Realm of New Zealand


The Realm of New Zealand consists of the entire area (or realm) in which the monarch of New Zealand functions as head of state. The Realm of New Zealand is not a federation; it is a constitutional concept encompassing the three autonomous legal systems of New Zealand, the Cook Islands, and Niue.[1] It is a collection of states and territories united under its monarch. New Zealand is an independent and sovereign state. It has one Antarctic territorial claim (the Ross Dependency), one dependent territory (Tokelau), and two associated states (the Cook Islands and Niue).[2]

The Ross Dependency has no permanent inhabitants, while Tokelau, the Cook Islands and Niue have indigenous populations. The United Nations formally classifies Tokelau as a non-self-governing territory; the Cook Islands and Niue are internally self-governing, with New Zealand retaining responsibility for defence and for most foreign affairs. The governor-general of New Zealand represents the monarch throughout the Realm of New Zealand, though the Cook Islands have an additional queen's representative.


The monarch of New Zealand, represented by the governor-general of New Zealand, is the head of state throughout the Realm of New Zealand. The New Zealand monarchy is unitary throughout all jurisdictions in the realm, with the headship of state being a part of all equally.[3] The 1983 Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand define the exact scope of the realm.[4]

The Pacific islands of the Cook Islands and Niue became New Zealand's first colonies in 1901 and then protectorates. From 1965 the Cook Islands became self-governing, as did Niue from 1974. Tokelau came under New Zealand control in 1925 and remains a non-self-governing territory.[5]

The Ross Dependency comprises that sector of the Antarctic continent between 160° east and 150° west longitude, together with the islands lying between those degrees of longitude and south of latitude 60° south.[6] The British (imperial) government took possession of this territory in 1923 and entrusted it to the administration of New Zealand.[7] Neither Russia nor the United States recognises this claim, and the matter remains unresolved (along with all other Antarctic claims) by the Antarctic Treaty, which serves to mostly smooth over these differences.[8] The area is uninhabited, apart from scientific bases.[9]

New Zealand citizenship law treats all parts of the Realm equally, so most people born in New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau and the Ross Dependency before 2006 are New Zealand citizens. Further conditions apply for those born from 2006 onwards.[10]

The locations of New Zealand (with its major and outlying islands annotated), Niue, Tokelau, and the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The Ross Dependency in Antarctica is also shaded.
Area Representative of the Queen Head of the government Legislature Capital (largest settlement) Population (year) Land area
km2 sq mi
Sovereign state
 New Zealand Governor-General Prime Minister New Zealand Parliament (House of Representatives) Wellington (Auckland) 5,084,300 (2019)[11] 268,680 103,740
Associated states
 Cook Islands Queen's Representative Prime Minister Cook Islands Parliament Avarua 17,459 (2016)[12] 236 91
 Niue Representative of the Queen[Note 1] Premier Niue Assembly Alofi 1,784 (2017)[13] 260 100
Dependent territories
Ross Dependency Governor[Note 1] N/A None[Note 2] None (Scott Base) Scott Base: 10–85
McMurdo Station: 200–1,000
(2016–2018; varies according to season)[9]
450,000 170,000
 Tokelau Administrator Ulu-o-Tokelau General Fono Fakaofo 1,499 (2016)[14] 10 4
  1. ^ a b The Governor General of New Zealand is also the Representative of the Queen of Niue and the Governor of the Ross Dependency, but they are separate posts.
  2. ^ Legislation for the Ross Dependency is enacted by the New Zealand Parliament, though practically this is limited due to the Antarctic Treaty System.


