Economy of New Zealand

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Economy of New Zealand
Auckland Harbour View 19 (5642821336).jpg
Rank 53rd
Currency 1 New Zealand dollar (NZD$) = 100 cents
1 April – 31 March
Trade organisations
GDP $181.1 billion (2013 est.)1
GDP growth
2.7% (2013 est.)2
GDP per capita
$30,396 (2013 est.)1
GDP by sector
Agriculture (4.7%), industry (24%), services (71.3%) (2011 est.)
0.7% (YTD June 2013 Statistics New Zealand)3
Population below poverty line
36.2 (1997)
Labour force
2.402 million (2012 est.)
Labour force by occupation
Agriculture (7%), industry (19%), services (74%) (2006 est.)
Unemployment 8.5% Q4 2013 45
Main industries
Food processing, textiles, machinery and transportation equipment, finance, tourism (to NZ), mining (in NZ)
Exports $37.73 billion (2012 est.)
Export goods
Dairy products, meat, wool and wood products, fish, machinery
Main export partners
 Australia 21.0%
 China 15.0%
 United States 9.2%
 Japan 7.0% (2012 est.)7
Imports $35.65 billion (2012 est.)
Import goods
Machinery and equipment, vehicles and aircraft, petroleum, electronics, textiles, plastics
Main import partners
 China 16.4%
 Australia 15.2%
 United States 9.3%
 Japan 6.5%
 Singapore 4.8%
 Germany 4.4% (2012 est.)8
$256.4 billion (125.3% of GDP) (2012 est.)9
Public finances
41.8% of GDP (2012 est.)
Revenues $62.64 billion (2012 est.)
Expenses $72.71 billion (2012 est.)
Economic aid donor: $99.7 million (FY99/00)
Foreign reserves
US$20.626 billion (March 2011)12
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.

New Zealand has a market economy that depends greatly on international trade, mainly with Australia, the European Union, the United States, China, South Korea and Japan. It has only small manufacturing and high-tech sectors, being strongly focused on tourism and primary industries such as agriculture. Free-market reforms over recent decades have removed many barriers to foreign investment, and the World Bank in 2005 praised New Zealand as being the most business-friendly country in the world, before Singapore.1314


Gross domestic product trend of New Zealand at market prices estimated by the International Monetary Fund15
Year Gross domestic product
(NZ$ millions)
1 US dollar exchange Inflation index
Per capita income
(as % of USA)
1980 22,976 NZD 1.02 30 58.67
1985 45,003 NZD 2.00 53 38.93
1990 73,745 NZD 1.67 84 55.80
1995 91,881 NZD 1.52 93 59.02
2000 114,563 NZD 2.18 100 38.98
2005 154,108 NZD 1.41 113 62.99

Traditionally, New Zealand's economy was built on a narrow range of primary products, such as wool, meat and dairy products. As an example, from approximately 1920 to the late 1930s, the dairy export quota was usually around 35% of the total exports, and in some years made up almost 45% of all New Zealand's exports.16 Due to the high demand for these primary products – such as the New Zealand wool boom of 1951 – New Zealand enjoyed a high standard of living. However, commodity prices for these exports declined, and New Zealand lost its preferential trading position with the United Kingdom in 1973, due to the latter joining the European Economic Community. Partly as a result, from 1970 to 1990, the relative New Zealand GDP per capita adjusted for purchasing power declined from about 115% of the OECD average to 80%.17

New Zealand's economy has been based on a foundation of exports from its very efficient agricultural system. Leading agricultural exports include meat, dairy products, forest products, fruit and vegetables, fish, and wool. New Zealand was a direct beneficiary of many of the reforms achieved under the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations, with agriculture in general and the dairy sector in particular enjoying many new trade opportunities in the long term. The country has substantial hydroelectric power and sizeable reserves of natural gas, much of which is exploited due primarily to major Keynesian import substitution-oriented industrial projects (See Think Big). Leading manufacturing sectors are food processing, metal fabrication, and wood and paper products. Some manufacturing industries, many of which had only been established in a climate of import substitution with high tariffs and subsidies, such as car assembly, have completely disappeared, and manufacturing's importance in the economy is in a general decline.


