Poll tax on Chinese immigrants abolished

15 December 1944

timeline

Poll tax certificate (Archives New Zealand, LS 24/1 1615)

The Finance Act (No. 3) abolished the poll tax introduced in 1881, which was described by Minister of Finance Walter Nash as a ‘blot on our legislation’.

A public meeting held in Dunedin in 1871 called unanimously for a ban on further Chinese migrants joining those who had arrived since the mid-1860s. As work on the goldfields became harder to find, anti-Chinese prejudice increased. With the Chinese Immigrants Act 1881, New Zealand followed the example of Canada and the Australian colonies and imposed entry taxes on Chinese immigrants. A ‘poll tax’ of £10 a head (equivalent to $1650 in 2014) was introduced, and ships arriving in New Zealand were restricted to one Chinese passenger per 10 tons of cargo. In 1896 this ratio was reduced to one passenger to 200 tons of cargo, and the poll tax was increased to £100 ($18,600).

Organisations emerged to oppose Chinese immigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Anti-Chinese Association, the Anti-Chinese League, the Anti-Asiatic League and the White New Zealand League.

The poll tax was waived by the Minister of Customs in 1934, but it was not repealed until 1944. By then other countries had abandoned it. In 2002 the New Zealand government officially apologised to the Chinese community for the suffering caused by the poll tax.

Other ways in which Chinese were discriminated against included:

  • From 1907 all arrivals were required to sit an English reading test.
  • From 1908 Chinese who wished to leave the country temporarily needed re-entry permits, which were thumb-printed.
  • From 1926 permanent residency was denied to Chinese.
  • Until 1936 Chinese were denied the old-age pension.