Robert Muldoon

Robert Muldoon

honorific-prefix = The Right Honourable
name=Sir Robert David Muldoon

honorific-suffix = GGMG, CH
caption=The Right Honourable Sir Robert Muldoon in 1977.
order=31st Prime Minister of New Zealand
term_start=12 December 1975
term_end=26 July 1984
monarch= Elizabeth II
governor-general=Sir Denis Blundell
Sir Keith Holyoake
Sir David Beattie
deputy=Brian Talboys (1975 - 1981)
Duncan MacIntyre (1981 - 1984)
Jim McLay (1984)
predecessor=Bill Rowling
successor=David Lange
order2=4th Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
term_start2=9 February 1972
term_end2=8 December 1972
primeminister2=Jack Marshall
predecessor2=Jack Marshall
successor2=Hugh Watt
order3=21st Leader of the Opposition
term_start3=4 July 1974
term_end3=12 December 1975
26 July 1984 - 29 November 1984
predecessor3=Jack Marshall (1974)
David Lange (1984)
successor3=Bill Rowling (1975)
Jim McLay (1984)
birth_date=birth date|1921|9|25|df=y
birth_place=Auckland, New Zealand
death_date=death date and age|1992|8|5|1921|9|25
death_place=Auckland, New Zealand
spouse=Dame Thea Flyger Muldoon (DBE, QSO), married 1951, 3 children

Sir Robert David ("Rob") Muldoon, GCMG, CH (25 September 1921–5 August 1992) served as Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1975 to 1984, as leader of the governing National party.


Robert Muldoon, born to lower-middle-class parents in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, came early in life under the strong formative influence of his fiercely intelligent, iron-willed maternal grandmother, Jerusha, a committed socialist. Though Muldoon never accepted her creed, he did develop under her influence a potent ambition, a consuming interest in politics, and an abiding respect for New Zealand's welfare state. He attended Mount Albert Grammar School from 1933 to 1936.

Early career

Muldoon joined the New Zealand Army during the Second World War and served in the South Pacific and in Italy. While in Italy he served in the same battalion as two other future National Party colleagues, Duncan MacIntyre and Jack Marshall. He completed his training as an accountant, sitting his final exams to become an accountant while in Italy. He returned to New Zealand after the war as the country's first fully-qualified cost accountant.

In March 1947 Muldoon joined a newly-founded branch of the Junior Nationals, the youth wing of the conservative New Zealand National Party. He quickly became active in the party, making two sacrificial-lamb bids for Parliament against entrenched but vulnerable Labour incumbents in 1954 (Mount Albert) and 1957 (Waitemata). But in 1960 he won election as MP for the suburban Auckland electorate of Tamaki, winning against Bob Tizard, who had taken the former National seat in 1957. In 1960, an electoral swing brought Keith Holyoake to power as Prime Minister of the Second National Government. Muldoon would represent the Tamaki constituency for the next 32 years.

Entry into Cabinet

Muldoon displayed a flair for debate and a diligence in his backbench work, and in 1963 he became Under-Secretary to the Minister of Finance, Harry Lake. While holding this office, he took responsibility for the successful introduction of decimal currency into New Zealand in July 1967.

Minister of Finance

When Lake died in 1967, Muldoon seemed the natural (and only obvious) choice to replace him; at 45, he became the youngest Minister of Finance since the 1890s. However, because Holyoake saw Muldoon as too arrogant and ambitious for his own good, he ranked him only eighth in Cabinet. Traditionally Ministers of Finance rank second or third in seniority lists within Westminster-style Cabinets, although his predecessor Harry Lake was ranked at sixth because of his short service in Parliament.

Muldoon opposed both abortion and capital punishment. In 1961 he was one of ten National MPs to cross the floor and vote with the Opposition to remove capital punishment for murder from the Crimes Bill that the Second National Government had introduced. Later, in 1977, he voted against abortion when the issue also came up as a conscience vote.

From his early years as a Member of Parliament, Muldoon became known as "Piggy"; the that would remain with him throughout his life even amongst those who were his supporters. Muldoon himself seemed to relish his controversial public profile and later claimedFact|date=November 2007 that he thought that satirical critics were not hard enough on him.