Since 1984, the New Zealand government has undertaken major economic restructuring (known first as Rogernomics and then Ruthanasia), moving an agrarian economy dependent on concessionary British market access toward a more industrialised, free-market economy that can compete globally. This growth has boosted real incomes, broadened and deepened the technological capabilities of the industrial sector, and contained inflationary pressures. Inflation remains among the lowest in the industrial world. Per-capita GDP has been moving up towards the levels of the big West European economies since the trough in 1990, but the gap remains significant. New Zealand's heavy dependence on trade leaves its growth prospects vulnerable to economic performance in Asia, Europe, and the United States.

Between 1984 and 1999, a number of measures of New Zealand's economic and social capital showed a steady decline: the youth suicide rate grew sharply into one of the highest in the developed world;18 the number of food banks increased dramatically;19 marked increases in violent and other crime were observed;20 the number of New Zealanders estimated to be living in poverty grew by at least 35% between 1989 and 1992;21 and health care was especially hard-hit, leading to a significant deterioration in health standards among working and middle-class people.22

Between 1985 and 1992, New Zealand's economy grew by 4.7% during the same period in which the average OECD nation grew by 28.2%.23 From 1984 to 1993 inflation averaged 9% per year, New Zealand's credit rating dropped twice, and foreign debt quadrupled.21 Between 1986 and 1993, the unemployment rate rose from 3.6% to 11%.24

Outlook and challenges

New Zealand net overseas debt 1993–2012
New Zealand government overseas debt 1990–2012

The New Zealand economy has recently been perceived as successful. However, the generally positive outlook includes some challenges. New Zealand income levels, which used to be above much of Western Europe prior to the deep crisis of the 1970s, have never recovered in relative terms. For instance, the New Zealand nominal GDP per capita is about 80% that of the United States. Income inequality has increased greatly, implying that significant portions of the population have quite modest incomes. Further, New Zealand has a very large current account deficit of 8–9% of GDP. Despite this, its public debt stands at 33.7% (2011 est.)25 of the total GDP, which is small compared to many developed nations. However, between 1984 and 2006, net foreign debt increased 11-fold, to NZ$182 billion, NZ$45,000 for each person.13

The combination of a modest public debt and a large net foreign debt reflects that most of the net foreign debt is held by the private sector. At 31 June 2012, gross foreign debt was NZ$256.4 billion, or 125.3% of GDP.26 At 31 March 2012, net foreign debt was NZ$141.65 billion or 104.4% of GDP.27

New Zealand's persistent current-account deficits have two main causes. The first is that earnings from agricultural exports and tourism have failed to cover the imports of advanced manufactured goods and other imports (such as imported fuels) required to sustain the New Zealand economy.citation needed Secondly, there has been an investment income imbalance or net outflow for debt-servicing of external loans. The proportion of the current account deficit that is attributable to the investment income imbalance (a net outflow to the Australian-owned banking sector) grew from one third in 1997 to roughly 70% in 2008.28


Regulation and welfare state

Historically, New Zealand had a highly protected, regulated and subsidised economy. This stemmed at least partly from trends started in the first half of the 20th century, when the Liberal Government and later the First Labour Government introduced social security systems with, for the time, very wide-ranging scope (from state pensions to unemployment benefits and free education and health care), while also regulating industry, mandating trade unionism and industrial arbitration. Imports were also heavily regulated. While called "welfare statism" by some,29it was accepted that until at least the 1950s both main parties (Labour and National) generally supported this trend, even though critics pointed to negative effects on the general economy and argued that increasing emigration could be blamed to a large degree on these policies.30

By the 1960s, the New Zealand economy's terms of trade began to decline. This was largely due to the decline in export receipts from the United Kingdom, which in 1955 took 65.3 percent of New Zealand's exports. By the year ended June 1973, during which Britain formally entered the European Economic Community, this had fallen to 26.8 percent. By the year ended June 1990 its share had fallen to 7.2 percent and in the year ended June 2000 its share was 6.2 percent.31

To a substantial degree, the economic restrictions remained in place or were even sometimes extended in the early second half of the 20th century. However, reforms in the 1980s and early 1990s were then to turn this situation into its opposite.

Reform and liberalisation

Between 1984 and 1995, successive New Zealand governments enacted policies of economic deregulation informed by microeconomics. The policies aimed to liberalise the economy and were notable for their very comprehensive coverage and innovations. Specific polices included: floating the exchange rate; establishing an independent reserve bank; performance contracts for senior civil servants; public sector finance reform based on accrual accounting; tax neutrality; subsidy-free agriculture; and industry-neutral competition regulation. Economic growth was resumed in 1991. New Zealand was changed from a somewhat closed and centrally controlled economy to one of the most open economies in the OECD.32

Since 1984, government subsidies including agricultural subsides were eliminated; import regulations were liberalised; the exchange rate was floated; and controls on interest rates, wages, and prices were removed; and marginal rates of taxation were reduced. Tight monetary policy and major efforts to reduce the government budget deficit brought the inflation rate down from an annual rate of more than 18% in 1987. The deregulation of government-owned enterprises in the 1980s and 1990s reduced government's role in the economy and permitted the retirement of some public debt.

Deregulation created a very business-friendly regulatory framework. A 2008 study and survey ranked it 99.9% in "Business freedom", and 80% overall in "Economic freedom", noting amongst other things that it only takes 12 days to establish a business in New Zealand on average, compared with a worldwide average of 43 days. Other indicators measured were property rights, labour market conditions, government controls and corruption, the last being considered "next to non-existent" in the Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal study.33

According to the Heritage Foundation, New Zealand has the strongest private property rights in the world, scoring 95 on a scale of 100.

In its 'Doing Business 2008' survey, the World Bank (which in that year rated New Zealand as the second-most business-friendly country worldwide), ranked New Zealand 13th out of 178 in the business-friendliness of its hiring laws.34

The 1990s liberalisations also have been blamed for a number of significant negative effects. One of them was the leaky homes crisis, where the liberalisation of building standards (in the expectation that market forces would assure quality) led to many thousands of severely deficient buildings (mostly residential homes and apartments) being constructed over a period of a decade. The costs of fixing the damage has been estimated at over NZ$11 billion.35

Recent trends

Economic growth, which had slowed in 1997 and 1998 due to the negative effects of the Asian financial crisis and two successive years of drought, rebounded in 1999. A low New Zealand dollar, favourable weather, and high commodity prices boosted exports, and the economy is estimated to have grown by 2.5% in 2000. Growth resumed at a higher level from 2001 onwards due primarily to the lower value of the New Zealand dollar, which made exports more competitive. The return of substantial economic growth led the unemployment rate to drop from 7.8% in 1999 to 3.4% in late 2005, the lowest rate in nearly 20 years.

Although New Zealand enjoyed low unemployment rates in the years immediately prior to the financial crisis beginning in 2007, subsequent unemployment rose.

New Zealand's large current account deficit, which stood at more than 6.5% of GDP in 2000, has been a constant source of concern for New Zealand policymakers and hit 9% as of March 2006.citation needed The rebound in the export sector is expected to help narrow the deficit to lower levels, especially due to decreases in the exchange rate of the New Zealand dollar during 2008.

Foreign business relations

New Zealand's economy has been helped by strong economic relations with Australia. Australia and New Zealand are partners in "Closer Economic Relations" (CER), which allows for free trade in goods and most services. Since 1990, CER has created a single market of more than 25 million people, and this has provided new opportunities for New Zealand exporters. Australia is now the destination of 19% of New Zealand's exports, compared to 14% in 1983.citation needed Both sides have also agreed to consider extending CER to product standardisation and taxation policy. New Zealand initiated a free trade agreement with Singapore in September 2000 which was extended in 2005 to include Chile and Brunei and is now known as the P4 agreement. New Zealand is seeking other bilateral/regional trade agreements in the Pacific area.citation needed

US goods and services have been competitive in New Zealand, though the then-strong US dollar created challenges for US exporters in 2001. The market-led economy offers many opportunities for US exporters and investors. Investment opportunities exist in chemicals, food preparation, finance, tourism, and forest products, as well as in franchising. The best sales prospects are for medical equipment, information technology, and consumer goods. On the agricultural side, the best prospects are for fresh fruit, snack foods, specialised grocery items (e.g. organic foods), and soybean meal. A number of US companies have subsidiary branches in New Zealand. Many operate through local agents, with some joint venture associations. The United States Chamber of Commerce is active in New Zealand, with a main office in Auckland and a branch committee in Wellington.

However, as of the 2010s, China is now New Zealand's second-largest trading partner, behind Australia.3637 On 17 June 2010, Xi Jinping, China's vice-president, travelled to Auckland, New Zealand for a three-day visit, along with more than 100 senior business leaders.38

New Zealand welcomes and encourages foreign investment without discrimination. The Overseas Investment Commission (OIC) must, however, consent to foreign investments that would control 25% or more of businesses or property worth more than NZ$50 million. Restrictions and approval requirements also apply to certain investments in land and in the commercial fishing industry. In practice, OIC approval requirements have not hindered investment. OIC consent is based on a national interest determination, but no performance requirements are attached to foreign direct investment after consent is given. Full remittance of profits and capital is permitted through normal banking channels.

This free investment by foreign capital has also been criticised. Groups like Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) consider that New Zealand's economy is substantially overseas-owned, noting that direct ownership of New Zealand companies by foreign parties increased from $9.7 billion in 1989 to $83 billion in 2007 (an over 700% increase), while 41% of the New Zealand sharemarket valuation is now overseas-owned, compared to 19% in 1989. Around 7% of all New Zealand agriculturally productive land is also foreign-owned. CAFCA considers that the effect of such takeovers has generally been negative in terms of jobs and wages.13


Prior to the economic shocks which occurred upon Britain's joining the EEC in the 1970s and closing as a primary New Zealand export market, measured unemployment in New Zealand was very low. In 1959 and 1960, for example, the country was officially at full employment.39 One Labour party representative recently joked in a speech that the Prime Minister of the day knew the name of every unemployed person.40

Between 1985 and 2012, New Zealand's unemployment rate averaged 6.29%. After the stock market crash of 1989, unemployment began to rise reaching an all-time high of 11.20% in September 1991.41 By 2007, it had dropped again and the rate stood at 3.5% (December 2007), its lowest level since the current method of surveying began in 1986. This gave the country the 5th-best ranking in the OECD (with an OECD average at the time of 5.5%). The low numbers correlated with a robust economy and a large backlog of job positions at all levels.42 Unemployment numbers are not always directly comparable between OECD nations, as they do not all keep labour market statistics in the same way.

The percentage of the population employed also increased in recent years, to 68.8% of all inhabitants, with full-time jobs increasing slightly, and part-time occupations decreasing in turn. The increase in the working population percentage is attributed to increasing wages and higher costs of living moving more people into employment.42 The low unemployment also had some disadvantages, with many companies unable to fill jobs.

From 2008, mainly as a result of the global financial crisis, unemployment numbers began to rise, with job losses especially high amongst women.43 In the last quarter of 2012, the unemployment rate fell to 6.9% from a 13-year high. This now makes New Zealand the 14th lowest among developed nations, below Canada's 7.2% and above Israel's 6.7%.44


As of 2010, New Zealand had the second-lowest personal tax burden in the OECD, once all compulsory effects (such as superannuation and other mandatory deductions) were included in the tax-take. Only Mexico's citizens had a higher percentage-wise "take home" proportion of their salaries.45

There is an ongoing political debate between left- and right-leaning political parties as to whether further lowering taxes is appropriate. One of the most contentious questions is whether to adjust the relative tax burden of the highest-income earners.citation needed

Corruption perceptions index

New Zealand is the highest-ranked (i.e. least corrupt) country on the Transparency International corruption perceptions index (CPI) of 2011.46 However, the validity of this index is disputed by those who investigate such matters. Adam Feeley, chief executive of the Serious Fraud Office says fraud is widespread in New Zealand and there are fundamental misconceptions about New Zealand's ranking as one of the world's least corrupt countries.47 International auditors, PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC), agree. In 2011 PwC conducted a survey on Global Economic Crime which found that 50% of New Zealand organisations (both public and private) had experienced an economic crime in the previous 12 months. This gave New Zealand the 4th highest level of fraud out of the 78 countries surveyed.48

Other indicators

The Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter has been noted as providing a significant boost for the country's overall trade balance, and is one of the country's largest industrial sites.
Tourism, like here on the Milford Sound (special bus with viewing gallery), is New Zealand's largest 'export' earner.49
Agriculture (especially dairy farming—such as for the Fonterra plant shown) is another major export earner.

Industrial production growth rate: 5.9% (2004) / 1.5% (2007)

Household income or consumption by percentage share:

  • Lowest 10%: 0.3% (1991)
  • Highest 10%: 29.8% (1991)

Agriculture – products: wheat, barley, potatoes, pulses, fruits, vegetables; wool, beef, dairy products; fish

Exports – commodities: dairy products, meat, wood and wood products, fish, machinery

Imports – commodities: machinery and equipment, vehicles and aircraft, petroleum, electronics, textiles, plastics


  • Electricity – consumption: 34.88 TWh (2001) / 37.39 TWh (2006)
  • Electricity – production: 38.39 TWh (2004) / 42.06 TWh (2006)
  • Electricity – exports: 0 kWh (2006)
  • Electricity – imports: 0 kWh (2006)

Electricity – production by source:50

  • Hydro: 55.6% (2010)
  • Geothermal: 9.9% (2010)
  • Wind: 2.9% (2010)
  • Fossil Fuel: 28.2% (2010)
  • Nuclear: 0% (2010)
  • Other: 3.4% (2010)


  • Oil – production: 42,160-barrel (6,703 m3) 2001 / 25,880-barrel (4,115 m3) 2006
  • Oil – consumption: 132,700-barrel (21,100 m3) 2001 / 156,000-barrel (24,800 m3) 2006
  • Oil – exports: 30,220-barrel (4,805 m3) 2001 / 15,720-barrel (2,499 m3) 2004
  • Oil – imports: 119,700-barrel (19,030 m3) 2001 / 140,900-barrel (22,400 m3) 2004
  • Oil – proven reserves: 89.62-million-barrels (14,248,000 m3) January 2002

Exchange rates:
New Zealand dollars (NZ$) per US$1 – 1.2652 (2012), 1.3869 (2005), 1.5248 (2004), 1.9071 (2003), 2.1622 (2002), 2.3788 (2001), 2.2012 (2000), 1.8886 (1999), 1.8632 (1998), 1.5083 (1997), 1.4543 (1996), 1.5235 (1995)