The governor-general represents the head of state—Elizabeth II, in her capacity as the Queen of New Zealand—in the area of the realm. Essentially, governors-general take on all the dignities and reserve powers of the head of state. Dame Cindy Kiro will assume the position on 21 October 2021, following the end of Dame Patsy Reddy's term on 28 September 2021.[15]

Self-governance within the Realm

Cook Islands and Niue

Associated states in relation to New Zealand:
  1. New Zealand
  2. Niue
  3. The Cook Islands

Both the Cook Islands and Niue are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand. The details of their free association arrangement are contained in several documents, such as their respective constitutions, the 1983 Exchange of Letters between the governments of New Zealand and the Cook Islands, and the 2001 Joint Centenary Declaration. As such, the New Zealand Parliament is not empowered to unilaterally pass legislation in respect of these states. In foreign affairs and defence issues New Zealand acts on behalf of these countries, but only with their advice and consent.[16] They do not (currently) make claim to separate sovereignty.[17]

As the governor-general is resident in New Zealand, the Cook Islands Constitution provides for the distinct position of Queen's representative. Appointed by the Cook Islands Government, this position is de jure not subordinate to the governor-general and acts as the local representative of the Queen in right of New Zealand. Since 2013, Sir Tom Marsters is the Queen's Representative to the Cook Islands.[18]

According to Niue's Constitution of 1974, the governor-general of New Zealand acts as the Queen's representative, and exercises the "executive authority vested in the Crown".[19]

In the Cook Islands and Niue, the New Zealand high commissioner is the diplomatic representative from New Zealand. Elizabeth Wright-Koteka (since 2018) is the New Zealand High Commissioner to the Cook Islands,[20] and Kirk Yates (since 2018) is the New Zealand High Commissioner to Niue.[21]

Despite their close relationship to New Zealand, both the Cook Islands and Niue maintain some diplomatic relations in their own name.[22][23] Both countries maintain high commissions in New Zealand and have New Zealand high commissioners resident in their capitals. In Commonwealth practice, high commissioners represent their governments, rather than the head of state.[24]

New Zealand

New Zealand is a sovereign state. At the United Nations, the country is identified in the General Assembly as simply "New Zealand", not as the Realm of New Zealand.[25]

New Zealand proper consists of the following island groups:[26]


Tokelau has a lesser degree of self-government than the Cook Islands and Niue; it has been moving toward free association status. New Zealand's representative in Tokelau is the administrator of Tokelau (since 2018, Ross Ardern),[30] who has the power to overturn rules passed by the General Fono (parliament). In referenda conducted in 2006 and 2007 by New Zealand at the United Nations' request, the people of Tokelau failed to reach the two-thirds majority necessary to attain a system of governance with equal powers to that of Niue and the Cook Islands.[31]

Future of the Realm

A 2016 poll showed 59 per cent of the population supported changing New Zealand's system of government from a monarchy to a republic, with a New Zealand resident as head of state.[32] Should New Zealand become a republic, it would retain the Ross Dependency and Tokelau as dependent territories and the Realm of New Zealand would continue to exist without New Zealand, the Ross Dependency and Tokelau.[33] This would not be a legal hurdle to a New Zealand republic as such, and both the Cook Islands and Niue would retain their free association with New Zealand. Rights to abode and citizenship, codified in New Zealand legislation by the Citizenship Act 1977, would not change.[34]

However, a New Zealand republic would present the issue of continued allegiance to the Sovereign to the Cook Islands and Niue.[35] Thus, a number of options for the future of the Realm of New Zealand exist should New Zealand become a republic with the Cook Islands and Niue either:

  • remaining in free association with New Zealand, but retaining the Queen as their head of state;
  • having the "republican" New Zealand head of state as their head of state and becoming independent states;
  • having their own heads of state, but retaining their status of free association with New Zealand.[33]

