Robert Muldoon

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For the Jurassic Park character, see Robert Muldoon (fictional character).
The Right Honourable
Sir Robert Muldoon
Muldoon 26 June 1969.jpg
The Right Honourable Sir Robert Muldoon in 1969.
31st Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
12 December 1975 – 26 July 1984
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Denis Blundell
Keith Holyoake
David Beattie
Deputy Brian Talboys (1975–1981)
Duncan MacIntyre (1981–1984)
Jim McLay (1984)
Preceded by Bill Rowling
Succeeded by David Lange
34th Minister of Finance
In office
12 December 1975 – 26 July 1984
Prime Minister Himself
Preceded by Bob Tizard
Succeeded by Roger Douglas
In office
March 1967 – 8 December 1972
Prime Minister Keith Holyoake
Jack Marshall
Preceded by Harry Lake
Succeeded by Bill Rowling
4th Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
9 February 1972 – 8 December 1972
Prime Minister Jack Marshall
Preceded by Jack Marshall
Succeeded by Hugh Watt
21st Leader of the Opposition
In office
4 July 1974 – 12 December 1975
Preceded by Jack Marshall
Succeeded by Bill Rowling
In office
26 July 1984 – 29 November 1984
Preceded by David Lange
Succeeded by Jim McLay
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Tamaki
In office
26 November 1960 – 17 December 1991
Preceded by Bob Tizard
Succeeded by Clem Simich
Personal details
Born (1921-09-25)25 September 1921
Auckland, New Zealand
Died 5 August 1992(1992-08-05) (aged 70)
Auckland, New Zealand
Resting place Purewa Cemetery, Meadowbank
Nationality New Zealander
Political party National
Spouse(s) Dame Thea Flyger Muldoon (DBE, QSO) (m.1951)
Children 3
Profession Accountant
Religion Baptist[1]
Military service
Allegiance New Zealand Army
Years of service 1940–1946
Rank Sergeant
Battles/wars World War II

Sir Robert David "Rob" Muldoon, GCMG, CH, PC (25 September 1921 – 5 August 1992), served as the 31st Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1975 to 1984, as leader of the governing National Party. Muldoon had been a prominent member of the National party and MP for the Tamaki electorate for some years prior to becoming leader of the party. During his time as a member of parliament and as Prime Minister, Muldoon was responsible for a number of major changes to the New Zealand economy, including the introduction of decimal currency and the Think Big policies of the third National Government. Despite being a polarising figure during his time as Prime Minister, Muldoon's impact on New Zealand society faded after his retirement.[citation needed]


Robert David Muldoon was born to parents Jim and Amie Muldoon in Auckland in 1921.

At age five Muldoon slipped while playing on the front gate, damaging his cheek and resulting in a distinctive scar.[2] At age eight, Muldoon's father was admitted to hospital, where he died nearly 20 years later.[3] This left Muldoon's mother to raise him on her own. During this time Muldoon came 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. A brilliant student at school, Muldoon won a scholarship to attend Mount Albert Grammar School[2] from 1933 to 1936. He left school at age 15, finding work at Fletcher Construction as an arrears clerk.[2]

Early career[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1960–1963 33rd Tamaki National
1963–1966 34th Tamaki National
1966–1969 35th Tamaki National
1969–1972 36th Tamaki National
1972–1975 37th Tamaki National
1975–1978 38th Tamaki National
1978–1981 39th Tamaki National
1981–1984 40th Tamaki National
1984–1987 41st Tamaki National
1987–1990 42nd Tamaki National
1990–1991 43rd Tamaki National

Muldoon joined the New Zealand Army in November 1940 during the Second World War, and served in the South Pacific and in Italy. While in Italy he served in the same battalion (Divisional Cavalry) as two other future National Party colleagues, Duncan MacIntyre and Jack Marshall.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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).[citation needed] 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[edit]

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.[citation needed] While holding this office, he took responsibility for the successful introduction of decimal currency into New Zealand in July 1967.[citation needed]

Minister of Finance[edit]

Muldoon (centre) as Minister of Finance, 26 June 1969. With him are Allan McCready MP and A J Shaw.

