First Biennial Conference and Convention, 1966.

Two years after it was founded the NZASW held its first ever Biennial Conference at Massey University.  The theme was a Critique of the Welfare State and the programme included the topics of Compassion in the Welfare State, Migration in the Welfare State, and Has the Welfare State Driven Out the Voluntary Spirit? The latter topic was discussed by the Reverend Father L.V. Downey (Director, Catholic Social Services, Auckland) who would serve as President of the association from 1966 to 1968.

Mary Nash (1998) points out that:

It is worth reflecting that the question addressed by Downey in 1966 at the first biennial conference of the NZASW of whether the welfare state has driven out the voluntary spirit is once again in the public mind. In those days there was a growing concern lest the welfare state had become so totalitarian as to obliterate the spirit of voluntary welfare work. Downey referred to the adversity faced by New Zealanders who had left Britain for a better future in the nineteenth century, and argued that this led them to accept a government which played an interventionist part in their everyday lives for their own good. “Thus from the pressures in our historical development we have in the democracies of our tradition not only the recognition of individual freedom and its offshoot, the voluntary spirit in social work, but also the acceptance of the principle that the state has both the right and the obligation to legislate within this area also”.(Downey, 1966, 2).

He was speaking in a post-war society which had become more confident in its own prosperous future, so the move for individual enterprise and free competition without dependence on the state grew. At the same time it appeared to some, that the public service was beginning to serve its own interests rather than those of the general public, and was becoming too powerful. (p. 350-351)

1966 Biennial Conference theme.
1966 Biennial Conference theme.

It is doubtful that those at the conference could foresee the wholesale, neoliberal dismantling of the welfare state that lay ahead in the 1980s.  Cheyne, O’Brien and Belgrave (2008) argue that in Aotearoa New Zealand “a commitment to a welfare state occurred in a very narrow time period from the 1930s through to the 1970s. For the rest of the country’s history there has been an even stronger commitment to individual self-reliance and a minimal state role”. (p. 17)

On a lighter note, the conference programme informs us of some proposed social activities:

On the Saturday night there will be a cabaret evening in Palmerston North’s new Maori Battalion Hall. This hall is an architectural gem and interesting in itself. The cabaret evening will take the form of a dine, wine and dance with entertainment laid on. A Wellington group, “The Rubbishers” have agreed to provide a substantial part of the evening’s entertainment. It is likely that· some of their sketches will provide some humorous and pertinent comments on the public image of social workers

To download the conference programme click on the image above or the link below.


Cheyne, C., O’Brien, M., and Belgrave, M. (2008). Social policy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A critical introduction (4th ed.). South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.

Nash, M. (1998). People, policies and practice: Social work education in Aotearoa/New Zealand from 1949 – 1995. PhD Thesis. Massey University, New Zealand, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

NZASW (1966). First Biennial Conference and Convention. Massey University, 9th – 12th February, 1966.