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The Great Depression and Reform, National Party Dominance

Robert Muldoon, Maori population, Walter Nash, healthy recovery, feminist groups

Labour lost its hold on power in the 1949 elections. The National Party (established as a successor to the Reform Party in 1936) won a decisive victory under the leadership of Sidney Holland, who became prime minister. In 1951 his government responded to a prolonged dockworkers’ strike by restricting civil liberties. Holland served as prime minister until he retired, citing ill health, in 1957. In the elections of that year the National Party, under the leadership of Holland’s successor, Keith Holyoake, lost to the Labour Party under Walter Nash. But Holyoake led the National Party to victory in the 1960 elections and in three subsequent elections, holding office as prime minister until 1972. That year the Labour Party secured an election victory under Norman Kirk. Kirk died in office in 1974 and was replaced by Wallace Rowling. The National Party was reelected in 1975, now under Robert Muldoon, who served as prime minister until 1984.

During these decades of National Party dominance, a high level of integration between state, business, farming, and even workers’ unions persisted. The economy was fairly prosperous from the 1950s through the 1970s. Waning demand for New Zealand products in Britain led to more diversified trading partners. Muldoon’s government regulated many parts of New Zealand’s economy, to the benefit of farmers and businesses. He advocated traditional social values and maintained close ties with Britain and the United States. These policies, along with his authoritarian brand of leadership, brought him into conflict with Maori rights organizations, feminist groups, and a growing anti-nuclear environmentalist movement.

Several dramatic social changes took place between the 1950s and the early 1980s. Perhaps the most important was the resurgence of Maori, whose population began to make a healthy recovery in the 1940s. The Maori population increased from 45,000 to 523,000 between 1896 and 1996. This growth was coupled with massive Maori urban migration and, from 1970, political protest and radical activism that resulted in more official recognition of Maori concerns. Other important social changes included a major movement of women into the paid workforce and new waves of immigration by people from Europe as well as the Pacific Islands and, especially after 1984, East Asia. In the 1960s nonconformist youth and marginalized groups began to challenge the status quo. This was coupled with considerable activity in the arts. New Zealand experienced a general social liberalization, perhaps even cultural decolonization, as a result of these social changes.

Article key phrases:

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