Rex Mason

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This article is about a New Zealand politician. For the comic character of the same name, see Metamorpho.

Henry Greathead Rex Mason KC (3 June 1885 – 2 April 1975) was a New Zealand politician. He served as Attorney General, Minister of Justice, Minister of Education, and Minister of Native Affairs, and had a significant influence on the direction of the Labour Party. He was one of New Zealand's longest-serving MPs.

Early life[edit]

Mason was born in Wellington, to a South African father and an Australian mother. He attended Wellington College (where he was dux) and Victoria University, from which he graduated with MA in mathematics and an LLB. Moving to Pukekohe, he became a lawyer.

Political career[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1926–1928 22nd Eden Labour
1928–1931 23rd Auckland Suburbs Labour
1931–1935 24th Auckland Suburbs Labour
1935–1938 25th Auckland Suburbs Labour
1938–1943 26th Auckland Suburbs Labour
1943–1946 27th Auckland Suburbs Labour
1946–1949 28th Waitakere Labour
1949–1951 29th Waitakere Labour
1951–1954 30th Waitakere Labour
1954–1957 31st Waitakere Labour
1957–1960 32nd Waitakere Labour
1960–1963 33rd Waitakere Labour
1963–1966 34th New Lynn Labour

Mason was elected Mayor of Pukekohe in 1915. He was left-wing in his political outlook, and joined the Labour Party on its foundation in 1916. In the 1919 general election, he was Labour's candidate for the seat of Manukau, but was defeated. Later, he shifted his attention to the seat of Eden — he contested it in the 1922 election and 1925 election. He finally won Eden in a 1926 by-election, assisted by the fact that the Reform Party's vote was split by a defeated nominee, Ellen Melville.

Throughout his parliamentary career, Mason remained highly involved in the organisation of the Labour Party. He served as its president from 1931 to 1933, and played a major role in policy formulation. Mason was regarded as a social democrat rather than a socialist, and he played a part in moving the Labour Party closer to the political centre. He did, however, believe that the state should have exclusive control over the country's financial system, influenced by social credit monetary reform theories. Other causes supported by Mason include the establishment of a comprehensive old-age pension system and the granting of full state services to naturalised immigrants (the latter making him extremely popular with his electorate's substantial Yugoslavian community).

When Labour won the 1935 general election, Mason became Attorney General and Minister of Justice, reflecting his legal background. When disputes arose between the party leadership and John A. Lee's more radical faction, Mason remained on good terms with both sides — while he sympathised with some of Lee's points, particularly regarding monetary reform, he did not join Lee's breakaway Democratic Labour Party. Mason later served as Minister of Education (where he worked closely with C.E. Beeby to implement educational reforms) and as Minister of Native Affairs. In 1941 the Public Service Commissioner Thomas Mark died in (or just outside) the minister's office, during a confrontation with Mason who wanted the resignation of the head of a department.

He was not returned to Cabinet after the 1946 election, but returned to fill a vacancy the following year. After Labour lost office, he continued to agitate on a number of issues, notably decimal currency. After Labour won the 1957 election, Mason returned to his original roles of Attorney General and Minister of Justice. He was also made Minister of Health.

Rex Mason represented the seat of Eden in the 22nd parliament (1926–28), Auckland Suburbs in the 23rd to 27th parliaments (1928–46), Waitakere in the 28th to 33rd parliaments (1946–63), and New Lynn in the 34th parliament (1963–66).

Mason eventually retired from politics at the 1966 election, under a certain amount of pressure from colleagues who wished to "rejuvenate" the Labour Party. Mason was now in his eighties, and was one of the longest serving New Zealand MPs ever, with a career of 40 years from 15 April 1926 to 25 October 1966.

Personal affairs[edit]

Mason married Dulcia Martina Rockell on 27 December 1912, and had three children. Through his wife's influence, Mason become interested in Indian religion and spirituality, and beliefs derived from it (particularly Theosophy). He was a vegetarian and a teetotaller.

Mason died in Wellington on 2 April 1975, aged 89.

External links[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
James Parr
Member of Parliament for Eden
1926–1928
Succeeded by
Arthur Stallworthy
New constituency Member of Parliament for Auckland Suburbs
1928–1946
Constituency abolished
Member of Parliament for Waitakere
1946–1963
Succeeded by
Martyn Finlay
Member of Parliament for New Lynn
1963–1966
Succeeded by
Jonathan Hunt
Political offices
Preceded by
John Cobbe
Minister of Justice
1935–1949
1957–1960
Succeeded by
Clifton Webb
Preceded by
Jack Marshall
Succeeded by
Ralph Hanan
Preceded by
George Forbes
Attorney-General
1935–1949
1957–1960
Succeeded by
Clifton Webb
Preceded by
Jack Marshall
Succeeded by
Ralph Hanan
Preceded by
Peter Fraser
Minister of Education
1940–1947
Succeeded by
Terry McCombs
Preceded by
Frank Langstone
Minister of Native Affairs
1943–1946
Succeeded by
Peter Fraser
Preceded by
Ralph Hanan
Minister of Health
1957–1960
Succeeded by
Norman Shelton
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jim Thorn
President of the Labour Party
1931–1932
Succeeded by
Bill Jordan