View key moments of health and physiotherapy history in New Zealand between 1900-2009

New Zealand History Timeline


  • Workers Compensation scheme established (employers in dangerous trades required to insure their employees against injury or death – private insurers administer the claims).
  • First death from plague.
  • Public Health Act passed setting up Department of Public Health in 1901. Divides NZ into six health districts. Establishes rules governing building of houses and hospitals (houses must have toilet), and removal of household rubbish and human waste.


  • Accident branch of the State Insurance Office is established.
  • Nurses Registration Act.  Chief sponsor Grace Neill (1846-1926). Scottish born nurse. Matron in Manchester. Became Assistant Inspector of Hospitals, Asylums and Factories, serving under Dr D McGregor. Act designed to improve nurse training and make state registration for nurses compulsory (world first). 
  • First District Health Officers appointed (1901).
  • Measles epidemic.


  • Māori health inspectors appointed.


  • Midwives Registration Act 1904. Neill believed high infant mortality rates were due to poor standards of midwifery. The act made state registration compulsory. 


  • Department of Public Health takes full responsibility for Māori health (1906).
  • Liberal Prime Minister Richard Seddon dies. Liberal social reforms begin to come to an end. Joseph Ward becomes Prime Minister.


  • Measles epidemic.
  • Fire destroys Parliament buildings.
  • Tohunga Suppression Act passed.
  • 26 September: Dominion of New Zealand declared.
  • Plunket Society founded by Sir Truby King as a move towards preventative medicine. Named after Governor-General and his wife, Lord and Lady Plunket. 


  • Establishment of Mental Hospitals Department.
  • Auckland to Wellington main trunk railway line opens.
  • Akenehi Hei, first Māori registered nurse and midwife (1908).
  • Ernest Rutherford is awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
  • New Zealand's population reaches one million.


  • District nurses replace Māori Health Inspectors.
  • SS Penguin wrecked in Cook Strait, 75 people die.
  • Compulsory military training introduced.


  • Control of Māori health returned to Department of Public Health.
  • Infectious diseases control transferred from local authorities to hospital boards.
  • Māori Nursing Service established as part of Health Department.


  • Waihi miners' strike.
  • Compulsory medical inspection of children in state schools.


  • University of Otago School of Massage established.
  • Smallpox epidemic.
  • Separate registration of Māori birth and deaths introduced. 
  • School Medical Inspection Service started.


  • Poliomyelitis made a notifiable disease. 
  • World War I begins.
  • Huntly coal mine disaster.
  • October: 8427 troops leave New Zealand for Europe.


  • New Zealand forces take part in Gallipoli campaign.
  • Establishment of New Zealand Army Nursing Service.


  • Poliomyelitis epidemic.
  • New Zealand Labour Party formed.


  • End of World War I.
  • Influenza epidemic in which an estimated 8,500 die.


  • Proposals for complete reorganisation of Department of Health.
  • First Children’s Health Camp established by Dr Elizabeth Gunn to help children malnourished or suffering from tuberculosis. 
  • Women eligible for election to Parliament.


  • Division of Māori Hygiene created in Department of Health.
  • Public Health Act introduced


  • Masseurs Registration Act 1920 (MRA) commences1921
    Masseurs Registration Act 1920 (MRA) – the legislation that first recognised physical therapy as a regulated occupation.
    Masseurs Registration Act 1920 (MRA) commences1921
    Masseurs Registration Act 1920 (MRA) – the legislation that first recognised physical therapy as a regulated occupation.
    Masseurs Registration Act 1920 (MRA) commences – the legislation that first recognised physical therapy as a regulated occupation.
  • New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy established.
  • Free dental treatment in primary schools offered.
  • Ronald T McLean documented as first president of New Zealand Trained Masseurs Association.
  • Four deaths in six cases of puerperal sepsis in a Auckland Hospital aroused public alarm.


  • Poliomyelitis epidemic.
  • Introduction of diphtheria immunisation.


  • Dr Blake-McLagan determined endemicity of goitre in New Zealand as manifested by school population.
  • National public broadcasting begins under auspices of Radio Broadcasting Co. Ltd.
  • New Zealand divided into 12 Health Districts. 


