NZ Politics: 1918-1939

Between the Wars


  • Women allowed to stand for election to the House of Representatives, but not for appointment to the Legislative Council.
  • National poll for prohibition (a ban on the production, sale and consumption of alcohol) narrowly defeated by the number of votes cast by troops serving overseas.


  • Anzac Day instituted.
  • Immigration Restriction Act passed, allowing officials to reject immigrants who did not have British birth or parentage, and supporting an unofficial 'White New Zealand' policy.


  • Chatham Islands inhabitants able to vote.
  • Election results broadcast for the first time on the radio.


  • Compulsory registration on electoral roll required for all eligible non-Māori voters.
The New Zealand air arm of defence : Avro 504K aeroplanes lined up outside hangers. 1926
The New Zealand air arm of defence: Avro 504K aeroplanes lined up outside hangers [1926?], CCL PhotoCD 5, IMG0070


  • Family Allowances Act passed.


  • United Party formed from remnants of Liberal Party.
  • Postal voting for elections introduced.


  • New Government formed after general election by United Party, led by Sir Joseph Ward, supported by Labour and independent members.


  • Sir Joseph Ward dies and is succeeded as leader of the United Party by George Forbes.
  • Labour withdraws from coalition.


  • Coalition of Reform and United parties led by George Forbes wins general election.
  • Eruera Tirakaten elected as first Ratana MP.


  • National Expenditure Adjustment Act passed, reducing pensions, State employees salaries, rents and other charges.
  • Rioting in Auckland.


  • Elizabeth McCombs first woman elected to Parliament in Lyttelton by-election.
  • Legal age for marriage set at 16 years.
  • Legislation passed to establish Reserve Bank.


  • First Labour Government, with Michael Joseph Savage as Prime Minister.
  • Ratana movement wins two Māori seats.


  • National Party formed from Reform and United coalition MPs.
  • Standard working week reduced from 44 to 40 hours for most workers.
  • Labour and Ratana form alliance.
Maori Council for the Mahunui District, , including east and west coasts between Clarence River and Waitaki River 1902
Māori Council for the Mahunui District, including east and west coasts between Clarence River and Waitaki River [1902], CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0065


  • Elections for Māori seats use secret ballot for first time.
  • Beginnings of two-party politics in New Zealand, with Labour and National winning more than 96% of the votes cast.
  • First use of radio for party political broadcasts.
  • Social Security Act passed, revising pensions structure and establishing a national health service.


R.S.A. Miss Victory contest, Christchurch, 1943
Four candidates in the contest held at the King Edward Barracks in Mar./Apr. 1943 as part of a United Nations fair to raise funds for patriotic purposes, CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0073



  • Death of Michael Joseph Savage, succeeded as PM by Peter Fraser.
  • Sidney Holland becomes Leader of the Opposition.


  • Labour-Ratana alliance wins all four Māori seats, ousting Apirana Ngata after almost 40 years as the Eastern Māori MP.

Election posters at Digital NZ


European Beginnings: 1642 - 1852 First Parliaments: 1853 - 1871 Universal Suffrage: 1873 - 1893 Development of Party Politics: 1894 - 1916 Between the Wars: 1918 - 1939 Two-party Politics: 1945 - 1966 Growth of Multi-party Politics: 1967 - 1984 Political Reform: 1985 - 1995 Government under MMP: 1996 - 2004