Cause interest groups lobby governments to favour their particular cause or issue. Some are set up for a particular purpose and then fade away or reinvent themselves, while others continue to promote their original concerns.
Women’s Christian Temperance Union
Formed in 1885, the aim of the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was to reduce the harm of alcohol in society and extend women’s civil rights. It believed it would achieve its objectives only if women had the vote and could exercise political power. WCTU supporters engaged in vigorous lobbying, wrote letters to newspapers and signed petitions. The strategy worked and women voted for the first time in the 1893 general election. The movement’s campaign to ban alcohol reached its zenith when prohibition almost won the 1919 licensing referendum.
Early environmental groups
Scenery preservation societies were formed in the 1880s to maintain town belts and urban reserves, and then began lobbying for the preservation of native forests in general. This led to the Scenery Preservation Act 1903, a landmark measure in protecting New Zealand’s heritage.
From shambles to sanctuary
Kāpiti Island was reserved as a native bird sanctuary in 1897 – but the name was a misnomer. The place was overrun with introduced animals that killed native species. The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society and others organised the destruction of these invaders. Goats were eradicated from the island in 1928, followed by cats, deer, sheep, cattle, pigs and dogs. Possums were gone by 1986, and rats a decade later. Native species have thrived, providing an impression of forest life before humans arrived in Aotearoa.
In 1923, angered by the destruction of Kāpiti Island’s natural ecosystem, Val Sanderson founded what became the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society (later Forest and Bird). Since then the society has lobbied governments to protect endangered animal species and wild places. In 2011 its management team included lawyers, a marketing manager and a professional lobbyist. It had 50 branches, and 70,000 members and supporters.
Groups representing a wide range of causes and constituencies were formed during the 20th century, from the White New Zealand League (which opposed Asian immigration) in the 1920s to the Public Committee for Abolition of Capital Punishment in the 1950s.
Environmentalist Craig Potton collected signatures for the Save Manapōuri petition as a schoolboy and ‘fledgling hippie’. He remembers that not only activists supported the campaign; ordinary New Zealanders were just as passionate about saving the lake. He thinks one of the campaign’s biggest achievements was to make conservation mainstream.
1960s and 1970s
In the 1960s and 1970s new groups were set up, focusing on environmentalism, Māori rights and feminism. The Save Manapōuri group was formed in 1969 to stop the water level of Lake Manapōuri being raised to produce hydroelectricity. A petition opposing the measure was signed by 10% of the population, and in 1972 the new Labour government quashed the proposal.
Māori activist group Ngā Tamatoa emerged in the early 1970s and successfully lobbied Parliament for the Māori language to be taught in schools. The Women’s Electoral Lobby was founded in 1975 to encourage women’s participation in public life. It was so successful that it folded in 2004.
Moral conservatives opposed the more permissive attitudes towards sexuality and reproduction that emerged in the 1960s. Founded in 1970, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) sought, but failed, to stop legal abortions. In the same year Patricia Bartlett formed the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards (SPCS), which made her one of the country’s most prominent and controversial lobbyists. The society unsuccessfully petitioned Parliament to declare nudity and sex scenes in film and on stage obscene.
Determined moral defender
Patricia Bartlett was dogged in her fight to ensure society kept high moral standards. In 1985 she spotted under-age children at a screening of an R13 film (The Terminator) and called the police. The kids were let off with a warning.
Family First was founded in 2006 to promote families and marriage. It came to prominence through its opposition to the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill – popularly known as the anti-smacking bill – removing the right of parents to use ‘reasonable force’ to discipline their children. Other groups opposing the bill included Focus on the Family, Family Integrity and Parents Inc. The bill became law in 2007.
Law and order
Public debate over law and order in the early 2000s produced a number of new voices. Formed in 2001, the Sensible Sentencing Trust lobbied for longer sentences for those who had carried out violent crimes, and for victims of crime to have greater input into court proceedings before sentencing. Conversely, Rethinking Crime and Punishment was set up in 2006 to lobby for more rehabilitative and positive prison practice.