Comparative Politics of Australia and New Zealand

Marian Sawer, Kirsty McLaren and Norm Kelly

in Political Science

ISBN: 9780199756223
Published online November 2011 | | DOI:
Comparative Politics of Australia and New Zealand

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Australia and New Zealand have many commonalities, apart from both having national flags featuring the Union Jack and the Southern Cross. As British settlements in the South Pacific, or settler societies, the Australasian colonies inherited Westminster political institutions and a tendency to believe in the superiority of the British race. When the federation process began in Australia in the last decade of the 19th century, it was thought that New Zealand might become the seventh state, but this was not to be. While this period was characterized by a significant amount of policy transfer between policy innovators on both sides of the Tasman Sea, New Zealanders prided themselves on better policy in relation to their Indigenous population, the Maori, and did not wish to put this at risk. For this and other reasons, New Zealand did not become part of the Commonwealth of Australia, although both Australia and New Zealand are now members of the Commonwealth of Nations based on the former British Empire. Policy transfer speeded up again in the 1980s with the institutional and cultural similarities of the two countries facilitating the adoption of successful policy experiments tested in one or another of the Australasian jurisdictions and the rejection of less successful ones. This brief history indicates some of the features that make Australia and New Zealand good candidates for comparative studies based on a “most similar systems” design. This approach seeks to compare cases that are similar in as many respects as possible, to simplify the task of identifying the source of difference. The two countries also differ in interesting ways in terms of political architecture and the treaty framework for Indigenous relations in New Zealand. A brief note on terminology may be helpful. Outsiders often find the different meanings of the term Commonwealth confusing—it is both the official name of the federal government of Australia as well shorthand for the Commonwealth of Nations, of which both Australia and New Zealand are members. The term Australasia is also a source of confusion. The term was invented in the 18th century by a French explorer to mean “south of Asia.” It most often refers simply to Australia and New Zealand, although sometimes to the island of New Guinea as well. Another bugbear for comparative research is that the Australian Labor Party dropped the “u” from labour after its 1905 federal conference, but the New Zealand Labour Party has retained it. This article uses the Australian and New Zealand spelling of “labour”; here as in other works the “u” is retained where both parties are being referred to but otherwise the parties’ own spelling is used.

Article.  10511 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Comparative Politics ; Political Institutions ; Political Methodology ; Political Theory

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