- For the British screenwriter and director, see Michael J. Bassett
Michael Edward Rainton Bassett, QSO (born 1938) is a former Labour Party member of the New Zealand House of Representatives and cabinet minister in the reformist fourth Labour government. He is also a noted New Zealand historian, and has published a number of books on New Zealand politics, including biographies of Prime Ministers Peter Fraser, Gordon Coates and Joseph Ward.
Life before politics
Bassett was born in 1938 in Auckland and educated at Owairaka School, Dilworth School, Mt Albert Grammar, and the University of Auckland. He completed BA and MA degrees in history at the University of Auckland before winning a fellowship to Duke University in the United States in 1961. He completed a PhD in American history there, completing a dissertation entitled The Socialist Party of America, 1912-1919: Years of Decline.
|Parliament of New Zealand|
In 1971 Bassett was elected to the Auckland City Council. In the following year, he was elected as a Labour MP for Waitemata in the 1972 election, and the Labour Party became the government for the first time since 1960. Following the death of Prime Minister Norman Kirk the party (and Bassett) were defeated in the following (1975) election. In his account on the Third Labour Government, Bassett described it as one of “the most active and socially responsible governments of the twentieth century.”
In 1984, a landslide to Labour resulted in New Zealand's fourth Labour government. Bassett was appointed as Minister of Health and Local Government (1984–1987), and Minister of Internal Affairs, Local Government, Civil Defence and Arts and Culture (1987–1990). He was chairman of the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board and of the 1990 Commission, tasked with the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. In his capacity as Minister of Internal Affairs he also helped reorganise Waitangi Day celebrations and encourage them around New Zealand.
The Fourth Labour government enacted a major programme of economic and social reform, the economic arm of which is known as Rogernomics. Major social reforms included the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986. Bassett was a wholehearted supporter of the reforms, and when the government and party schismed over issues of economic reform, Bassett took the side of finance minister Roger Douglas, the main architect of the reforms. In 1990, Labour was defeated in another landslide election. Bassett did not contest the 1990 election, and retired from active politics.
He continued occasionally to be involved at an advisory level, for example unofficially advising Don Brash during his term as National Party leader. Bassett's switch of sides reflects the present-day Labour Party's semi-repudiation of Rogernomics.
Bassett resumed his academic career, publishing several books on New Zealand political history, and contributing to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and the British Dictionary of National Biography. He was a Professor of History at the University of Western Ontario on and off from 1992 to 1996, taught at the Auckland University Medical School from 1997 to 2000, and was a Fulbright Professor of New Zealand Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC.
From 1994 to 2004 Bassett was a member of the Waitangi Tribunal, which investigates breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. He was a columnist for the Dominion Post in Wellington (until late 2006)  and the Press in Christchurch.
Bassett is a third cousin of late Prime Minister, David Lange. Lange's father, who was a doctor, delivered Bassett. Lange jokingly claimed his father had dropped Bassett on the head at the time of his birth, inflicting long-term brain damage that became apparent only after Bassett was appointed to the Cabinet - a reference to the disagreements between the two men.
- Michael E.R. Bassett, The Socialist Party of America, 1912-1919: Years of Decline. Department of History, Duke University, 1963. Available through University Microfilms, Incorporated, a division of ProQuest.
- Michael Bassett Self Help 03/04/2002
- Wilson 1985, p. 182.
- The Third Labour Government by Michael Bassett
- Wilson 1985, p. 98.
- Young, Audrey (15 December 2006). "Police extend Brash emails inquiry". NZ Herald. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
- Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand parliamentary record, 1840–1984 (4 ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103.
- Personal website
- Photo of the Fish and Chip Brigade in 1980 in Douglas’ office; Bassett, Douglas, Lange and Moore
|New Zealand Parliament|
|Member of Parliament for Waitemata
|Minister of Health