by Nigel S. Roberts
New Zealand was the last great landmass in the world to be permanently settled. Polynesian explorers and migrants did not reach the islands now known as New Zealand until a mere 800 years or so ago. Prior to the arrival of these Polynesians—now known as Maori—the country was the exclusive domain of birds, insects, reptiles, and just two types of mammals (both were bat species). Nevertheless, despite the country's youthfulness, New Zealand has often been the center of attention for students of elections, politics, and voting systems. It is not only in biogeography that the statement can be made, 'Explain New Zealand and the world falls into place'. New Zealand is a prime example of a parliamentary democracy. Since its inception as a colony, the country has held regular, free elections that have made and unmade governments. Despite being regarded as 'more British than Britain' and as 'the purest example of the Westminster model of government', New Zealand has often attracted world-wide attention for constitutional and electoral reforms that have included the creation in 1867 of separate electoral districts for Maori voters, granting female suffrage in 1893, the abolition in 1950 of the upper house of its Parliament, and the adoption in the 1990s of proportional representation.
The European explorer-navigators Abel Tasman and James Cook sailed to the country in 1642 and 1769 respectively. After Cook's third voyage in 1777, New Zealand was visited by an increasing number of sealers, whalers and missionaries. Partly to fend off French interest in the country, representatives of the British Crown and Maori tribes signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, ceding 'to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of sovereignty' and extending to 'the natives of New Zealand [. . . ] all the rights and privileges of British subjects.'