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War Economy

The Need for Co-ordination

The Need for Co-ordination

The first flush of wartime regulations was made under the Public Safety Conservation Act 1932, which had been passed as a direct result of the Hawke's Bay earthquake in 1931. This act was not entirely adequate for a war emergency and the Emergency Regulations Act 1939 was passed on 14 September as a wartime measure to provide the authority for further regulations. This act, as amended, was to be the basis for a host of wartime regulations, and would then remain in force and be used long after the emergency which gave rise to it had passed.1

The regulations were intended primarily to give Controllers and Departments ample powers to act in the interests of the war effort. However, the more power individuals had the more difficult it became to prevent them from acting at cross purposes. It was soon apparent that a strong co-ordinating authority was needed.

To meet this need, a War Cabinet was proposed. There was considerable disagreement over the form it should take. In spite of the obvious need for better co-ordination of military and economic policies, questions of production, finance and manpower were to be excluded from the functions of the War Cabinet as it was originally envisaged.2 However, under pressure of considerable criticism, and no doubt moved by military disasters in France to seek more effective measures, the Government extended the scope of War Cabinet's functions. Peter Fraser,3 in July 1940, when he announced its formation, said that the scope of the War Cabinet ‘was not to be restricted to the services but it was also to make decisions concerning “production for war purposes, war finance requirements, emergency regulations so far as they apply to the war effort and generally to implement the policy of Parliament in relation to New Zealand's participation in the war”.’4

The War Cabinet included two members of the Opposition, Gordon Coates and Adam Hamilton, with Defence Minister Fred Jones, Finance Minister Walter Nash and Prime Minister Peter Fraser. It was to co-exist with Cabinet and with an advisory body, the War Council.5

page 58

1 Amending regulations were still being made in 1956 (1956/137). It was still being re-enacted to protect existing regulations as late as 1959.

2 Wood, p. 140.

3 Savage died on 27 March 1940 and Fraser became Prime Minister.

4 Wood, p. 141.

5 The War Council was to include the Prime Minister and five other ministers, with nine members representing employers, workers, farmers, returned servicemen, and other groups. The Opposition did not accept an invitation to nominate three members.