poster opposing the 1910 referenda

Choose: having your say

New Zealand electors have voted on contentious issues for more than a century through nation-wide referenda, many of which were held at the same time as General Elections.

That tradition continues at this year’s General Election on 19 September when electors are being asked to vote on two referenda: cannabis legislation and control, and end of life choice.

Liquor licensing and electoral reform
A new Special Collections display dips into an extensive election ephemera archive to look at two significant, historic referenda issues: the regulation of liquor licences and electoral reform. These debates are explored in the display through posters, flyers and more from the archive, which contains material dating back to the 1890s.

Selling alcohol has been described as the most divisive political issue in early 20th-century New Zealand.1 Local and national referenda every three years on alcohol sales were a rallying point for prohibitionists during the late 1800s and much of the last century.2 Preserving family life was the key theme from these opponents of liberalising alcohol sales while those wanting to protect the right to drink emphasised personal choice.

Changing the voting system sparked a heated referendum debate in 1993. Opponents of change warned that MMP (mixed-member proportional) would lead to unstable government, too many MPs and dire economic consequences. Supporters of change argued that MMP would herald more diversity in Parliament and fairer representation.3

How would you have voted on these two historic referenda issues?
On show until Thursday 27 August, Special Collections, Level G, General Library.

Ian Brailsford, Special Collections


1 Donaldson, M. (2012). Beer nation: the art & heart of Kiwi beer. Auckland: Penguin, p.34.
2 Bollinger, C. (1967). Grog’s own country: the story of liquor licensing in New Zealand. Auckland: Minerva, p.34.
3 Vowles, J. (1995). The politics of electoral reform in New Zealand. International Political Science Review, 16(1), pp.95-115.

Liberty League flyer opposing alcohol restrictions, 1911. Election ephemera collection, MSS & Archives 2015/22, 1/1