New Zealand was possibly colonized as late as about 800 AD, probably via Polynesia. In the 13th century, most coastal strips and parts of the hinterland were inhabited by groups with cultural characteristics; these may have developed locally but may also indicate colonization from different areas. Immigrants did horticulture and lived in villages. They brought along cultural plants but also rats and dogs; the latter, together with hunting and land clearing, are believed to have contributed to the extinction of the moose bird. Gradually, systems of storage pits and terraced fortifications were developed, and chieftains and warriors assumed dominant roles in the increasingly hierarchical village communities. Compare Maori.
In 1642, Abel Tasman visited the first European area, which was named after the Dutch province of Zeeland. The islands were mapped by James Cook in 1769–70 and then became the center of European and American seal hunting and whaling in the Antarctic waters. In 1814, the first missionaries arrived to Christianize the Maoris and introduce European civilization. Twenty years later, some 2,000 Europeans lived in the country. Towards the end of the 1830s, a London company, the New Zealand Company, planned to initiate large-scale colonization. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of New Zealand. To prevent this, the British missionaries, who wished to protect the residents and create a Christian Moorish state, called for Britain to intervene.
In 1840, the British government took over responsibility for New Zealand. In exchange, the Maoris were granted the rights and guarantees of British subjects by the Treaty of Waitangi for the ownership of their land. New Zealand became a crown colony in 1852 with its own government and legislative assembly. Four years later, parliamentarism was introduced. The European population then amounted to just over 32,000 people. At the same time, relations with the Maori deteriorated, which proved increasingly unwilling to sell land.
At the 1858 census, Europeans were for the first time in New Zealand for the majority. The infected land issue triggered prolonged wars (1860-72) on the North Island, which the Maoris lost. As a punishment, the authorities confiscated large tracts of land, which has been considered one of the biggest wrongs in New Zealand’s history. In the South Island, the population increased sharply since finding gold in Otago in 1861.
Immigration to New Zealand increased in the 1870s, and the population increased from 250,000 to 485,000 between 1870 and 1890. In 1882, for the first time, with the help of refrigeration technology, frozen mutton was transported to the British market, which resulted in Britain becoming New Zealand’s largest market for butter, cheese and meat.
As early as 1879, universal suffrage was introduced for men. In 1891, the Liberal Party came to power with the support of small farmers and workers. Among other things, it implemented shorter working hours, a ban on child labor, mandatory mediation in labor conflicts and the introduction of old-age pensions. Women were given the right to vote in 1893. A conservative government took power in the early 1900s. In 1907 New Zealand became the dominion of the British Empire and participated in the First World War on Britain’s side, including in the Anzac alliance on the Gallipoli peninsula.
During the interwar period, the country was hit by the international agricultural crisis, but partly managed by state market regulation to overcome it. New Zealand’s transition to the welfare state was completed by the Labor Party (NZLP), which in 1938, among other things, introduced free health care, child benefits, sickness benefit, unemployment benefits and 40 hours work week. When the Second World War broke out, New Zealand set up on the motherland, that is, Britain’s side, and New Zealand soldiers fought for the Allies, especially on the battlefields in the Pacific.
In 1947 New Zealand became independent. The new state emphasized good relations with the Pacific and Southeast Asian countries. Dependence on the UK market decreased due to increased exports to mainly Japan, Australia, the US and Canada. Despite this, Britain’s entry into the EC in 1973 put great strain on New Zealand, which gradually lost its favorable conditions in the British market. New Zealand intensified its economic relations with Australia in the 1960s and concluded a free trade agreement, which in 1983 was replaced by the Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement. This aimed to create an Australian-New Zealand common market.
In foreign policy, New Zealand freed itself from the military dependence on Britain by becoming a member of the ANZUS defense pact in 1951, which included Australia and the United States. In practice, ANZUS ceased in 1986 after New Zealand banned US nuclear-armed vessels from entering New Zealand ports, and the United States responded by excluding New Zealand from military cooperation. A year later, New Zealand was declared a nuclear-free zone, while the country continued its efforts to stop French nuclear weapons tests on the Mururoatoll. In 1985, French agents lowered the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in the port of Auckland, leading to a long-standing diplomatic conflict with France. In the 1990s, the contradictions between New Zealand and the great powers diminished.
The Conservative National Party (NP) ruled – with the exception of two periods – New Zealand in 1949–84. Until the 1980s, the New Zealand economy was one of the most regulated and subsidized in the industrialized world. A liberalization of the economy was initiated by the Labor Party, which had won the election in 1984. Government subsidies were withdrawn, taxes were lowered and the government began to sell out state companies. Unemployment and inflation rose rapidly. The dissatisfaction with the Labor government grew among the traditional voters of the party.
New Zealand since the 1990s
The National Party clearly won the election in 1990. The new government tightened the economy and made substantial savings in the social insurance system, including the introduction of a needs test for sickness benefit and unemployment benefit. In addition, the labor market was liberalized, and trade unions’ previously so strong influence was limited. The National Party failed to reach its own majority in the 1996 election, but formed a coalition government with the right-wing populist New Zealand First.
The collaboration broke down in 1998, and the election the following year was won by the Labor Party, which formed government together with five middle-left parties within The Alliance. The new government coalition, led by Helen Clark, reverted to a policy that entailed more state intervention in the economy while advocating a free-trade-friendly policy. The unions got back some of the rights they lost in the 1990s, high income taxes were raised as well as minimum wages for adults. Investments were made in knowledge-intensive industries to reduce the strong dependence on agricultural exports.
The Labor Party was re-elected in 2002 with an increased majority and formed a new government coalition, this time with the Progressive Coalition. However, the government lacked its own majority in Parliament and depended on the support of two small parties. Labor became the largest party even in the 2005 election and was able to form a government coalition with three smaller parties.
In the 2008 election, Labor lost government power to the Nationalist Party. A new Prime Minister was appointed Nationalist Party leader John Key, who formed government together with the bourgeois small parties ACT and United Future New Zealand. Key was able to remain as prime minister even after the 2011 election. Key’s great popularity helped the Nationalist Party further strengthen its position in the 2014 election, when NP received 48 percent of the vote.
In December 2016, however, John Key chose to step down and was succeeded by Bill English (born 1961). In the new election in 2017, NP again became the largest party, but Labour’s newly-appointed party leader Jacinda Ardern was able to form a government with the support of New Zealand First.
In March 2019, a lone perpetrator shot 50 people to death in two mosques in the city of Christchurch. The man, a 28-year-old Australian citizen with far-right views, was arrested shortly after the death.