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[citation needed], 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

From his early years as a Member of Parliament, Muldoon became known as Piggy; the epithet 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 claimed[citation needed] that he thought that satirical critics were not hard enough on him.

Muldoon established a considerable national profile rapidly; many historians[citation needed] 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;[4] commentators still consider him one of New Zealand's most artful practitioners of media manipulation.[citation needed]

Deputy Prime Minister[edit]

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 the National Party and hence Deputy Prime Minister.

Leader of the Opposition[edit]

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. Muldoon commented on Labour's election promises with "They can’t promise anything because I’ve spent it all".[5][6] The party lost control of the House, ending 12 years in power. Many members of the party caucus regarded Marshall as not up to the task of taking on the formidable Labour Prime Minister, Norman Kirk. Partly due to this, Marshall resigned, and Muldoon took over, becoming Leader of the Opposition on 4 July 1974.

Muldoon relished the opportunity to match up against Kirk – but had it for only a short time, until Kirk's sudden death on 31 August 1974. In the 1975 election, Muldoon ran on a platform of "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". He overwhelmed Kirk's more lacklustre successor, Bill Rowling, reversing the 32–55 Labour majority into a 55–32 National majority.Economics correspondent Brian Gaynor has claimed that Muldoon's policy of reversing Labour's saving-scheme cost him a chance to transform the New Zealand economy.[7]

Labour responded with a campaign called Citizens for Rowling, described by Muldoon as "not even a thinly disguised" attack on himself.[2]

Prime Minister[edit]

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—thus concentrating enormous power in his hands. He is 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.[citation needed]

Muldoon during a visit to the US in 1977

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.[citation needed]

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.

On 8 January 1977 when he was at Piha Beach for the re-opening of the Piha Surf Life Saving Club club-house after the Project 40 rebuild, he joined the Auckland Rescue Helicopter lifeguards jumping into the surf from the helicopter. He was lifted out of the water and transported back to the beach slung under the helicopter using the rescue strop connected into the cargo hook.[8]

Muldoon became an Additional Member of the Companion of Honour in the 1977 Silver Jubilee and Queen's Birthday Honours,[9] and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George in the 1984 New Year Honours,[10] only the second New Zealand Prime Minister (after Sir Keith Holyoake) to receive a knighthood while still in office.

Think Big[edit]

Main article: 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.

That never happened: most of the Think Big projects yielded minimal profit while 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.

The Dawn Raids[edit]

Robert Muldoon continued his Labour predecessor Prime Minister Norman Kirk's policy of arresting and deporting Pacific Islander overstayers which had begun in 1974.[11] Since the 1950s, the New Zealand government had encouraged substantial emigration from several Pacific countries including Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji to fill a labour shortage caused by the post–war economic boom. Consequently, the Pacific Islander population in New Zealand had grown to 45,413 by 1971, with a substantial number overstaying their visas.[12] During the late 1960s and early 1970s, New Zealand's economy had declined due to several international developments: a decline in international wool prices in 1966, Britain joining the European Economic Community in 1973 which deprived NZ of a major market for dairy products, and the 1973 oil crisis. This economic downturn led to increased crime, unemployment and other social ailments, which disproportionately affected the Pacific Islander community.[13]

In July 1974, Muldoon as opposition leader had promised to cut immigration and to "get tough" on law and order issues. He criticized the Labour government's immigration policies for contributing to the economic recession and a housing shortage which undermined the New Zealand "way of life." During the 1975 general elections, the National Party had also played a controversial electoral advertisement that was later criticized for stoking negative racial sentiments about Polynesian migrants.[14] Muldoon's government accelerated the Kirk government's police raids against Pacific overstayers. These operations involved special police squads conducting dawn raids on the homes of overstayers throughout New Zealand. Overstayers and their families were often deported back to their countries.[15][16]