Muldoon established a considerable national profile rapidly; many historiansFact|date=November 2007 credit his image, rather than that of the Prime Minister, Holyoake, or of his deputy, Jack Marshall, for the National Party's surprise victory in the 1969 election. He also displayed a flair — lacking in his senior colleagues — for the newly-introduced medium of television [Television broadcasts in New Zealand started in 1960.] ; commentators still consider him one of New Zealand's most artful practitioners of media manipulation.Fact|date=November 2007

Deputy Prime Minister

When Holyoake stood down in 1971, Muldoon challenged Marshall for the top job; he lost by a narrow margin, but won unanimous election as deputy leader of National and hence Deputy Prime Minister.

Leader of the Opposition

Marshall fought the 1972 election on a slogan of "Man For Man, The Strongest Team" — an allusion to Marshall's own low-key style, particularly compared to his deputy. The party lost control of the House, ending 12 years in power. In the aftermath, Marshall resigned, and Muldoon took over, becoming Leader of the Opposition on 4 July 1974. Many members of the party caucus regarded Marshall as not up to the task of taking on the formidable Labour Prime Minister, Norman Kirk.

Muldoon, on the other hand, relished the opportunity — but had it for only a short time, until Kirk's sudden death on 31 August 1974. In the 1975 election, Muldoon overwhelmed Kirk's more lacklustre successor, Bill Rowling, reversing the 32–55 Labour majority into a 55–32 National majority. His platform offered "New Zealand - The Way You Want It", promising a generous national superannuation scheme to replace Kirk and Rowling's employer-contribution superannuation scheme (which the famous "Dancing Cossack" television advertisement implied would turn New Zealand into a communist state), and undertaking to fix New Zealand's "shattered economy". Economics correspondent Brian Gaynor has claimed that Muldoon's policy of reversing Labour's saving-scheme lost New Zealand the chance of transforming the New Zealand economy.cite web|publisher=The New Zealand Herald
date=22 September 2007
author=Brain Gaynor
title=Brian Gaynor: How Muldoon threw away NZ's wealth

Prime Minister

Muldoon had remained National's Finance spokesman when he became party leader, and as a result became Minister of Finance as well as Prime Minister — the last to hold both posts to date. He had a reputation as combative, and many people in political positions and the media feared openly confronting him.

Muldoon led National to victory in 1978 and 1981; however, in both elections, the Labour opposition received more popular votes across the country as a whole. This ambiguous mandate did not dilute Muldoon's agenda, and he became more emphatic and autocratic as his time in power continued.

The "Muldoon Years" featured Muldoon's obstinate and resourceful attempts to maintain New Zealand's "cradle to the grave" welfare state, dating from 1935, in the face of a changing world. The country's economy suffered the aftermath of the 1973 energy crisis, the loss of New Zealand's biggest export market upon Britain's entry to the European Economic Community, and rampant inflation.

Concerned about the use of foreign exchange during the 1970s' oil crises, Muldoon supported a scheme whereby natural gas or a dual-fuel gas–petrol system could power cars. Muldoon's 1979 budget introduced incentives to encourage the conversions, and New Zealand emerged as possibly the first country to have dual-fuel cars as a commonplace sight. However, the projection that oil prices would become ever-higher did not happen during this period.

In 1980 an abortive attempt, known as the Colonels' Coup, took place to replace Muldoon with his more economically liberal deputy, Brian Talboys. However, Talboys proved a somewhat reluctant draftee, and Muldoon saw the plotters off with relative ease. No other serious challenge to Muldoon's authority occurred in his years as Prime Minister.

Muldoon became a Companion of Honour in the 1970s, and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1983, only the second New Zealand Prime Minister (after Sir Keith Holyoake) to receive a knighthood while still in office.

Think Big

As economic pressures continued to build, Muldoon tried to control spiralling wages through a trade-off with the trade-union leadership: a reduction in the tax rate against an agreement not to press for further rounds of wage increases. When this strategy proved unsuccessful, as a last resort Muldoon imposed a total freeze on wages, prices, interest rates and dividends across the country, against a "sweetener" of a tax cut which cost the New Zealand treasury approximately a billion New Zealand dollars, and held the country in that state against the hope that his "Think Big" strategy, in which the government borrowed heavily and pumped the funds into large-scale industrial projects, would create trickle-down benefits in the form of jobs and revenue. This never happened: most of the Think Big projects yielded minimal profit whilst Muldoon was still Prime Minister and many were hampered by industrial disputes. With a fiscal deficit, and with a billion dollars not now coming into treasury coffers, Muldoon was also obliged to borrow to fund the welfare state and New Zealand's agricultural subsidies. Ultimately the Wage and Price Freeze, which had been intended only to last for a year, remained in force for nearly two years. Years later, Muldoon admitted that the freeze was a political mistake.

