Democracy in New Zealand

Kate Sheppard, New Zealand's leading suffrage campaigner. Wikipedia Commons

UNIMPORTANT as New Zealand is today in world affairs -- only a million and a half people sharing less than one percent of the world's trade -- there was a time when sociologists came to investigate our institutions. For a quarter of a century New Zealand prided itself on leading the world in extending state social services and giving equality of opportunity by means of legislative action; today New Zealand has not merely retrenched and economized, but has lost much of her faith in the governmental institutions and social services which so amazed André Siegfried, H. D. Lloyd, the Webbs, Ramsay MacDonald, and many other foreign observers.

New Zealand was the first country to attempt to settle industrial disputes by the legal processes of a Compulsory Court; the present Coalition Government, part descendant of the Liberal Party which made New Zealand "a land without strikes," has scrapped the compulsory arbitration system in industrial relations. The Liberal Party rose in the eighties of the last century as a revolt against the "Skinflints," whose one remedy for an economic crisis was to economize and reduce wages; the Liberal Party in the next great depression has set up a National Expenditure Commission, which has peered into every pigeonhole of state assistance to the people and has proposed to settle the crisis by discontinuing, among other things, free books to primary school children in necessitous cases, abolishing local administration boards, making more difficult the training of teachers, raising the minimum age of ad mission to primary schools, abolishing all grants for adult education, abolishing family allowances, cutting down old age pensions, and so on. Except for protests from the interests concerned, such economies are being accepted willingly, sometimes almost joyously, as a proof of the determination of New Zealand to adjust herself to the depression by doing without "frills" and "luxuries." The government set up a committee of economists who found that the national income had fallen from £150,000,000 in 1928-29 to £110,000,000 at the beginning of 1932.

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