The Dawn Raids were widely condemned by different sections of New Zealand society including the Pacific Islander and Māori communities, church groups, employers and workers' unions, anti-racist groups, and the opposition Labour Party. The raids were also criticized by elements of the New Zealand Police and the ruling National Party for damaging race relations with the Pacific Island community.[17] Critics also alleged that the Dawn Raids unfairly targeted Pacific Islanders since Pacific Islanders only comprised one-third of the overstayers but made up 86% of those arrested and prosecuted for overstaying. The majority of overstayers were from Great Britain, Australia, and South Africa.[15] The Muldoon government's treatment of overstayers also damaged relations with Pacific countries like Samoa and Tonga, and generated criticism from the South Pacific Forum. By 1979, the Muldoon government terminated the Dawn Raids since the deporation of illegal Pacific overstayers had failed to alleviate the ailing New Zealand economy.[15]

Communism and the Soviet Union[edit]

As with other conservative governments during the Cold War, Muldoon adopted an anti-Soviet stance. As a long-time National Party activist, Muldoon rejected Communism as an 'alien' collectivist philosophy. During the television programme Gallery in the later 1960s, he also criticised left-leaning clergymen who had criticised apartheid in South Africa for failing to oppose Soviet communism. Muldoon was also critical of Communist influence in New Zealand's trade union movement.[18] He also viewed the Moscow-aligned Socialist Unity Party (SUP), a break-away faction from the Communist Party of New Zealand, as a Soviet fifth column that was trying to subvert New Zealand and the South Pacific island states. In various speeches and press releases, he would accuse the SUP and other Communist groups of instigating strikes, and organising protests against US naval visits and New Zealand's sporting contacts with South Africa.[19]

As Prime Minister, he accepted both the American and Chinese views that the Soviet Union was an aggressive power with hegemonic ambitions in the South Pacific.[19] Muldoon would also join the United States President Jimmy Carter and other Western leaders in condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympics. However, his government did not participate in the US-led trade boycott against the Soviet Union since it would hurt New Zealand's predominantly agricultural export economy. In 1980, the National government also expelled the Soviet Ambassador, Vsevolod Sofinski, for handing money over to the SUP. Despite his antagonism towards the Soviet Union and domestic Communist movements, Muldoon's government still maintained economic relations with the Soviet Union.[20]

Arthur Allan Thomas[edit]

Main article: Arthur Allan Thomas

After David Yallop drew Muldoon's attention to the case of Arthur Allan Thomas, twice convicted for the murders of farming couple Harvey and Jeannette Crewe, Muldoon asked Robert Adams-Smith, a QC, to review the case. Adams-Smith reported 'an injustice may have been done', and Muldoon pushed through a royal pardon for Thomas.[21] A subsequent Royal Commission of Inquiry exonerated the pardon and recommended Thomas be paid $950,000 as compensation for the time he served.[22]

Springbok tour of 1981[edit]

Professing a belief that politics should not interfere with sport, Muldoon resisted pressure to bar the 1981 Springbok Tour by the Springboks, the national rugby squad of apartheid-era South Africa. By allowing "the Tour", Muldoon was accused of breaking the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement (to form a common policy on sporting with South Africa amongst the Commonwealth, signed after the boycott of the Montreal Olympics in 1976). Muldoon noted, however, that the Gleneagles Agreement had been amended and, in an article in The Times, that he had not broken the Gleneagles Agreement because "New Zealand and subsequently other countries made it clear that they could not subscribe to an agreement which required them to abrogate the freedoms of their sportsmen and prohibit sporting contacts".[23] "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. Despite the turmoil over "The Tour" created within New Zealand, Muldoon's New Zealand National Party won the subsequent election held later that year.

Falklands War[edit]

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 frigates HMNZS Canterbury and HMNZS Waikato to the Indian Ocean to relieve Royal Navy frigates, so that they could in their 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":

We are a free and independent nation but in time of trouble we stand with our mother country...New Zealand's decision to break off diplomatic relations with Argentina over the Falklands, immediately after Britain had done so, was not because of Britain's support on the sporting issue. The reason goes much deeper than that. It is in the context of the statement made by a Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1939: “Where Britain goes, we go.” We see the Falklands as British territory and the Falklands Islanders as subjects of our Queen. We live at the end of the line and we know the feeling of isolation...With the Falklands Islands, it is family. Historically, Britain has so often on great occasions thrown up the leader that the occasion demanded. I regard Margaret Thatcher as one of the finest and straightest politicians I have ever met...In 1939 we learned the folly of appeasement. A great catastrophe was the price that was paid. The military rulers of Argentina must not be appeased. New Zealand will back Britain all the way.[24]