pringbok tour of 1981

Muldoon's belief in keeping his word on never allowing politics to enter sport resulted in his refusal to bar the 1981 Springbok Tour by the Springboks, the national rugby squad of "apartheid"-era South Africa. "The Tour", as it has become known, provoked massive public demonstrations, the formation of public pressure group Halt All Racist Tours(HART) and some of the worst social schisms New Zealand has ever seen. Muldoon came down firmly on the pro-Tour side, arguing that sport and politics should be kept separate. He argued that his refusal to ban the Springboks was anti-authoritarian, leaving it up to individual consciences whether to play sports with representatives of apartheid. He also argued that allowing their rugby team to tour did not mean supporting apartheid any more than playing a Soviet Union team meant supporting Communism.

Falklands War

In 1982, Muldoon's government supported the British in the Falklands War. While New Zealand did not directly participate in the conflict, Muldoon undertook to send the frigate HMNZS "Canterbury" to the Indian Ocean to relieve a Royal Navy frigate, so that it could in its turn deploy in the conflict. New Zealand also broke off its diplomatic relations with Argentina. In defence of his support for the war, Muldoon wrote an article that was published in "The Times", entitled "Why we Stand by our Mother Country".cite web|url=| title= The 1999 Papers |author= James Belich, Professor, Department of History, University of Auckland | accessdate=2007-04-16] According to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Muldoon said of his stance towards the Falklands: "With the Falkland Islanders it is family" [ [ Margaret Thatcher, "Speech to Conservative Women’s Conference", 26 May, 1982] ] and that he had reminded her: "Don't forget. In New Zealand, we are still a member of the same family." [ [ Margaret Thatcher, "House of Commons PQs", 20 May, 1982] ]

Closer Economic Relations

Muldoon initiated a Closer Economic Relations (CER) free-trade programme with Australia to liberalise trade, which came into effect from New Year's Day 1982. The aim of total free trade between the two countries was achieved in 1990, five years ahead of schedule.

Nuclear ships policy and the snap election of 1984

Ultimately, the end of Muldoon's government came following a late-night clash with National backbencher Marilyn Waring over highly contentious Opposition-sponsored nuclear-free New Zealand legislation, in which Waring told him she would cross the floor (giving the Opposition a victory). A visibly drunk pp. 375] [ [ , Television footage "Drunk Muldoon calls the 1984 election"] ] Muldoon called a snap election for 14 July 1984 (Most commentatorsFact|date=November 2007 noted the unfortunate coincidence with Bastille Day). He was heavily defeated by David Lange's resurgent Labour Party, which won 56 seats to National's 37 with a massive vote division caused by the New Zealand Party in particular.

It is a strong convention in New Zealand politics that a prime minister does not ask for an early election unless he or she cannot govern, or unless they need to seek the electorate's endorsement on a matter of national importance (as was the case in 1951). Muldoon justified the snap election because he felt Waring's revolt impeded his ability to govern. Indeed, it was obvious that Muldoon was finding it hard to pass financial measures with neo-liberal rebels like Ruth Richardson and Derek Quigley voting against the Government on certain issues; [Bohan, Edmund: "Burdon: A Man Of Our Time." page 95. Hazard Press, 2005 ] however, some historians have been critical of this excuse, as Waring said that she would not have denied Muldoon confidence or supply, and would not have prevented him from governing, as the government still had the constitutional means to govern.

Foreign exchange and constitutional crises

A final controversy occurred during the course of the election and transfer of government: during early 1984 Roderick Deane, then Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, became concerned that the New Zealand dollar (which had a fixed exchange-rate to the US Dollar) had become significantly overvalued and was vulnerable to currency speculation on the financial markets in the event of a "significant political event". This was exacerbated by media speculation following a leak that an incoming Labour administration would be likely to significantly devalue the NZ dollar upon election. The Reserve Bank counseled Muldoon that the dollar should be devalued. Muldoon ignored the advice, owing to his belief that it would hurt poor New Zealanders in the medium term, and in June of 1984 announced the snap election mentioned above which, as predicted, caused an immediate run on the dollar.

Following the election the controversy became a constitutional crisis: Muldoon refused to do as the incoming government instructed, causing the currency crisis to worsen. Eventually he relented however, after his position as leader of the National party was threatened by members of his caucus.

