Liberal–Reform coalition Government of New Zealand

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The Liberal-Reform coalition government of New Zealand was the government of New Zealand from 1931 to 1935. It was a coalition between two of the three major parties of the time, the Liberals and Reform, formed to deal with the Great Depression which began in 1929. The Labour Party refused to join the coalition, as it believed that the only solution to the depression was socialism, which the Liberal and Reform did not support. Rather, they attempted to solve the country's economic problems by cutting public spending. This, the policy of making the unemployed do relief work for the unemployment benefit, and other cost-cutting policies, made the government the most unpopular of its era, and it was defeated in the 1935 election.

Significant policies[edit]


  • Cut government spending in order to balance the budget.


  • Compelled the unemployed to labour on public works and other activities in exchange for an unemployment benefit.


  • Raised school starting age to six in order to save money.
  • Closed teachers' colleges as cost-cutting measure.


The initial coalition between the Liberal and Reform had formed earlier in 1931, following the collapse of an earlier coalition between the Liberals (under the name United) and Labour. Fearing that splitting the anti-Labour vote would result in a Labour government even if it received fewer votes than Liberal and Reform combined, the two conservative parties formed a coalition and an election agreement. In the subsequent election, the coalition won 55.4% of the popular vote, compared to 34.3% for Labour.


The government focussed primarily on getting New Zealand out of the depression by cutting government spending and thus balancing the national budget. It dealt with widespread unemployment by initiating relief work, which involved compelling the unemployed to work on a range of projects ranging from useful public works to pointless activity. The government was widely seen as heartless, encapsulated by the commonly believed but probably untrue story that Prime Minister George Forbes had told a delegation of unemployed men to go and eat grass. In the 1935 election, Labour won 46.1% of the popular vote, while the coalition won only 32.9%. However the result in terms of seats was much more overwhelming, with Labour winning 53 seats to the coalition's 16. A further eleven seats were won by minor parties and independents. Following their defeats, the Liberal and Reform parties merged to become the National Party.

Electoral results[edit]

Election Parliament Seats Total votes Percentage Gain (loss) Seats won Change Majority
1931 24th 80 396,004 55.4% 51 -3 11
1935 25th 80 32.9% -22.5% 16 -35

Prime ministers[edit]

The government was led by George Forbes of the Liberal Party, with Gordon Coates of Reform as Minister of Finance.

Cabinet Ministers[edit]

Ministry Minister Term(s)
Attorney-General William Downie Stewart 1931–1933
George Forbes 1933–1935
Minister of Defence John Cobbe 1929–1935
Minister of Education Robert Masters 1931–1934
Sydney George Smith 1934–1935
Minister of Finance William Downie Stewart 1931–1933
Gordon Coates 1933–1935
Minister of Foreign Affairs George Forbes 1930–1935
Minister of Health Alexander Young 1931–1935
Minister of Justice John Cobbe 1930–1935
Minister of Labour and Postmaster-General Adam Hamilton 1931–1935
Minister of Māori Affairs Apirana Ngata 1928–1934
George Forbes 1934–1935
Minister of Railways George Forbes 1931–1935


See also[edit]