New Zealand to consider a change of mind, subsequent history concerning the treatment of their indigenous Aborigine people and the second class treatment of kiwis since 2001 would probably mean we will never sit in that chair

Chris Zawodny

Posted: 27 Apr 2017

If New Zealand is not a state of Australia, why are we still in Australia's constitution?

6. Definitions

The States shall mean such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States; and each of such parts of the Commonwealth shall be called a State.