After nine years, Muldoon's stewardship of the nation and its economy ceased. The newly-elected radically neo-liberal and unexpectedly pro-free market Fourth Labour Government embarked on a series of fundamental free-market reforms known (after Labour's finance minister Roger Douglas) as Rogernomics, and which were then continued from 1990 to 1994 by the succeeding National government's policies known as (after National's finance minister Ruth Richardson) as Ruthanasia. These policies marked a fundamental break with the more interventionist policies of Muldoon's era.

Later life

Muldoon's deputy leader, Jim McLay, deposed him as National Party leader shortly after the election. McLay lasted two years in the role, with Muldoon and others actively undermining his leadership. In 1986, he was ousted in turn by his own deputy (and Muldoon's preferred candidate), Jim Bolger, who had served as Minister of Labour for the latter half of Muldoon's term as Prime Minister.

Muldoon remained in Parliament as the MP for Tamaki until shortly before his death. He lived through the Fourth Labour Government's neo-liberal reforms, known as "Rogernomics", and to his horror — to see a National government (led by his own man, Bolger, after winning the landslide of 1990) take up the same baton with Ruthanasia, named after Finance Minister Ruth Richardson. Muldoon's conscience tormented him; he could not bring himself to vote with the Labour Party against the Bolger government's benefit cuts, and, looking miserable, abstained.

Muldoon also opposed the legalisation of homosexual behavior when Labour MP Fran Wilde introduced the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1985. The Bill passed as the Homosexual Law Reform Act in 1986.

Although he remained iconic to particular segments of society, particularly the elderly, Muldoon faded quickly as a force on the political scene. His biographer, Barry Gustafson — who described himself as not a Muldoon supporter — wrote that he still served as an active MP for his Tamaki electorate, dealing immediately with matters from all walks of life. He continued to write in international economic journals, arguing that the unemployment that had arisen as a result of the free-market reforms was worse than the gains that were made, a view that came to be popular by the time of the Fifth Labour Government in 1999.

Muldoon had a short stage career in a New Zealand production of "The Rocky Horror Show", starring as the narrator, had minor television appearances on commercials for Panasonic (when it changed its name in New Zealand from "National") and in the television series "Terry and the Gunrunners" (as Arnos Grove) and in "The Friday Frights" (as the host); he also hosted a talkback radio show entitled "Lilies and Other Things", referencing his favourite flower.

On this show, on 17 November, 1991, Muldoon announced he would stand down from Parliament; he formally retired one month later, on 17 December. His retirement party featured taped speeches from Ronald Reagan (commenting that at Muldoon's age, he was only getting started) and Margaret Thatcher. He fell seriously ill almost immediately, and died in hospital on 5 August, 1992, aged 70.

He is buried at Purewa Cemetery, Meadowbank, Auckland, NZ in a plot that faces Auckland City.


Muldoon remains one of the most complex, fascinating, and polarising figures in New Zealand history. He divided people into camps of those who loved him and those who hated him; very few people, except those born after his fall, remained neutral. To his enemies, "Piggy" Muldoon was a dictatorial Prime Minister who nearly destroyed both New Zealand's economy and New Zealand society through his arrogance.

To those, known as "Rob's Mob", who revered him, he represented an icon of the New Zealand national character, a supporter of the "ordinary bloke" (his own description of himself) and an international statesman. Curiously, he also became patron of the Black Power gang for whom he had created work schemes and advised on the better treatment of women and children associated with the gang. [Gustafson, Barry. "His Way: A Biography of Robert Muldoon" p. 426. Auckland University Press] Members paid him solemn respect by performing two haka during his funeral in 1992.

Historians like Gustafson and Brian Easton criticise Muldoon because, according to them, he pursued an ultimately unsustainable line of policy. [Easton, Brian. The Nationbuilders, pp. 239-53. Auckland: Auckland University Press, ISBN 1-86940-260-X (2001)] ] Some argueFact|date=November 2007 that he was responsible for much of the pain caused by the free-market reforms of 1984 – 1993, because by holding on for as long as he did he forced the inevitable reforms to be implemented with unusual speed and severity. However, this view is not universal, and many also argue that the free market reformers of the 1980s and 1990s used Muldoon as an excuse to embark on radical ideological programs.

Muldoon famously declared upon becoming Prime Minister that he hoped to leave New Zealand "no worse off than I found it". He dominated New Zealand politics for over a decade, and still influences the conduct of government today. Gustafson gives him the following epitaph: "By 1992 New Zealand had not become what Muldoon or many other New Zealanders wanted it to be but he was not prepared to take the blame for that. Muldoon died unrepentant and still convinced that his way, even if never perfect, had been a better way."

