Independence and Foreign Policy: New Zealand in the World since 1935

By Malcolm McKinnon | Go to book overview

3. Secure in the South Pacific?

In the preceding chapter we analysed the meaning of independence in foreign policy for the first Labour government and how that meaning conformed to characteristic notions of New Zealand's place in the British Empire, and in particular the idea of 'loyal opposition'. We did not consider the other accepted form of independence identified in the introduction, the idea of an independence grounded in the pursuit of interest. In the 1930s and 1940s interest mostly reinforced New Zealand's position within the Empire/ Commonwealth. Sometimes it went beyond it.

While New Zealand was connected to England, and through England to the preoccupations of the world as a whole, it was also deeply insular, able, partly because of its remoteness, to assume the stance of onlooker rather than participant, a country which asked nothing more of the world than to be allowed to carry on with its own preoccupations undisturbed.

The return of good times after the depression of the early 1930s emphasised the gulf between New Zealand and most of the rest of the world. There was still massive unemployment in the United States, while in Asia and Europe to the economic woes were added political ones. Dictatorships succeeded democracies in many European countries, most notably Germany. War broke out in Spain, then in China. But in New Zealand, unemployment figures fell, real incomes rose, there were houses built, cars manufactured and public works under way at a rate far beyond that of the depression years. Labour politicians rejoiced in the prosperity: when Savage returned home from the Imperial Conference and Coronation in 1937, he told the New Zealand people that they 'lived in a veritable paradise'.1 Business commentators and conservative politicians, in questioning how deep-seated the prosperity was, demonstrated a recognition that conditions had improved since the early 1930s. On the eve of world war, when the balance of payments was in deficit and the government had raised taxes, 'to all outward appearances... the country was still in a prosperous condition'.2

Far away not just from Asia and Europe but even from Australia, most New Zealanders saw world history as 'a drama to be observed from a distance

____________________
1
AIBR, 21 Sept. 1937, p. 817.
2
Round Table, 117 ( Dec. 1939), p. 219.

-37-

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