  • New Zealand Summer Time introduced.
  • Charles Kingsford Smith completes first flight across Tasman Sea.
  • Ted Morgan wins first Olympic Gold Medal for New Zealand.
  • Joseph Ward second term in office as leader of ‘United Party’, the renamed Liberal Party


  • Opening of Māori Hospital – Mahinarangi, Turangawaewae, Ngāruawahia (Kingitanga – Tainui) 
  • Economic depression worsens.
  • Severe earthquake in Murchison - Karamea district.
  • First health stamps issued.
  • Bacillary Dysentery epidemic.


  • Unemployment Board set up to provide relief work.


  • The Disabled Servicemen’s Re-establishment League is set up to assist injured soldiers obtain sheltered employment and retraining.
  • Napier earthquake, 256 die.
  • Worldwide economic depression begins to affect New Zealand and the Department of Health. Substantial percentage reductions in public service wages and salaries.
  • Māori Hygiene Department abolished.


  • Unemployed riots in Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch.
  • Reductions in old-age and other pensions.


  • 9 September: Elizabeth McCombs becomes first woman MP.


  • First trans-Tasman airmail.


  • Publication of Tuberculosis in the Māori: East Coast of New Zealand.
  • 27 November: General election: First Labour Government elected under Michael Joseph Savage.


  • Reserve Bank taken over by state.
  • State housing programme launched.
  • Guaranteed prices for dairy products introduced.
  • New Zealand Federation of Health Camps formed.
  • Jean Batten's record flight from England.
  • Working week reduced from 44 to 40 hours.


  • March: Free Milk in schools introduced.
  • April: Federation of Labour unifies trade union movement.
  • Women’s Health League formed by nurse Ruby Cameron in the Rotorua District.
  • Immunisation against diphtheria.
  • Medical Research Council of New Zealand established. 


  • First issue of the New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy published.
  • Measles epidemic.
  • Social Security Act establishes revised pensions structure and the basis of a national health service. Establishes sickness benefit and unemployment benefit. 


  • Start of World War II.
  • Maternity benefits introduced as part of Social Security Act.


  • 1 April: Peter Fraser becomes Labour Prime Minister replacing deceased Michael Savage
  • 11 June: New Zealand declares war on Italy.
  • Conscription for military service.


  • General Medical Services Benefit established.
  • Social Security extends to maternity benefits. 
  • 8 December: New Zealand declares war on Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • Pharmaceutical and general practitioner medical benefits introduced. Free X-rays also. 


  • Extension of Social Security benefits to physiotherapy.
  • Food rationing introduced.
  • Mobilisation of women for essential work.
  • Publication of new edition of The Māori Mother and Her Child. 


  • New Zealand troops take part in invasion of Italy.
  • February: Mutiny by Japanese prisoners of war at Featherston prisoner of war camp results in 48 Japanese dead, 61 wounded, plus one dead and 11 injured guards.


  • Australia-New Zealand Agreement provides for co-operation in the South Pacific.


  • New Zealand signs United Nations charter.
  • Māori Social and Economic Advancement Act passed.
  • Māori Councils abolished and Tribal Executives established. 
  • Extension of outpatients benefits.


  • 1 May: Prime Minister Peter Fraser opens the New Zealand School of Physiotherapy at the University of Otago.
  • Family benefit of £1 per week becomes universal.
  • Laboratory diagnostic services added to benefits of Social Security Act.


  • Poliomyelitis epidemic.
  • Employers are required to insure with the State Insurance Office.
  • Mabel Howard becomes first woman cabinet minister.
  • Fire in Ballantyne's department store, Christchurch, 41 people die.
  • Free dental treatment in primary schools extended to those under 16 as part of Social Security Act. Contact lenses and hearing aids offered by state. 
  • Health benefits extended to include artificial limbs.


  • Protest campaign against exclusion of Māori players from rugby tour of South Africa.
  • Polio epidemic closes schools. 
  • Tuberculosis Act 1948 introduced.
  • Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe erupt.
  • Meat rationing ends.


  • Physiotherapy Act 1949 superseds Masseurs Registration Act 1920 (MRA). A new Physiotherapy Board was created. The Act protected the title and practices of massage and physiotherapy, and reinforced the penalties for anyone breaching these laws.
  • Sydney Holland elected first National Party Prime Minister.


