Instituting Social Welfare
From the outset, the country has been in the
forefront of social welfare legislation. New Zealand was the
world's first country to give women the right to vote (1893). It adopted
old-age pensions (1898); a national child welfare program (1907); social
security for the elderly, widows, and orphans, along with family benefit
payments; minimum wages; a 40-hour workweek and unemployment and health
insurance (1938); and socialized medicine (1941).
New Zealand fought with the Allies in both world
wars as well as in Korea. In 1999, it became part of the UN peacekeeping
force sent to East Timor.
In recent years, New Zealand has introduced
extremely liberal social policies. In June 2003, Parliament legalized
prostitution and in Dec. 2004, same-sex unions were recognized. In 2005,
Helen Clark was elected for the second time. She lost her reelection bid in 2008, when the
center-right National Party, led by John Key, took 45.5% of the vote in
parliamentary elections. Clark's Labour Party garnered 33.8%. Key became
prime minister in November. Key's win ended nine years of governance by
the Labour Party.