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From about , the economy lapsed into a long depression as a result of the withdrawal of British troops, peaking of gold production in  and Vogel's borrowing and the associated debt burden especially on land. Despite a brief boom in wheat, prices for farm products sagged.
The market for land seized up. Hard times led to urban unemployment and sweated labour exploitative labour conditions in industry. In Julius Vogel introduced his grand go-ahead policy to dispel the slump with increased immigration and overseas borrowing to fund new railways, roads and telegraph lines.
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Local banks — notably the Bank of New Zealand and the Colonial Bank of New Zealand — were "reckless" and permitted "a frenzy of private borrowing". A record number of immigrants arrived in 32, of the 44, were government assisted and the population rose from , in to , in Although norms of masculinity were dominant, strong minded women originated a feminist movement starting in the s, well before women gained the right to vote in Prominent feminist writers included Mary Taylor,  Mary Colclough pseud.
Polly Plum ,  and Ellen Ellis. Feminists by the s were using the rhetoric of "white slavery" to reveal men's sexual and social oppression of women. By demanding that men take responsibility for the right of women to walk the streets in safety, New Zealand feminists deployed the rhetoric of white slavery to argue for women's sexual and social freedom.
In Elizabeth Yates was elected mayor of Onehunga, making her the first woman in the British Empire to hold the office. She was an able administrator: she cut the debt, reorganised the fire brigade, and improved the roads and sanitation. Many men were hostile however, and she was defeated for re-election. By they were campaigning for peace, and against compulsory military training, and conscription. They demanded arbitration and the peaceful resolution of international disputes.
The women argued that women-hood thanks to motherhood was the repository of superior moral values and concerns and from their domestic experience they knew best how to resolve conflicts. Prior to schools were operated by the provincial government, churches, or by private subscription. Education was not a requirement and many children did not attend any school, especially farm children whose labour was important to the family economy.
The quality of education provided varied substantially depending on the school. The Education Act of created New Zealand's first free national system of primary education, establishing standards that educators should meet, and making education compulsory for children aged 5 to From there was considerable European settlement, primarily from England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland; and to a lesser extent the United States, India, China, and various parts of continental Europe , including the province of Dalmatia  in what is now Croatia , and Bohemia  in what is now the Czech Republic.
In the s and s, several thousand Chinese men, mostly from Guangdong , migrated to New Zealand to work on the South Island goldfields. Although the first Chinese migrants had been invited by the Otago Provincial government they quickly became the target of hostility from white settlers and laws were enacted specifically to discourage them from coming to New Zealand. In gold was discovered at Gabriel's Gully in Central Otago , sparking a gold rush. Dunedin became the wealthiest city in the country and many in the South Island resented financing the North Island's wars.
In Parliament defeated a proposal to make the South Island independent by 17 to Scottish immigrants dominated the South Island and evolved ways to bridge the old homeland and the new. Many local Caledonian societies were formed. They organised sports teams to entice the young and preserved an idealised Scottish national myth based on Robert Burns for the elderly. They gave Scots a path to assimilation and cultural integration as Scottish New Zealanders. The pre-war era saw the advent of party politics , with the establishment of the Liberal Government. The landed gentry and aristocracy ruled Britain at this time.
New Zealand never had an aristocracy but it did have wealthy landowners who largely controlled politics before The Liberal Party set out to change that by a policy it called "populism". Richard Seddon had proclaimed the goal as early as "It is the rich and the poor; it is the wealthy and the landowners against the middle and labouring classes.
That, Sir, shows the real political position of New Zealand. To obtain land for farmers the Liberal government from to purchased 3. The government also purchased 1. The Advances to Settlers Act of provided low-interest mortgages, while the Agriculture Department disseminated information on the best farming methods. The Liberals proclaimed success in forging an egalitarian, anti-monopoly land policy. The policy built up support for the Liberal party in rural North Island electorates. By the Liberals were so dominant that there was no longer an organised opposition in Parliament.
The Liberal government laid the foundations of the later comprehensive welfare state : introducing old age pensions ; maximum hour regulations; pioneering minimum wage laws;  and developing a system for settling industrial disputes , which was accepted by both employers and trade unions, to start with. New Zealand gained international attention for its reforms, especially how the state regulated labour relations.