  • The New Zealand Society of Physiotherapists is established.
  • Medical Research Council established. 
  • Naval and ground forces sent to Korean War.


  • The New Zealand Society of Physiotherapists alongside 10 other national physiotherapy associations found the first global body for physiotherapists, World Confederation for Physical Therapy (World Physiotherapy), and hold the first general meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • National government reprivatises the Workers Compensation scheme. A Workers Compensation Board established, to moderate profits made by private insurers through statutory oversight, also required to consider injury prevention and rehabilitation. Employers can now insure with private insurance companies.
  • Prolonged waterfront dispute, state of emergency proclaimed.
  • Survey of goitre incidence in schoolchildren.
  • Coroners Act introduced. 
  • Extension of the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination for tuberculosis.


  • Population reaches over two million.
  • Poliomyelitis epidemic.


  • National Safety Association established – training in occupational health and safety offered.
  • Railway disaster at Tangiwai, 151 people die.
  • Publication of report by the Consultative Committee on Hospital Reform.
  • Poliomyelitis epidemic.
  • Weekly compensation increased to 80% of pre injury earnings, payable for up to 6 years.


  • Keith Holyoake replaces Sydney Holland as National Party Prime Minister
  • Walter Nash (Labour) wins back the election from National.


  • Major studies in the inequalities of health between Māori and Pākehā with regard to polio immunity and the incidence and treatment of bronchiectasis.
  • First heart-lung machine used at Greenlane Hospital, Auckland.


  • Antarctic Treaty signed with other countries involved in scientific exploration in Antarctica.
  • Auckland Harbour Bridge opened.


  • Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Act introduced.
  • Publication of the Hunn Report.
  • Publication of first Comparative Statistical Report, Māori-European Standards of Health.
  • Department of Health sets up Māori Health Committee.
  • United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, ratified by New Zealand 
  • Keith Holyoake (National) wins back election from Labour (holds position for 12 years).
  • Chiropractors Act introduced.


  • Capital punishment abolished.


  • Māori Welfare Act 1962 (renamed Māori Community Development Act 1962).
  • Cook Strait rail ferry service begins.
  • New Zealand Māori Council established.
  • Provisional grading of public water supplies by the Board of Health.
  • Health Department reorganised into six divisions.


  • Cook Strait power cables laid.
  • Auckland's population reaches half a million.


  • Support for United States in Vietnam; New Zealand combat force sent, protest movement begins.
  • Reconstitution of Medical Research Council, separated from Department. 


  • Royal Commission established to investigate Personal Injury in New Zealand.


  • The Royal Commission’s recommendations are released in the Woodhouse Report.
  • Replacement of eight hospital districts with two. 


  • Inter-island ferry Wahine sinks in severe storm in Wellington Harbour, 51 people die.


  • Review of Hospital and Related services published.
  • Pharmacy Act 1970.


  • Nursing Council of New Zealand established.
  • John Marshall replaces Keith Holyoake as National Prime Minister.
  • Norman Kirk wins election for Labour.


  • Accident Compensation Act comes into effect. Promotes work safety, offers ‘rehabilitaiton of all people injured by accident,’ ‘provide prompt and reasonable payment.’ Compensation funded by levy on employers and car users.  
  • Labour Party elected. 
  • Psychiatric hospitals transferred to Hospital Board’s control.
  • International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, ratified by New Zealand. 


  • New physiotherapy school opens at Auckland Technical Institute (now Auckland University of Technology).
  • New Zealand's population reaches three million.


  • The Accident Compensation Act enacted. New Zealanders lose the right to sue for personal injury and death caused by the negligent actions of others. In return a state agency, ACC established to administer a 24 hour, comprehensive scheme covering all injuries. Initially the State Insurance Office manages claims.
  • Wallace Rowling replaces Norman Kirk as Labour Prime Minister.


