|Prime minister||Helen Clark|
|GDP per capita||$24,769|
New Zealand or Aotearoa is a country in the southern Pacific Ocean comprising two large islands (North Island and South Island) and numerous smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands. The Realm of New Zealand also includes the Cook Islands and Niue, which are self-governing, but in 'free association'; Tokelau; and the Ross Dependency (New Zealand's Antarctic territorial claim). New Zealand is notable for its geographic isolation, being separated from Australia to the northwest by the Tasman Sea, approximately 2000 kilometers (1250 miles) across. Its closest neighbours to the north are New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand; Auckland is the largest city.
The population is mostly European, with a substantial native Maori minority. Non-MÄori Polynesian and Asian people are also significant minorities, especially in urban areas. Te Reo MÄori is one of the 3 official languages of New Zealand which also comprise of Queen's English and New Zealand sign language. Elizabeth II, as the Queen of New Zealand, is the Head of State and is represented, in her absence, by a non-partisan Governor-General; the Queen 'reigns but does not rule', so she has no political influence. Political power is held by the democratically-elected Parliament of New Zealand under the leadership of the Prime Minister who is the Head of Government.
New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy. Under the Royal Titles Act (1953), Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of New Zealand and is represented as head of state by the Governor-General, currently Anand Satyanand.
New Zealand is the only country in the world in which all the highest offices in the land have been occupied simultaneously by women: Queen Elizbeth II, Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright, Prime Minister Helen Clark, Speaker of the House of Representatives Margaret Wilson and Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias were all in office between March 2005 and August 2006. New Zealand's first woman prime minister was Jenny Shipley, however Helen Clark lays claim to be the first elected woman prime minister, as Jenny Shipley was appointed to the role by the National Party Caucus to replace the Prime Minister of the time, Jim Bolger.
The New Zealand Parliament has only one chamber, the House of Representatives, which usually seats 120 Members of Parliament. Parliamentary general elections are held every three years under a form of proportional representation called Mixed Member Proportional. The 2005 General Election created an 'overhang' of one extra seat, occupied by the MÄori Party, due to that party winning more seats in electorates than the number of seats its proportion of the party vote would have given it. The position of Prime Minister falls to the leader of the majority party in Parliament and may be changed at any time at the discretion of the majority party Caucus.
There is no written constitution: the Constitution Act 1986 is the principal formal statement of New Zealand's constitutional structure. The Governor-General has the power to appoint and dismiss Prime Ministers and to dissolve Parliament. The Governor-General also chairs the Executive Council, which is a formal committee consisting of all ministers of the Crown. Members of the Executive Council are required to be Members of Parliament, and most are also in Cabinet. Cabinet is the most senior policy-making body and is led by the Prime Minister, who is also, by convention, the Parliamentary leader of the governing party or coalition.
The current Prime Minister is Helen Clark, leader of the Labour Party. Since 17 October 2005 Labour has been in formal coalition with Jim Anderton, the Progressive Party's only MP. In addition to the parties in formal coalition, New Zealand First and United Future provide confidence and supply in return for their leaders being ministers outside cabinet. A further arrangement has been made with the Green Party, which has given a commitment not to vote against the government on confidence and supply. Since early in 2007, Labour has also had the proxy vote of Taito Phillip Field, a former Labour MP. These arrangements assure the government of a majority of seven MPs on confidence.
The Leader of the Opposition, is National Party leader John Key. The ACT party and the MÄori Party are both also in opposition. The Greens, New Zealand First and United Future all vote against the government on some legislation.
The highest court in New Zealand is the Supreme Court of New Zealand. This was established in 2004 following the passage of the Supreme Court Act 2003, which also abolished the option to appeal to the Privy Council in London. The current Chief Justice is Dame Sian Elias. New Zealand's judiciary also includes the High Court, which deals with serious criminal offences and civil matters, and the Court of Appeal, and subordinate courts.
The Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the second. The defence forces hold commissions and warrants from the Queen, signed on her behalf by her representative the Governor General. However command of the armed forces is by order of Parliament, rather than by the Queen.
Foreign Policy and Military Relations
New Zealand maintains a strong profile on environmental protection, human rights and free trade, particularly in agriculture.
New Zealand is a member of the following geo-political organisations: APEC, East Asia Summit, Commonwealth of Nations, OECD and the United Nations. It has signed up to a number of free trade agreements, of which the most important is Closer Economic Relations with Australia.