According to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Muldoon said of his stance towards the Falklands: "With the Falkland Islanders it is family"[25] and that he had reminded her: "Don't forget. In New Zealand, we are still a member of the same family."[26]

Boat and Caravan Tax[edit]

Muldoon attempted to increase tax revenue by levying a 20% tax on the construction and purchasing of boats and caravans. However, the immediate result of this tax was the decimation of both industries as potential buyers could not afford to pay the tax on top of the construction costs, and had the additional effect of adding to the numbers of unemployed as boat and caravan builders could not pay their employees because of the order cancellations.[27] Despite the clear evidence that this tax was costing money and jobs, Muldoon refused to revoke it on the grounds that doing so would be an admission of failure. This tax was not repealed until the first budget of the newly elected Labour Government in 1984. A popular bumper sticker seen on cars read "I'd rather Be sailing, but I voted National".

Closer Economic Relations[edit]

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[edit]

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). On 14 June 1984, a visibly drunk[28] Muldoon called a snap election for 14 July that same year; historians noted the unfortunate coincidence with Bastille Day.[29] A journalist commented that a month-long campaign was too short. Muldoon replied "It doesn't give my opponents much time". He was heavily defeated by David Lange's resurgent Labour Party, which won 56 seats to National's 37 with massive vote splitting caused by the New Zealand Party in particular. Muldoon's drunkenness when announcing the election date led to it being known as the schnapps election.[29]

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.[30] However, Waring said that she would not have denied Muldoon confidence or supply. This has led historians to question Muldoon's excuse for calling a snap election, since he still would have had the constitutional means to govern.

Foreign exchange and constitutional crises[edit]

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 counselled 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 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[edit]

Muldoon was deposed as National leader shortly after the election by his deputy, Jim McLay. Muldoon remains the only defeated National Prime Minister who did not stay on to lead the party into opposition. He refused McLay's offer of a front bench post, instead opting to return to the backbench for the first time in over two decades. However, he remained a thorn in McLay's side, refusing to withdraw into an "elder statesman" role as McLay wanted. The relationship between the two bottomed out when Muldoon criticised the entire party leadership, forcing McLay to demote him to the lowest rank in the National caucus.

Muldoon continued to undermine McLay until 1986, when McLay 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. Bolger returned Muldoon to the front bench as spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, pitting him directly against Prime Minister David Lange.[2]

Muldoon remained 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 his own man, Bolger, take up the same baton after winning the landslide of 1990 in the form of Ruthanasia, named after Finance Minister Ruth Richardson. Muldoon's conscience tormented him; he could not bring himself to vote with Labour against the Bolger government's benefit cuts, and, looking miserable, abstained.[citation needed]

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

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, held at Auckland's His Majesty's Theatre (demolished soon after the production ended),[2] starring as the narrator. He also had minor television appearances on commercials for Panasonic (when it changed its brand 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 Radio Pacific.[2]

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. One of the people organizing the party was Bob Jones, who had forgiven Muldoon for their previous falling out.[31] Muldoon fell seriously ill almost immediately, and died in hospital on 5 August 1992, aged 70.

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


Muldoon remains one of the most complex, fascinating, polarising and iconic 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[32] 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.[1][33]

Some argue[citation needed] 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,[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Muldoon famously declared upon becoming Prime Minister that he hoped to leave New Zealand "no worse off than I found it".[citation needed] 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."[this quote needs a citation]

Thea Muldoon[edit]