  • 13 October: Māori land march reaches Parliament building in Wellinton, Whina Cooper presents a Memorial of Rights to the Prime Minister Bill Rowling and Māori Affairs Minister Matiu Rata.
  • The Waitangi Tribunal is established.
  • Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975.
  • Robert Muldoon wins election for National Party (holds for 9 years).
  • Domestic Services Benefit becomes available.
  • Disabled Persons Community Welfare Act 1975. 
  • Disabled Persons Community Welfare Act 1975 (Part 2A).
  • Department of Health, A health service for New Zealand White Paper, (1975). 


  • New Zealand's national day 6 February renamed from 'New Zealand Day' to Waitangi Day
  • Introduction of metric system of weights and measures.
  • A question on Māori descent (ethnicity) introduced in Census.


  • ACC set up first branch office in Dunedin. 
  • National Superannuation scheme begins.


  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by New Zealand.
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by New Zealand.


  • Air New Zealand Flight 901 crashes on Mount Erebus.


  • Hui of Māori Doctors established.


  • Year-long wage, price and rent freeze imposed lasts until 1984.
  • Health Benefits (Reciprocity with the United Kingdom) Act 1982.


  • Population-based funding formulae introduced.
  • Area Health Boards established.
  • National Council of Māori Nurses established.


  • Hui Whakaoranga.
  • Māori health identified as a health priority in the Ministry of Health.
  • Standing Committee on Māori health set up by New Zealand Board of Health.
  • Labour Party elected, David Lange Prime Minister.
  • Finance Minister Roger Douglas begins deregulating the economy.
  • Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, ratified by New Zealand.


  • 10 July: Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior bombed and sunk by French DGSE agents in Auckland harbour.
  • First case of locally-contracted AIDS is reported.


  • Royal Commission reports in favour of an MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) electoral system.
  • Goods and Services Tax introduced.
  • Health Benefits review.
  • The Constitution Act ends the right of the British Parliament to pass laws for New Zealand.
  • Māori Language Act making Māori an official language passed.
  • Anti-nuclear legislation enacted.
  • New Zealand's first heart transplant is performed.
  • Formation of joint Treasury and Health Department Hospital and Related Services Taskforce.
  • Oranga Māori/Māori Health team ceases function.
  • New Zealand Board of Health promoted Treaty of Waitangi as a document that had relevance to health.
  • Guidance provided to hospitals and medical practices about working with Māori healers. 


  • Royal Commission on Social Policy report released.
  • Mason Report published concerning procedures in psychiatric hospials in relation to admissions, discharge or release of patients.
  • Report of the Cervical Cancer Inquiry (the Cartwright Report) released.
  • State Sector Act passed.
  • Publication of Partnership Perspective (He Tirohanga Rangapu) published by Department of Māori Affairs.


  • Geoffrey Palmer replaces David Lange as Labour Prime Minister.
  • Māori members appointed to Area Health Boards.
  • Ministerial Advisory Committee on Māori Health.  


  • Ministerial Committee on the Funding and Provision of Health Services established.
  • Health Research Council established.
  • Mike Moore replaces Geoffrey Palmer as Labour Prime Minister.
  • Jim Bolger elected National Prime Minister (holds post for 7 years).


  • Area Health Boards replaced by Commissioners.
  • Green and White paper encouraged Māori to provide health care services.
  • Welfare payments cut.
  • Ngai Tahu Waitangi Tribunal report.
  • Te Roroa Waitangi Tribunal report.
  • Ethnicity question reintroduced into the NZ Census.
  • Implementation of Ka Awatea regime by Te Puni Kokiri.
  • Health Services Taskforce Report published. 


  • Accident Rehabilitation and Compensation Insurance Act 1992 regulates the amount of rehabilitation that can be provided. Introduces the work capacity test that allows ACC to cease paying weekly compensation to those it deems can work 30 hours of more a week. Removes lump sum compensation, repeals permanent pensions.
  • Public health system reforms - user charges introduced to public hospitals.
  • State housing commercialised.
  • Policy statement on Māori health released.
  • Whaia te ora mo te iwi: strive for the good health of the people: government’s response to Māori issues in the health sector – Health and Disability Services Bill (1992).