For its first hundred years, New Zealand followed the United Kingdom's lead on foreign policy. In declaring war on Germany on 3 September 1939, Prime Minister Michael Savage proclaimed "Where she goes, we go; where she stands, we stand". Post WWII ties with America strengthened, but unlike close neighbour Australia, have never done so to the point that they may be considered stronger than the ties to the UK.
New Zealand has traditionally worked closely with Australia, whose foreign policy followed a similar historical trend. In turn, many Pacific Islands such as Western Samoa have looked to New Zealand's lead. The American influence on New Zealand was weakened by the disappointment with the Vietnam War, the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior by France, and by disagreements over environmental and agricultural trade issues and New Zealand's nuclear-free policy.
New Zealand is a party to the ANZUS security treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the US. While the treaty was once fully mutual between Australia, New Zealand and the United States, this is no longer the case. Since February 1985, New Zealand has refused nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships access to its ports. In 1986, the United States announced that it was suspending its treaty security obligations to New Zealand pending the restoration of port access. The New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987 prohibits the stationing of nuclear weapons on the territory of New Zealand and the entry into New Zealand waters of nuclear armed or propelled ships. This legislation remains a source of contention and the basis for the United States' continued suspension of treaty obligations to New Zealand. Due to the US Navy policy of refusing to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear arms on any US Navy ship, the only US naval ships to enter NZ waters since that time have been unarmed auxiliary units with some exceptions where the US State Department have over-ruled the Naval policy for specific ships on visits.
In addition to the various wars between Maori tribes, and between the British settlers and certain tribes, New Zealand has fought in the Second Boer War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency (and committed troops, fighters and bombers to the subsequent confrontation with Indonesia), the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Afghanistan War. New Zealand refused to participate in the Iraq War without UN sanction. However, they sent a unit of army engineers to help rebuild Iraqi infrastructure for one year following the invasion.
The New Zealand military has three branches: the New Zealand Army, the Royal New Zealand Navy, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. New Zealand considers its own national defence needs to be modest; it dismantled its air combat capability in 2001. New Zealand has contributed forces to recent regional and global peacekeeping missions, including those in Cyprus, Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sinai, Angola, Cambodia, the Iran/Iraq border, Bougainville and East Timor.
Rugby union is the major sport in New Zealand, and the national team, the All Blacks, are widely considered the greatest rugby union team. The New Zealand cricket team (known as "The Black Caps") are currently third in world standings. New Zealand is also noted for its Hockey (The Black Sticks) and Netball (The Silver Ferns) teams.
International Rankings (2007)
Political and economic rankings
- Political freedom ratings - Free; political rights and civil liberties both rated 1 (the highest score available)
- Press freedom - 19th freest, at 5.00
- GDP per capita - 27th highest, at I$24,769
- Human Development Index - 20th highest, at 0.933
- Income Equality - 54th most equal, at 36.2 (Gini Index)
- Literacy Rate - Equal first, at 99.9%
- Unemployment rate - 42nd lowest, at 3.8% 
- Corruption - 1st equal least corrupt, at 9.6 on index
- Economic Freedom - 9th equal freest, at 1.84 on index
- Fertility rate- 140th most fertile, at 1.79 per woman
- Birth rate - 140th most births, at 13.90 per 1000 people
- Infant mortality - 192nd most deaths, at 5.85 per 1000 live births
- Death rate - 115th highest death rate, at 7.52 per 1000 people
- Life Expectancy - 22nd highest, at 78.81 years
- Suicide rate - 35th highest suicide rate, at 19.8 for males and 4.2 for females per 100,000 people
- HIV/AIDS rate - 149th most cases, at 0.10%
- CO2 emissions - 42nd highest emissions, at 8.7 tonnes per capita
- Electricity Consumption - 48th highest consumption of electricity, at 37,030,000,000 kWh
- Broadband Internet access - 22nd highest uptake in OECD, at 11.7%
- Beer consumption - 16th highest, at 77.0 litres per capita
- Environmental Performance Index - Comprising; Environmental health, air quality, water resources, biodiversity and habitat, productive natural resources, sustainable energy - 1st out of 80 countries, at 88.0/100
- Ministry for Culture and Heritage
- Tourism New Zealand
- New Zealand travel guide from Wikitravel