In 1951 Muldoon married Thea Dale Flyger, by whom he would have three children, and who survives him. Lady Muldoon was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1993 New Year Honours[34] and awarded the Queen's Service Order in the 1986 New Year Honours.[35]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Muldoon was frequently lampooned in the TVNZ-produced satire show McPhail & Gadsby during the 1980s.
  • American President Ronald Reagan would sometimes mistake the last name of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to be Muldoon after changes in government in both New Zealand and Canada in 1984, with many Canadian political cartoonists taking up on this error and referring to Mulroney as 'Muldoon'.[citation needed]
  • 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 Kiwis: Muldoon and The Grim Face of Power, both produced by Neil Roberts.
  • A corner on the Rimutaka Hill Road section of State Highway 2 has been named after the former prime minister.[36][37] Safety work carried out between 2009 and 2012, costing NZ$16.5 million, included realignment to ease the corner.[38][39]


  1. ^ a b Gustafson 2000, p. ?.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Wolfe 2005, p. ?.
  3. ^ Gustafson 2000, pp. 20–21.
  4. ^ Television broadcasts in New Zealand started in 1960.
  5. ^ "Questions for Oral Answer". 20 May 2004. p. 13131. 
  6. ^ Easton, Brian (12 July 2005). "Brian Easton: The State Of The Nation". Scoop. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  7. ^ Gaynor, Brian (22 September 2007). "Brian Gaynor: How Muldoon threw away NZ's wealth". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 22 September 2007. 
  8. ^ "Piha Surf Life Saving Club – Guardians of the Iron Sands". Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  9. ^ London Gazette (supplement), No. 47237, 10 June 1977. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  10. ^ London Gazette (supplement), No. 49584, 30 December 1983. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  11. ^ Anae 2012, pp. 227-230.
  12. ^ Parker, John (2005), Frontier of Dreams: The Story of New Zealand—Into the 21st Century, 1946-2005, Auckland: TVNZ and Scholastic, pp. 28–29, 64–65 
  13. ^ John Parker, 64-65
  14. ^ National Party advertisement (documentary). TVNZ Television New Zealand, Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 1975. 
  15. ^ a b c Damon Fepulea'I, Rachel Jean, Tarx Morrison (2005). Dawn Raids (documentary). TVNZ, Isola Publications. 
  16. ^ Anae 2012, pp. 230-233.
  17. ^ Anae 2012, pp. 234-236.
  18. ^ Wilson 2004, pp. 85-87.
  19. ^ a b Gustafson 2004, p. 27.
  20. ^ Wilson 2004, pp. 106-129.
  21. ^ "Arthur Allan Thomas convicted of Crewe murders for a second time". History Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  22. ^ Report of the Royal Commission to Inquire into the Circumstances of the Convictions of Arthur Allan Thomas for the Murders of David Harvey Crewe and Jeanette Lenore Crewe, 1980, p. 120, retrieved 2010-10-15 
  23. ^ Robert Muldoon (28 July 1981). "Robert Muldoon: Why My Small Country is Now Being Rent Asunder". The Times. UK. Retrieved 12 October 2009. 
  24. ^ Robert Muldoon, ‘Why we stand with our mother country’, The Times (20 May 1982), p. 14.
  25. ^ Margaret Thatcher, "Speech to Conservative Women’s Conference", 26 May 1982
  26. ^ Margaret Thatcher, "House of Commons PQs", 20 May 1982
  27. ^ Lewis, Geoff (4 August 2014). "Vantastic explores NZ caravan history". Fairfax New Zealand. 
  28. ^ Gustafson 2000, p. 375.
  29. ^ a b "Robert Muldoon". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 9 July 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2010. 
  30. ^ Bohan 2004, p. 95.
  31. ^ Jones, Bob. Memories of Muldoon. Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, ISBN 0-908812-69-8 (1997)
  32. ^ Gustafson 2000, p. 426.
  33. ^ Easton 2001, pp. 239–253.
  34. ^ London Gazette (supplement), No. 53154, 30 December 1992. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  35. ^ London Gazette (supplement), No. 50362, 30 December 1985. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  36. ^ Muldoon's Corner work set to begin 31 August – Local News – Wairarapa Times-Age
  37. ^ Conquering the road that scared me « Moon over Martinborough
  38. ^ Muldoon’s Corner realignment work begins
  39. ^ Forbes, Michael (15 May 2012). "Muldoon's $16m corner opens after three years". Dominion Post. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 

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