Reflections on the second decade by Mary Nash

When legislation gave expression to social work as an occupational category in the Department of Social Welfare (1972), it was accompanied with an acknowledgment of the need for training and education for social workers and the establishment of the New Zealand Social Work Training Council.  In 1974, the majority of social workers (405 staff) were employed by the Department of Social Welfare.  The Hospital Boards employed 186 staff, the Department of Justice employed 167 staff and the Department of Māori Affairs employed 99.  Only 17% of the combined staff had a recognised qualification in social work (NZSWTC, 1974, p. 3).

Employers, professionals and radicals/community workers now struggled for control of and access to education and training for social work.  The NZASW recognised the connection between education and professionalisation and in the years 1974-1983 it made strenuous efforts through its National Education and Training Committee to influence the Social Work Training Council and ensure that social workers were adequately prepared for their work.  It felt superseded by the work of the Council and wished to play a more active role in determining directions and initiatives.  Members of the NZASW had by now recognised that the social work profession was in danger of marginalisation in terms of providing leadership for the education of its members.  By the end of the decade two new university courses for professional social work education had been established, one at Massey University and the other at Canterbury University.

The Auckland M.A. in Sociology in Social Welfare and Development ran from 1975-1980; the Auckland College of Education Diploma in Social Work opened in 1982.  From 1974 Tiromoana began offering a well-respected three-month, pre-entry induction training for new staff, with Taranaki House Training Centre (Auckland) offering a similar programme.

Ivan Illich at the 1978 Biennial Conference.
Ivan Illich at the 1978 Biennial Conference on ‘The Disabling Professions’.
Flyer for the NZASW 1982 Biennial Conference.

Campaigns in this period addressed law and order issues, street gangs in Auckland, the overstayer problem and rising unemployment.  In 1975, Māori Land grievances were expressed through the 29-day Land March from Te Hapua to Parliament and, in 1978, the Bastion Point evictions brought home to non-Māori the genuine concerns and serious intentions of Māori.  The 1981 Springbok Tour polarised public opinion regarding racism and drew attention to the fact that, in New Zealand, Māori faced racism and the effects of colonisation. Racism, prejudice against solo mothers, rising unemployment and housing worries alerted social workers to take a radical position if they were not to be mere agents of the state.

During this second decade, conventional schools of social work thought continued to draw on social casework methods and the social administration tradition in the curriculum.  At the same time, those looking for social action approaches or methods indigenous to, or home-grown in Aotearoa/New Zealand, were challenging the status quo in social work methods.

Community workers were beginning to organise into regional groups and advocating strongly for social change and for access to education and training for community development workers.  The community work movement had a critical influence on social work education in this decade.

Speakers at the 1982 NZASW Biennial Conference, whose theme was Social justice a social work concern for the 80’s, acknowledged the changes that were taking place in the governance of Aotearoa/New Zealand.  Ranginui Walker urged social workers to resist the “Orwellian implications” of the “super state” that Aotearoa/New Zealand was becoming, and to do so by supporting community groups to develop as a counterbalancing power.

Allison and Merv Hancock at farewell party, 1982. Merv was the Director of the Social Work Unit at Massey University (1975-82).
Allison and Merv Hancock at farewell party, 1982. Merv was the Director of the Social Work Unit at Massey University (1975-82).

Just before the biennial conference on social justice, the NZASW had formally adopted the International Federation of Social Workers’ definition of social work stating that (NZASW Position Statement, 6/9/82):

Social work is a profession whose purpose is to bring about social changes in society in general and in its individual forms of development.

In tune with this position, the NZASW nominee on the New Zealand Social Work Training Council, Murray Short, delivered a resounding and much publicised speech by way of his final report to the NZASW.  His critical speech struck a chord and his message made headlines in several daily papers:

  • Get rid of your middle-class image. (Evening Standard, 28/8/82),
  • Control becoming harsher as the cash gap widens. (The Gisborne Herald, 28/8/82)
  • Social workers urged to define public’s real needs. (Auckland Star, 28/8/82)
  • More flexible social work training needed. (Times-Age, 28/8/82).

His report and the newspaper articles were included for discussion in the agenda (Item 5d) of that Committee on 15 Oct 1982, with the question “Do we wish to pursue an alternative model of training?”  He put it to the Council that its approach to the provision of education for social work was elitist and left community workers out in the cold.

Throughout this decade, the NZASW was divided over professionalisation, the desire to prevent the social work/welfare split that had become established in Australia and the twin issues of criteria for membership of the Association and the introduction of a system of registration.  The decade ended with attention becoming focused on equality issues including feminism, racism, Te Tiriti O Waitangi, and social work delivery within Department of Social Welfare institutions.


Decade Two Timeline


Beddoe, L. & Randal, H. (1994). NZASW and the professional response to a decade of challenge. In R. Munford & M. Nash (Eds.), Social work in Action (pp. 21-36). Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.

Nash, M. (1998). People, policies and practice: Social work education in New Zealand 1949-1995. PhD thesis. Palmerston North: Massey University.

The NZASW publication, News and Views, which reported the debates which took place at this time.

New Zealand Social Work Training Council Archives.