See also


  1. ^ Frame, Alex (1992). "Fundamental Rights in the Realm of New Zealand: theory and practice" (PDF). Victoria U. Wellington L. Rev. 22: 85.
  2. ^ New Zealand's Constitution, New Zealand government, retrieved 20 November 2009
  3. ^ "Tokelau: A History of Government" (PDF). Wellington: Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau. 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  4. ^ "Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand (SR 1983/225)". New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office. 1983. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  5. ^ Fraenkel, Ron (20 June 2012). "Pacific Islands and New Zealand". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  6. ^ Wheeler, Ralph Hudson (1966). "The Ross Dependency". In McLintock, Alexander Hare (ed.). An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Wellington. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  7. ^ "Antarctica and the Southern Ocean". New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Retrieved 8 August 2020.
  8. ^ "Who owns Antarctica?". Australian Department of the Environment and Energy. 8 September 2017. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  9. ^ a b "Stations and Ships" (PDF), U.S. Antarctic Program Participant Guide, 2016-2018, p. 65, retrieved 26 July 2020, The austral winter population ranges from 150 to 200, with the summer population varying between 800 - 1,000
  10. ^ "Check if you're a New Zealand citizen". New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  11. ^ "Population estimate tables - NZ.Stat". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  12. ^ "Cook Islands Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, 2016 Census". Archived from the original on 28 August 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  13. ^ "Niue Household and Population Census 2017" (PDF). Niue Statistics Office. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  14. ^ Final population counts: 2016 Tokelau Census (PDF) (Report). Statistics New Zealand. November 2016. p. 3.
  15. ^ "Dame Cindy Kiro to be next Governor-General of New Zealand - Ardern". Radio New Zealand. 24 May 2021. Archived from the original on 24 May 2021. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  16. ^ McDonald, Caroline J. (4 June 2020). "An Exemplary Leader?: New Zealand and Decolonization of the Cook Islands and Niue". The Journal of Pacific History. 55 (3): 394–417. doi:10.1080/00223344.2020.1761781. ISSN 0022-3344. S2CID 219932547.
  17. ^ Caspersen, Nina (26 April 2013). Unrecognized States: The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Modern International System. John Wiley & Sons. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-7456-6004-2.
  18. ^ "Queen's Rep reappointed". Cook Islands News. 8 August 2019. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  19. ^ "Niue Constitution Act 1974". New Zealand Legislation. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  20. ^ "Wright-Koteka new High Commissioner". Cook Islands News. 1 November 2018. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  21. ^ "NZ appoints new Niue High Commissioner". Radio New Zealand. 23 March 2018. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  22. ^ "Cook Islands High Commission". New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  23. ^ "High Commission for Niue, Wellington, New Zealand". New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  24. ^ Lloyd, Lorna (2007). Diplomacy with a Difference: the Commonwealth Office of High Commissioner, 1880-2006. Brill. p. 172. ISBN 978-90-474-2059-0.
  25. ^ McIntyre, W. David (2001). A guide to the contemporary Commonwealth. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave. p. 11. ISBN 9781403900951.
  26. ^ Diamond, Jared (1990). Towns, D; Daugherty, C; Atkinson, I (eds.). New Zealand as an archipelago: An international perspective (PDF). Wellington: Conservation Sciences Publication No. 2. Department of Conservation. pp. 3–8.
  27. ^ New Zealand and Antarctica. NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 2010
  28. ^ "Did you know that seven countries have claims in Antarctica?". Norwegian Polar Institute. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
  29. ^ "The Antarctic Treaty". Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty. Retrieved 2 May 2020.
  30. ^ "PM's dad Ross Ardern to become Administrator of Tokelau". Stuff. 23 March 2018. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  31. ^ "Tokelau decolonisation high on agenda". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. 17 May 2008. Retrieved 23 November 2011.
  32. ^ "Nearly 60 per cent of Kiwis want the British Monarchy out - poll". 3 September 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  33. ^ a b Townend, Andrew (2003). "The Strange Death of the Realm of New Zealand: The Implications of a New Zealand Republic for the Cook Islands and Niue". Victoria University of Wellington Law Review. Retrieved 25 July 2010.
  34. ^ Quentin-Baxter & McLean 2017, p. 114.
  35. ^ Quentin-Baxter & McLean 2017, p. 115.


  • Quentin-Baxter, Alison; McLean, Janet (2017). This Realm of New Zealand: The Sovereign, the Governor-General, the Crown. Auckland University Press. ISBN 978-1-869-40875-6.

External links

  • Letters Patent constituting the office of Governor-General of New Zealand – gives explanation for "Realm of New Zealand"
  • "Cook Islands" (NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • "Niue" (NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • "New Zealand and the Tokelau Islands" (NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • "Ross Dependency" (NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs)