NZ & AU: What’s The Difference

August 26, 2016
Iain MacLeod

To many (particularly those already living in either country) the answer is easy – they’re two completely different countries. It’d be quicker to list the ways Australia and New Zealand are the same than it would be to even contemplate all the ways in which they differ. Or is it the other way around, as many others claim?

Since IMMagine has licensed consultants who can advise against policy for both countries, we’ve recently been thinking a lot about these differences and even more so, the similarities.

This post is going to cover (on a very basic level) what the real differences and similarities are between Australia and New Zealand. It might surprise you to learn that many people actually believe that New Zealand is just a small province of Australia, or, more in jest, that Australia is New Zealand’s “West Island” to accompany its North & South (watch out Samoa, Cook Islands et al, we’re looking for an East Island!).

All a bit tongue-in-cheek, but for the potential migrant with a case of serious indecision, let’s take a closer look.

To begin with, New Zealand was one of the very last places on Earth to be settled by humans, while Australia has a local culture that stretches back over 40 000 years.

The three main areas of commonality between the two countries are:

1. The urban societies of both countries were created by the British over the last 3 centuries.

2. Nearly 30% of each country is made up of migrants.

3. Both countries are fairly close to one another geographically.

The Environment:

I often say that people living in temperate environments (which NZ is more so than Australia) don’t have a clue what it’s like to be really, really hot. Australia is really hot.

Climatically and environmentally, New Zealand is heaven by comparison. It receives good, fairly predictable rainfall, has huge rivers fed by melting glaciers with nutrient rich soils and within short distances provides an array of seasonal activity.

Conversely, Australia’s deserts, droughts and leached soils for those in agriculture especially can be hell. NZ land is more productive and reliable and as a result, New Zealanders tend to not have the same ‘struggler mythology’ of Australians who have always had to deal with drought and scorched earth and the agricultural fall out of this.

Most of Australia’s land area just isn’t arable, except by extremely extensive stocking (those famous outback farms the size of Belgium…).

Culture & Indigenous Populations:

The Maori culture is far more prominent in New Zealand society than Aboriginal cultures are in Australian society. For example, Maori is an official language of New Zealand and is taught in schools, used in government departments and broadcast on television. New Zealand also has a Maori monarch and a Maori war dance is performed before rugby games (we all know about the Haka, right?)

Studies also show that in New Zealand, people of Chinese origin tend to maintain an ethnic Chinese identity while in Australia, they are more likely to consider themselves to be Australian in shorter order.


For a detailed comparison between the two country’s economy, click here.


In Australia, voting is compulsory. In New Zealand, it is not. Australia uses preferential voting in which candidates are ranked in order of preference. New Zealand does not. Australia uses a “first-past-the-post” system that gives the seat to the candidate that gets the most votes or preferences. This results in two major parties dominating.

New Zealand uses a proportional voting system which results in some major parties, but also representation from minority nationalist groups, business lobbies, environmentalists and parties aligned with specific races.

Australia has a senate. New Zealand does not. Australia does not have seats reserved for any racial group. New Zealand has special seats reserved for Maori.

The two countries do, however, have a shared military heritage and have fought side-by-side as brothers-in-arms in all major conflict, with none more meaningful to both than the loss of 12 000 men in Gallipoli, 1914 as the united force of the ANZACs (Australian & New Zealand Army Corps).


Australia & New Zealand enjoy playing, supporting and competing in the same variety of sports: rugby, soccer, cricket, rugby league, rugby union, hockey, netball and more rugby. Both countries also really like rugby. Rugby is important. RUGBY.


Overall, lifestyle in Australia and New Zealand is very similar. Work/life balance is important, the transition (especially for South Africans) is equally smooth-with-a-few-bumps (having said that, both NZ and Australia have many similarities to South Africa). The societies are both caring and conscious of its people and share an overall positive outlook; enjoying similarly relaxed, safe and proactive lives.

For the most part, both countries feel like a bit of a haven, avoiding the majority of the troubles of the world such as terrorism, corruption and violent crime.

Just for some laughs, here’s Buzzfeed’s comparison.

And a really well written comparison by someone who feels NZ does things a little better, just because I was very nice about Melbourne two weeks ago and did call it the capital of The World.

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