Coleman argues that the Liberals in lacked a clear-cut ideology to guide them. Instead they approached the nation's problems pragmatically, keeping in mind the constraints imposed by democratic public opinion. To deal with the issue of land distribution, they worked out innovative solutions to access, tenure, and a graduated tax on unimproved values. In the s, New Zealand's economy grew from one based on wool and local trade to the export of wool, cheese, butter and frozen beef and mutton to Britain.
The change was enabled by the invention of refrigerated steamships in and a result of the large market demands overseas. In order to increase production, alongside a more intensive use of factor inputs a transformation of production techniques was necessary. The required capital came mainly from outside of New Zealand. New Zealand's highly productive agriculture gave it probably the world's highest standard of living, with fewer at the rich and poor ends of the scale. During this era c. Historians have debated whether the "long depression" of the late 19th century stifled investment, but the New Zealanders found a way around adverse conditions.
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Hunter has studied the experiences of entrepreneurs who started commercial enterprises between and The successful strategy was to deploy capital economising techniques, and reinvesting profits rather than borrowing. The result was slow but stable growth that avoided bubbles and led to long-lived family owned firms. New Zealand initially expressed interest in joining the proposed Federation of the Australian colonies, attending the National Australia Convention in Sydney.
Interest in the proposed Australian Federation faded and New Zealand decided against joining the Commonwealth of Australia in Dominion status was a public mark of the self-governance that had evolved over half a century through responsible government. In New Zealand, prohibition was a moralistic reform movement begun in the mids by the Protestant evangelical and Nonconformist churches and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and after by the Prohibition League.
It was a middle-class movement which accepted the existing economic and social order; the effort to legislate morality assumed that individual redemption was all that was needed to carry the colony forward from a pioneering society to a more mature one. However, both the Church of England and the largely Irish Catholic Church rejected prohibition as an intrusion of government into the church's domain, while the growing labour movement saw capitalism rather than alcohol as the enemy.
Reformers hoped that the women's vote, in which New Zealand was a pioneer, would swing the balance, but the women were not as well organised as in other countries. The Depression and war years effectively ended the movement. The country remained an enthusiastic member of the British Empire. The labour movement was pacifistic, opposed the war, and alleged that the rich were benefiting at the expense of the workers. It formed the New Zealand Labour Party in Unlike in Britain, relatively few women became involved. Women did serve as nurses; joined the services and went overseas.
New Zealand forces captured Western Samoa from Germany in the early stages of the war,  and New Zealand administered the country until Samoan Independence in More than men died in the Gallipoli Campaign. After the war New Zealand signed the Treaty of Versailles , joined the League of Nations and pursued an independent foreign policy, while its defence was still controlled by Britain. New Zealand depended on Britain's Royal Navy for its military security during the s and s.
When the British Labour Party took power in and , the New Zealand government felt threatened by Labour's foreign policy because of its reliance upon the League of Nations. The League was distrusted and Wellington did not expect to see the coming of a peaceful world order under League auspices. What had been the Empire's most loyal dominion became a dissenter as it opposed efforts the first and second British Labour governments to trust the League's framework of arbitration and collective security agreements.
The governments of the Reform and United parties between and followed a "realistic" foreign policy. They made national security a high priority, were sceptical of international institutions, and showed no interest on the questions of self-determination, democracy, and human rights. However the opposition Labour Party was more idealistic and proposed a liberal internationalist outlook on international affairs. The Labour Party emerged as a force in with a socialist platform. They merged in to form the New Zealand National Party. As a consequence the Labour party was able to jettison its support for socialism in a policy made official in , as it expanded its reach into middle class constituencies.
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Like many other countries, New Zealand suffered in the Great Depression of the s, which affected the country via its international trade, with steep decreases in farm exports subsequently affecting the money supply and in turn consumption, investment and imports. The country was most affected around —, when average farm incomes for a short time dipped below zero, and the unemployment rate peaked. Though actual unemployment numbers were not officially counted, the country was affected especially strongly in the North Island.
In , 8. Attempts by the United—Reform Coalition to deal with the situation with spending cuts and relief work were ineffective and unpopular. In , the First Labour Government was elected, and the post-depression decade showed that average Labour support in New Zealand had roughly doubled comparable to pre-depression times.