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New Zealand Modern History

New Zealand gained full independence from the colonial power of Britain in 1947. The bourgeois Nationalist Party then had power with some interruptions for short-term Social Democratic Labor governments. Following a reform of the electoral system, the position of the small parties was strengthened in the 1996 election, when right-wing New Zealand first entered parliament and the government. In the early 2000s, the issue of compensation for the ancient land losses of the Maoris became a political battle issue, which cost Labor support among the Maoris.

New Zealand's path from the British colony to a fully independent member of the Commonwealth was long and odramatic. In 1947 the country became completely independent even in foreign policy.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing New Zealand. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The Nationalist Party won the election in 1949 and ruled the country until 1984 with the exception of two terms of office, 1957-1960 and 1972-1755, when Labor sat in power.

In the early 1970s, New Zealand entered an economic crisis. A key reason was the UK's entry into the EC (now the EU) which forced the British government to abolish the favorable tariffs on New Zealand goods. The problems were further exacerbated by the international oil crisis.

The 1984 election was won by Labor, who immediately embarked on radical reforms of the economy. The credit and currency controls were abolished, as were all wage and price controls. Subsidies for agriculture in particular were phased out and government assets were sold to free up resources. The transformation of the economy led to increased unemployment and growing social problems.

Contemporary History of New ZealandEconomic problems

The government also pursued an active policy against nuclear weapons, which had strong support in public opinion but created friction in relation to the United States (see Foreign Policy and Defense). In the 1987 election, Labor succeeded in being re-elected for the first time since 1946. But disagreement over economic policy grew within the party, while the economy deteriorated.

In the 1990 election, the Nationalist Party won by far, which meant that the market-oriented policy continued. Soon there were cuts in the social sector and extensive liberalization of the labor market. At the same time, the economy began to recover to a certain extent after a sharp decline in 1991, but unemployment was high and the government had difficulty getting the state budget to collapse due to reduced tax revenues. The cuts also sparked protests within the government party, which by a marginal margin won the elections in 1993.

The 1996 election was the first with a new electoral system (see Political system), and both major parties lost votes. However, the Nationalist Party could again form government, now in coalition with the relatively newly started right-wing populist party New Zealand first (NZF). The fragmentation and lack of political experience within the NZF created problems in the government, which eventually led to the NZF leaving the government.

Helen Clark forms Labor government

After nine years of bourgeois rule, Labor won the election in 1999. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Helen Clark, the party formed government together with the center and left parties and was also dependent on support from the Green Party. More resources went to care, education and measures to improve the environment. The government wanted to tackle growing social divisions and promised investments to the Moorish and Polynesian minorities. Helen Clark's Labor government could remain in office even after the 2002 election, when the Nationalist Party was supported by only 21 percent of voters.

The economy strengthened, but during Labour's second term in 2002, the political contradictions grew. An increasingly loaded issue was the Maori demands for compensation for lost land (see Political system). In 2004, the government presented a proposal that meant that the seabed along the coasts and the beach areas exposed at ebb would belong to the state. The background was a dispute over the ownership of a large fishing area on the South Island. The Maoris who claimed the area could, with the new law, retain their fishing rights, but could not deny other access. The Maoris considered this to be contrary to the Waitangi Treaty.

The Maori Deputy Minister Tariana Turia was forced to resign when she opposed the bill, and in 2004 she became one of the founders of the new Maori Party. The battle for coastal rights cost Labor much of the support traditionally enjoyed by the Maori. The law was later adopted with the help of right-wing populist NZF.

Labor remains in office

The 2005 election was even. Labor managed to maintain its position as the largest party with a marginal margin, and received 50 seats against 48 for the Nationalist Party, which advanced strongly. The Maori Party got four seats.

Helen Clark was able to form a new minority government together with a smaller party the Progressive Party (Progressive party, dissolved 2012). The government was also supported by the United Future New Zealand Center Party and the NZF, whose party leaders both received ministerial posts outside the government itself (the Cabinet). The controversial NZF leader Winston Peter's appointment as Foreign Minister caused criticism. After three years, Peter resigned on suspicion of financial crime.

The economy was the focus of the 2008 parliamentary elections. New Zealand had been hit by the international recession, unemployment increased, and the ruling Labor Party returned to public opinion. Labor received 43 seats, while the Nationalist Party won the election with 58 seats. The Nationalist Party's new leader, John Key, had strengthened the party's opinion figures, among other things, by emphasizing social issues. Labor leader Helen Clark resigned after the election and was replaced by Phil Goff.

