Land of milk and-- gas? Economic change and its social consequences in 1980s Taranaki : a regional history : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History at Massey University
In the minds of most New Zealanders the 1980s will be remembered as a decade of immense change and upheaval. In 1980 New Zealand was a fortress economy, with high tariffs and key industries heavily subsidised and sometimes owned by the government. 1
1 Brian Easton, The Commercialisation of New Zealand, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 1997, p.6.
By 1990 the walls of that fortress had largely been removed. 2
2 Jane Kelsey, The New Zealand Experiment: A world model for structural adjustment?, Auckland, Auckland University Press with Bridget Williams Books, 1995, p.99.
In 1980 the National government led by Robert Muldoon was pushing ahead its policy of energy development, borrowing and spending billions of dollars in the process.3
3 Easton, p.18.
By the 1990s New Zealand was firmly in the grip of neo-liberal economic thinking, with government spending cuts, user pays, and market deregulation the driving forces behind government and the economy. 4
4 Kelsey, p.1.
The beginning of the decade saw increasing concern over the growing number of unemployed. Employment was a prime issue in the 1981 election campaign. After the Labour government took office following the 1984 snap election, unemployment was reaching the five percent mark and was predicted to climb further. 5
5 Simon Collins, Rogernomics: Is there a better way?, Wellington, Pitman Publishing, 1987, p.26.
By the 1990 election unemployment had grown so high in some regions that a level of five percent looked like a desirable yet impossible target. Indeed, even today in what appear to be prosperous times for New Zealand we have still not attained a level of unemployment as low as that which was facing New Zealand in the early 1980s. It says much of what occurred both economically and politically through the 1980s that we now view what was once seen as an unthinkably high level of national unemployment as remarkably low. The decade was a period which altered the relationship between New Zealanders and the governments elected by them. Nobody was left untouched by the processes of transformation. Where New Zealand once prided itself on being a country that led the world on issues of social welfare, it became one leading the world in market driven economic change. 6
6 Kelsey, p.1.
All facets of society were effected from the social to the cultural. The governments of New Zealand began the 1980s as New Zealand's major employer and reluctant deregulators, and finished the decade having corporatised and sold many state assets, affecting thousands of jobs along the way. From being a protected economy, relying partly on import substitution to maintain employment, New Zealand became, in world terms, an open economy importing many new and cheaper products, changing the life styles and spending habits of many. 7
7 Easton, p.6.
By the close of the decade the government was actively seeking to play less of a role in the lives of New Zealanders.