  • Public Health Commission established.
  • Crown Health Enterprises established.
  • Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) – four established: Northern RHA: established three Māori coordinating and co-purchasing organisations called MAPOs funding Māori health providers; Midland RHA: established four joint Māori venture boards; Central RHA: established 50 health nests called ‘Hauora Oranga’ involving Māori health providers; and Southern RHA: worked with Ngai Tahu. 
  • PHARMAC (Pharmaceutical Management Agency established.
  • Te Kete Hauora, the Māori Health Directorate, established in Ministry of Health.
  • Department of Health became Ministry of Health.
  • Transitional Assistance Grant Scheme established.
  • Introduction of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) Representation.
  • Health Research Council funded two Māori research units including establishing a Māori Health Committee.
  • Area Health Boards disestablished.
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by New Zealand.
  • Public re-emergence of Māori healers including the establishment of Ngā Ringa Whakahaere ō te Iwi Māori.


  • Health and Disability Commissioner established. 
  • Three major hui held to discuss Māori health: Te Ara Ahu Whakamua; Ma Te Miori E Puri Te Maimoatanga Māori; and Hui Whai Maramatanga Whai Oranga (1994/1995).


  • Public Health Commission disestablished.
  • National Kaitiaki Group established – Māori control and protection of Māori women’s cervical screening data.
  • Government approves health care provider purchaser of rongoā services in Napier.
  • Māori Health Scholarships established (now known as Hauora Māori Scholarships). 


  • Amendment to ARCI Act provides for more flexibility to allow ACC to provide more effective rehabilitation. 
  • Mental Health Commission established.
  • Hospital and Health Services established.
  • Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa (Māori Medical Practitioners Association) established. 
  • 12 October: First MMP election brings National/New Zealand First coalition government.


  • Transitional Health Authority established 1997 (and disestablished 1998).
  • Vision 2020 project established to increase number of Māori doctors.
  • Māori Health Commission established 1997 (and disestablished 1999).
  • Jenny Shipley replaces Jim Bolger as National Prime Minister.


  • The National Government privatises insurance for workplace injuries. All other claims continue to be administered by ACC. Most small employers remain with the ACC established insurer At Work Insurance.
  • Hospitals required to have a booking system for elective surgery.
  • Health Funding Authority established.
  • National Advisory Committee on Health and Disability Services established.
  • Several cases of tuberculosis discovered in South Auckland in the worst outbreak for a decade.
  • Child Health Strategy released.


  • Focus of Patients: Labour on Health policy released.
  • Helen Clarke wins election for Labour (holds post for 9 years).
  • Standards of Rongoā healing published.
  • Rural Health Policy released. 
  • The Labour led Government restores ACC as the administrator for all claims, although it allows accredited employers to manage their own claims under contract to ACC.
  • National Health Committee established.
  • Health Funding Authority and Hospital and Health Services disestablished. 
  • The Injury Prevention Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2001 passed with the objective of restoring the vision expounded by Woodhouse. 
  • Tae Ora Tinana (Māori Physiotherapists Organisation) established.
  • District Health Boards established.
  • WAI 692 Napital Hospital and Health Report Services (2001).


  • A Guide for Establishing Primary Health Organisations published by the Ministry of Health.
  • Health of Older People Strategy 2002 released.
  • He Korowai Oranga: Māori Health Strategy released.
  • Te Puawaitanga, Māori Mental Health National Strategic Framework released.
  • Whakatātaka: Māori Health Action Plan 2002– 2005 released.


  • Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (HPCA Act) introduced.
  • Population of New Zealand exceeds 4 million.
  • Population-based funding formula introduced. 


  • Meningococcal B immunisation offered to anyone under age 20 due to epidemic.


  • Very Low Cost Access (VLCA) scheme introduced.
  • Treaty of Waitangi statements no longer included in Ministry of Health policies, action plans or contracts. Focus instead on improving Māori health outcomes and reducing health inequalities for Māori. 
  • South Island population reaches 1 million.


  • Physiotherapy New Zealand History Working Group was formed to begin the preparations for the profession's centenary in 2013.
  • National health targets introduced.


  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by New Zealand.
  • John Key wins election for National Party.


  • Whānau Ora Taskforce established.
  • Meeting the Challenge: Enhancing Sustainability and the Consumer Experience within the Current Legislative Framework for Health and Disability Services in New Zealand report released by the Ministerial Review Group (Also known as the Horn Report).

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