The financial crisis strikes

John Key became Prime Minister and formed a minority government with the support of ACT New Zealand, United Future of New Zealand and the Maori Party. The Keys government implemented a promised reduction in income tax but increased VAT. In order to meet rising unemployment, investments were made in infrastructure, which would help to create new jobs. Government debt increased rapidly and at the same time the global financial crisis broke out. Almost a decade of budget surpluses were turned into deficits in 2010 and subsequent years. The government responded with budgetary constraints and implemented a number of tangible cuts in health care, schooling and social care.

In 2010, the Keys government signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, something the previous Labor government refused. In particular, it was difficult for the Labor Party to accept the declaration's section on the recognition of indigenous peoples' rights to land (see Political system). The Maori Party pushed for the declaration to be signed, but the Key government's decision was controversial and met with opposition even within the Nationalist Party itself and the ACT party.

In February 2011, New Zealand's second largest city of Christchurch was shaken by a powerful earthquake, which killed 185 people, damaged thousands and destroyed many thousands of buildings in the city. Several aftershocks followed. The earthquake became a setback for the economy that had begun to recover from the effects of the global financial crisis. Nevertheless, the economic situation was better than in many other countries.

State privatizations are becoming a matter of choice

During the election campaign ahead of the November elections that year, Key announced that his government was planning a sale of state-owned companies to raise money for the Treasury. This included shares in several power companies, a mine and the national airline Air New Zealand. Labor leader Phil Goff, in his election campaign, exploited a concern that existed in the country that state-owned companies would end up in foreign ownership. Many also believed that the privatization and liberalization of the 1980s had gone too far. For example, a few years earlier, the state had been forced to take back ownership of Air New Zealand to save the company from bankruptcy.

Prime Minister Key was involved in several scandals during the election campaign. Among other things, he was accused of hypocrisy when the government bought expensive limousines while cutting the state budget.

But the Nationalist Party made a good choice, after all, and won another couple of seats in Parliament, while Labor went back. Labor leader Phil Goff resigned after the defeat and was succeeded by David Shearer.

In December 2011, John Key and the Nationalist Party formed a new minority government with continued support from the Maori Party, United New Zealand and ACT. However, both the Maori Party and ACT had lost votes in the election.

Proposed stricter immigration policy

The New Zealand immigration-critical party only returned to Parliament after a term of office outside. Also within the Nationalist Party and its support parties were immigration-critical sentiments. The Government proposed in 2012 that asylum legislation should be tightened, for example, asylum seekers could be interned for six months. The intention was to deter boat refugees and refugee smugglers from Asia to set course for New Zealand to the same extent that happened to Australia. In June 2013, the law was passed in parliament, despite criticism from the opposition and from the human rights organization Amnesty International.

But it was the economy that was the government's biggest problem, with a rapidly growing budget deficit. Key's plan was that budgetary tightening, increased tax revenue and the sale of government assets would create surpluses in the budget by 2015. Unemployment was also high and many New Zealanders left the country hoping for better economic opportunities, especially in Australia.

In the September 2014 elections, the ruling Nationalist Party strengthened its position in the House of Representatives, but failed to secure a majority of the seats. The Nationalist Party received 61 seats, while Labor backed to 32 seats. The Nationalist Party was again supported by the Maori Party, the United Future of New Zealand and ACT and was thus able to continue in office under the leadership of Prime Minister John Key.

A referendum on the country's flag

One of Key's election promises was to propose a change of the country's flag. A change of flag has been discussed occasionally in New Zealand since the 1970s, and then much as a way of giving the country its own identity by removing the part that constitutes the UK flag. Some have seen a change of flag as part of New Zealand becoming a republic of its own and freeing itself from the UK, but this was not what Key said was striving for. He himself was a monarchist and wanted to keep the connection to Britain. However, he felt it was problematic that many people around the world mixed up the flags of New Zealand and Australia.

At the end of 2015, an initial vote was held on various proposals for a new flag. The voters finally stuck to an alternative where the image of the British flag was replaced with a silver feather against a black background. Another referendum was held in March 2016 when the New Zealanders chose between the current flag and the new proposal. More than 56 percent of the participants voted to keep the old flag. The government was subsequently criticized for the vote being unnecessary and a waste of state funds.

 
 

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