A brief History of Southern Self Determination
On 16 November 1840, the islands of New Zealand were severed politically from the Australian colony of New South Wales and erected into a separate British colony by Letters Patent signed by Queen Victoria that appointed the Irishman, Captain William Hobson, Governor.
This Royal Charter was proclaimed by Hobson in her Britannic Majesty's newest colony of New Zealand on 3 May 1841 and provided that: "...the principal Islands, heretofore known as, or commonly called, the 'Northern Island', the 'Middle Island', and 'Stewart's Island', shall henceforward be designated and known respectively as 'New Ulster', 'New Munster', and 'New Leinster'...".
These provincial divisions were, at first, of geographical significance only and were not used as a basis for the government of the colony - which was then centralised in Auckland.
At this time, New Munster consisted of the South Island and the southern portion of the North Island up to the mouth of the Patea River.
The situation was altered in 1846, however, when the New Zealand Constitution Act 1846 divided the colony into two provinces and provided each with its own political institutions in addition to the central government at Auckland.
The two provinces were New Ulster (all of the North Island) and a newly delineated New Munster which now consisted of the South Island and the former New Leinster. Each province was provided with a Governor and Legislative and Executive Council, in addition to the Governor-in-Chief and Legislative and Executive Council for the whole colony.
Early in 1848 Edward John Eyre was appointed as Lieutenant-Governor of New Munster. In 1851 the Provincial Legislative Councils were permitted to be partially elective.
The Provincial Council of New Munster had only one legislative session – in 1849 – before it capitulated to virulent attacks from settlers in Wellington. Governor George Edward Grey, sensitive to these pressures, was instrumental in getting an ordinance passed by the General Legislative Council which mandated new Legislative Councils to be established in each province. Two-thirds of the members of these new Provincial Legislative Councils were to be elected from an electorate consisting of those males over the age of 21 who owned, leased or rented property of a modest value - an unusually broad franchise for this era.
However, Governor Grey was in no hurry to expedite the implementation of this ordinance. Neither Council had met before advice was received from London that the Westminster Parliament had passed superceding legislation: the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852. The General Assembly of New Zealand first sat on 25 May 1854 - earlier than any sitting of an Australian parliament.
Consequently the newly born Province of New Munster was dissolved before its seventh birthday in 1853 after the passing of the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852. This London legislation abandoned both the nomenclature and the boundaries of these provincial divisions; New Munster was divided into the provinces of Canterbury, Nelson, and Otago. Henceforwards, the New Zealand Constitution Act 1846, like New Munster, New Ulster and New Leinster, vanished from the New Zealand political scene.
During the Provincial period of 1853 to 1876, while the North Island was convulsed by the New Zealand Land Wars, the South Island, with its small Māori population, was peaceful and the southern provinces developed more rapidly than did those in the north.
In 1861, gold was discovered at Gabriel's Gully in Central Otago, sparking a gold rush. Dunedin became the wealthiest city in the country, and many in the South Island resented financing the North Island's war and less ready to accept direction from a General Assembly whose impoverished members "looked with ill-concealed envy" on the resources of the South.
It was, noted the Otago Colonist, "...the sad but inevitable result of joining by artificial bonds of union countries that Nature (by Cook Strait) designed should be separate...". Otago, argued its editor, Julius Vogel (who, ironically, was ultimately to lead the centralists to the abolition of provincialism) was, in terms of shipping days, three times as far from the capital of Auckland as it was from Victoria or Tasmania, and he looked forward to "a glorious future - the separation of the two islands".
A well-attended public meeting in 1862 endorsed the principle of separation - though Southland, which had achieved independence from Dunedin only by appealing to central government, and Canterbury, understanding that Dunedin saw itself as the South Island's capital-to-be, were both unenthusiastic.
The Europeans in the North Island received scant support from the South, Otago in particular being outraged at seeing the fruits of her prosperity wasted on a costly and needless attempt to deprive the Māori of land.
A Southern Separation League was formed, but Vogel had by then recognised some shortcomings in the early Provincial system of Government. He perceived that some of the weaker provinces were in danger of possible insolvency, and although their finances could have been reorganised, he opted instead in favour of centralism - and promptly changed his electorate to stand for a northern seat.
In an attempt to hold her place as a capital of some description, in 1865 Auckland joined forces with Otago to support a resolution in the General Assembly calling for independence for both islands. They lost by 31 votes to 17. The political concerns that the South Island would form a separate colony resulted in the capital being moved from Auckland to the more central Wellington. By 1870 only Canterbury and Otago could be said to be flourishing.
The Cook Strait power cable, which was laid in 1965, to provide the North Island with its electricity power, has served to arouse the Mainlanders' latent resentment of the North and various calls to "Cut the Cable" have been made over the years.
Two regionalist political parties, advocating greater representational say for the South Island have emerged over recent years. The NZ South Island Party (1999-2002) fielded candidates in the 1999 General Election. However, its successor, the South Island Party (2008) chose not to register for Parliamentary elections, but decided that a more effective course of action would be to merge itself into the non-partisan, non-political South Island First lobby group instead. Both parties had called for the establishment of a regional assembly or parliament to handle issues relating directly to the South Island.
A sizeable measure of residual support still exists for the cause of South Island self-determination. This is commonly manifested through semi serious campaigns such as the South Island Independence Movement, the Cut the Cable movement, the Zealandia Independence Project and a growing youth culture promoting this agenda through social networking websites such as Bebo and Facebook.
Today, demands for South Island independence are based on the idea that since political separation of New Zealand from New South Wales in 1841, the South Island has developed its own identity, culture and a much more resilient economy than its northern neighbour.