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Consisting of two main landmasses and several smaller islands in the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand’s nearest neighbours include Australia, New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga. A constitutional monarchy with a representative of the British crown as effective head of state, New Zealand’s is governed by its unicameral parliament, which appoints a prime minister as head of government. While New Zealand’s human rights record is generally very good, concerns remain about discrimination and lack of access to services for its indigenous population.
New Zealand is an island nation located in the south western Pacific. It is largely comprised of two land masses (the North and South Islands), but also includes smaller islands such as the Chatham and Stewart Islands. Wellington is the capital city.
Population and language
The population of New Zealand has been growing gradually over the past two decades, rising from 3.4 million in 1990 to approximately 4.3 million in 2010. According to the 2006 census, 67.6 per cent of the population identified themselves as ethnically European, and 14.6 per cent Māori. The remaining 17.8 per cent was largely constituted by those who considered themselves to be ethnically Asian or Pacific Peoples.
English is the dominant language of New Zealand, spoken by 95.9 per cent of the population, with the other 4.1 per cent speaking Māori.
New Zealand has a long established history of representative government, having held parliamentary elections since 1854. In terms of political structure, it is a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state, represented nationally by the Governor General. Representative government takes the form of a unitary House of Representatives, with the political landscape dominated by two parties: the National Party and the Labour Party. Since 1996, elections for the House of Representatives have been by a form of proportional representation, and so coalitions are now common. The current government is led by the National Party with three minor parties in coalition. The leader of the National Party, John Key, is the current Prime Minister.
The economy of New Zealand is heavily dependent on trade, particularly agricultural products, with 24 per cent of its output accounted for by exports. Its closest trade partners are Australia, the USA, Japan, China and the UK. The early 1980s saw a severe economic depression in New Zealand that led to successive governments carrying out major macro-economic restructuring, reforming the national economic policy from protectionist to a liberalised free-trade model. Unemployment peaked in 1991 and 1992 following the 1987 market crash, and the 2008 financial crisis also had a severe impact on the national economy, with unemployment reaching seven per cent. “Brain drain” has been a significant economic problem for New Zealand since the 1970s, with nearly a quarter of high-skilled citizens now living overseas, a higher proportion than in any other developed nation.
Media and civil society
Although New Zealand is an industrialised and relatively affluent nation, 20 per cent of children fell beneath the poverty line at the time of the State's latest report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Discrimination between the those of European and those of Māori descent is also an ongoing problem. Māori children and teenagers have lower access to health services and education, but suffer higher rates of child mortality and teenage suicide, according to the State's report to the CRC.
However, in 2007, New Zealand became the first Westminster-style government (a government based on the parliamentary system first established in the United Kingdom) to ban the corporal punishment of children. Despite a non-binding referendum expressing public support for some use of physical discipline in the home, the government has upheld the ban and it remains in effect today.
- UNICEF New Zealand Country Profile
- World Bank New Zealand Country Profile
- National Census 2006
- Hauser Global Law School Program, Globalex, An Introduction to New Zealand Law & Sources of Legal Information
- UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations, February 2011