See also


  1. ^ a b "New Zealand". International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  2. ^ "New Zealand". International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  3. ^ "Consumers Price Index: June 2013 quarter". Statistics New Zealand. 24 September 2013. 
  4. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ New Zealand: Unemployment rate decreased to 6.6% in QI,, 5 May 2011 
  6. ^ "Ease of Doing Business in New Zealand 2013". World Bank. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  7. ^ "Exports Partners of New Zealand". CIA World Factbook. 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  8. ^ "Imports Partners of New Zealand". CIA World Factbook. 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  9. ^ "External Debt New Zealand". Reserve Bank of New Zealand. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  10. ^ "Sovereigns rating list". Standard & Poor's. Retrieved 26 May 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c Rogers, Simon; Sedghi, Ami (15 April 2011). "How Fitch, Moody's and S&P rate each country's credit rating". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  12. ^ "International Reserves and Foreign Currency Liquidity – NEW ZEALAND". International Monetary Fund. 29 April 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  13. ^ a b c McCarten, Matt (14 January 2007). "Foreign owners muscle in as New Zealand sells off all its assets". The New Zealand Herald. 
  14. ^ "New Zealand rated most business-friendly". International Herald Tribune. 14 September 2005. 
  15. ^ IMF
  16. ^ McKinnon, Malcolm, ed. (1997). New Zealand Historical Atlas, Plate 61. David Bateman. 
  17. ^ Drew, Aaron. "New Zealand's productivity performance and prospects". Bulletin (Reserve Bank of New Zealand) 70 (1). Retrieved 10 February 2008. 
  18. ^ Wasserman, Danuta; Cheng, Qi; Jiang, Guo-Xin (1 June 2005). "Global suicide rates among young people aged 15–19". World Psychiatry 4 (2): 114–20. PMC 1414751. PMID 16633527. 
  19. ^ Ballard, Keith (14 October 2003). Inclusion, exclusion, poverty, racism and education: An outline of some present issues (DOC). 
  20. ^ Ian Ewing. (31 July 2001). Crime in New Zealand (PDF). Statistics New Zealand. p. 9. ISBN 0-478-20773-5. 
  21. ^ a b Kelsey, Jane (9 July 1999). "Life in the economic test tube: New Zealand "experiment" a colossal failure". 
  22. ^ Bramhall, Stuart MD (9 January 2003). "The New Zealand Health Care System". Physicians for a National Health Program. 
  23. ^}
  24. ^
  25. ^ "New Zealand". The World Fact Book. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  26. ^ "E3 New Zealand's overseas debt". Reserve Bank of New Zealand. 23 March 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  27. ^ "Balance of Payments and International Investment Position: March 2012 quarter". Statistics New Zealand. 21 March 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  28. ^ Bertram, Geoff (February 2009). "The banks, the current account, the financial crisis and the outlook". Policy Quarterly 5 (1). 
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Revolt of the Guinea Pigs". Time. 12 December 1949. 
  31. ^ "New Zealand's Export Markets year ended June 2000 (provisional)". Statistics New Zealand. June 2000. Retrieved 15 June 2008. 
  32. ^ Evans, Lewis; Grimes, Arthur; Wilkinson, Bryce (December 1996). "Economic Reform in New Zealand 1984–95: The Pursuit of Efficiency". Journal of Economic Literature. 34(4): 1856–1902. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  33. ^ "Survey ranks NZ in top six for economic freedom". The New Zealand Herald. 16 January 2008. 
  34. ^ "Economy Rankings". Doing Business website. World Bank. Retrieved 13 August 2008. 
  35. ^ Rudman, Brian (18 September 2009). "Government must plug those leaks". The New Zealand Herald. 
  36. ^ Business Desk/NZPA (17 June 2010). "China offered NZ recession buffer". Stuff (Fairfax). 
  37. ^ China offered New Zealand, China to enhance tripartite partnership between universities 18 June 2010,
  38. ^ ONE News/Newstalk ZB (17 June 2010). "China's Vice President visits New Zealand". Television NZ Ltd. 
  39. ^ "An Economic History of New Zealand in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries". 11 August 2011. 
  40. ^ Phil Goff (11 December 2006). "Succeeding in a Globalised World: The New Zealand Experience". Speech. New Zealand Government. 
  41. ^ New Zealand Unemployment rate, Statistics New Zealand
  42. ^ a b Daly, Michael (7 February 2008). "Unemployment at record low as job growth surges". New Zealand Herald (APN Holdings). Retrieved 7 August 2010. 
  43. ^ "Unemployment surges to 9-year high". New Zealand Herald (APN Holdings). 6 August 2009. Retrieved 7 August 2010. 
  44. ^ U Unemployment drops 0.4pc from 13-year high
  45. ^ Dickison, Michael (12 May 2010). "NZ earners' tax burden second-lowest in OECD". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  46. ^ "Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2011 Table". Transparency International. 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2011. 
  47. ^ Birchfield, Reg (September 2012), Boards blase about management "The Director - Cover Story: Boards blasé about management", New Zealand Management (Mediaweb LTD.), retrieved 7 February 2014 
  48. ^ The 2011 Global Economic Crime Survey results for New Zealand Fraud, fraudsters and cybercrime (pdf), PricewaterhouseCoopers, November 2011, p. 4, retrieved 7 February 2014 
  49. ^ Corporate Overview (from the Tourism New Zealand corporate website. Retrieved 30 September 2007)
  50. ^ "Electricity in New Zealand" (PDF). NZ Electricity Authority/Te Mana Hiko. November 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2011. 

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