Thea Muldoon

In 1951 Muldoon married Thea Flyger, by whom he would have three children, and who survives him. She became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1993, and Queen's Service Order.


* When questioned about increased levels of emigration from New Zealand to Australia, Muldoon responded that these migrants "raised the average IQ of both countries".
* In April 1980, in the face of efforts to remove a 40% sales tax on music-sales in New Zealand, Muldoon refused to have the tax lifted remarking that " [t] he records that are sold in this country are not Kiri Te Kanawa's: they are about 50 to one these horrible pop groups and I'm not going to take the tax off them" [The Press, Monday 21 April 1980, p.1] . This remark was followed a couple of days afterwards with "If you use the word 'cultural' in its normal sense, I don't think Split Enz and Mi-Sex are cultural" [The Dominion, Tuesday 22 April 1980, p.1] . Several New Zealand bands answered Muldoon, notably Mi-Sex, who invited him to a Wellington concert (which he attended), and The Knobz, who recorded a song "Culture?", which parodied Muldoon - complete with a Rob Muldoon soundalike.
* In 1979, Muldoon imposed a controversial 20-percent surcharge on boats and caravans. Instead of generating extra revenue, this tax virtually brought the caravan and boating industry including Cavalier Yachts (then the largest production boat builder in Australasia) to its knees as customers could not afford the new tax and thus cancelled their orders. Despite evidence showing clearly that this tax had resulted in a detrimental effect to the industry, Muldoon refused to repeal it on the grounds that such an admission of error on his part would be regarded as an opposition victory. This tax led to a popular bumper-sticker which read "I'd rather be sailing, but I voted National". The Lange Government's first budget repealed this tax.
* Muldoon had a reputation for the variety of the ties he wore (in contrast to subsequent Labour Prime Minister David Lange who did not necessarily want to wear ties in the debating chamber). This was so well known that some of his ties were made available for sale to the public following his death.
*In his 1980 book entitled "My Way" Muldoon states on the back cover, "Shortly after I entered Parliament,it became clear to me that I had too many friends. What I needed was some enemies."
*According to Hugh Templeton in his book "All Honourable Men", page 85, Muldoon spoke brilliantly to his caucus after the Moyle affair and stated: "You have to remember the House is an intimate chamber. Its unwritten rule is that if someone boots you,boot back then or later."
* In 1995, actor Ian Mune played Sir Robert Muldoon in the made-for-television mini-series "Fallout", depicting the end of the Muldoon National Government.
*Two further documentaries about Muldoon were "Magic Kiwi's: Muldoon" and "The Grim Face of Power" both produced by Neil Roberts.


Suggestions for further reading

* Clark, Margaret. (ed.) Muldoon Revisited. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, ISBN 0-86469-465-2 (2004). ["The revised proceedings of a conference on Muldoon held at Victoria University of Wellington during 2002."]
* Gustafson, Barry, His Way, a biography of Robert Muldoon, Auckland University Press, 2000, ISBN 1-86940-236-7
* Jones, Bob. Memories of Muldoon. Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, ISBN 0-908812-69-8 (1997).
* Moon, Paul. Muldoon: A Study in Public Leadership, Wellington, Pacific Press, 1999, ISBN 0-9583418-7-7
* Muldoon, R. D. ["Muldoon's autobiographical writings, while inevitably self-serving, provide a candid expression of his thinking and of his desires for New Zealand."]
** The Rise and Fall of a Young Turk. Wellington: A.H. & A.W. Reed, Listed Invalid ISBN|0-589-00873-1 (1974).
** Muldoon. Wellington: Reed, ISBN 0-589-01087-5 (1977).
** My Way. Wellington: Reed, ISBN 0-589-01385-8 (1981).
** The New Zealand Economy: A Personal View. Auckland: Endeavour Press, ISBN 0-86481-105-5 (1985).
** Number 38. Auckland: Reed Methuen, ISBN 0-474-00220-9 (1986).
* Russell, Marcia. Revolution:New Zealand from Fortress to Free Market Hodder Moa Beckett, 1996
*Zavos, Spiro. The Real Muldoon. Wellington: Fourth Estate Books (1978).

External links

* [ Biography] of Sir Robert Muldoon from New Zealand Prime Minister's official website.
* [ Think Big policy decisions]

NAME=Muldoon, Robert David
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Prime Minister of New Zealand, politician
DATE OF BIRTH=September 25 1921
PLACE OF BIRTH=Auckland, New Zealand
DATE OF DEATH=August 5 1992

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