Story: Interest groups

Interest groups lobby the government and other public agencies to promote particular issues or points of view. New Zealand has been home to interest groups of all sorts, with widely differing aims – from the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) to trade unions, from the Māori activist group Ngā Tamatoa to powerful liquor-industry advocates.

Full story by Raymond Miller
Main image: Grey Power meeting, Auckland, 2008

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What are interest groups?

Interest groups are sometimes called pressure or lobby groups, because they pressure (or lobby) political decision-makers. As New Zealand’s population has grown and society has become more diverse, the number of groups has increased. The largest groups are well resourced, with national offices and paid staff, but the small groups are run by volunteers.

Interest groups have three main functions:

  • advocacy – assessing proposed laws, making submissions, lobbying politicians and trying to influence public opinion
  • policy formulation – researching and developing policy
  • supporting members – providing material benefits, information and advice to members.

Wellington is the political capital, so many lobbyists are based there.

Economic interest groups

Economic interest groups try to gain economic advantage for their members.

  • In the 19th century groups lobbied for roads and railways in their local areas. They were the precursors of progress leagues, which promoted particular towns or regions.
  • Trade unions were politically powerful through the 20th century, but had less influence from the 1990s.
  • Federated Farmers is a farmer lobby group.
  • Business New Zealand and the Business Roundtable promote the interests of business.

Cause interest groups

Some groups lobby the government over particular issues.

  • The 19th-century Women’s Christian Temperance Union aimed to reduce harm caused by alcohol, and fought for votes for women.
  • Environmental groups have included 19th-century scenery preservation societies and, later, Forest and Bird.
  • The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) opposed abortion.
  • Ngā Tamatoa, a Māori activist group, lobbied for Māori language teaching in schools in the 1970s.

Consumer interest groups

Consumer groups work for the rights and welfare of consumers. Some are linked with particular industries.

  • Consumer New Zealand, founded in 1959, researches and reports on consumer goods and services.
  • Welfare-related consumer groups include Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), which aims to prevent death and diseases caused by smoking; Fight the Obesity Epidemic, which aims to promote healthy food and decrease obesity; and the Child Poverty Action Group, which lobbies against child poverty.

Community and recreational groups

  • Grey Power lobbies for the welfare of older people.
  • Iwi groups advocate for iwi and hapū.
  • Recreational groups include the Rugby Football Union, the Federated Mountain Clubs and the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council.
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How to cite this page:

Raymond Miller. 'Interest groups', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 18-Mar-14
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/interest-groups