Sir Roger Douglas
|Douglas in 2008|
|35th Minister of Finance|
26 July 1984 – 14 December 1988
|Prime Minister||David Lange|
|Preceded by||Robert Muldoon|
|Succeeded by||David Caygill|
|Member of the New Zealand Parliament
1978 – 1990
|Preceded by||Merv Wellington|
|Succeeded by||George Hawkins|
|1st Leader of ACT New Zealand|
|Succeeded by||Richard Prebble|
|Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for ACT Party List
2008 – 2011
5 December 1937 |
Auckland, New Zealand
|Political party||Labour (1969–1990)
ACT (1993 – present)
|Relations||Bill Anderton (grandfather)
Norman Douglas (father)
Malcolm Douglas (brother)
Sir Roger Owen Douglas (born 1937) is a New Zealand politician who served as a minister in two Labour governments. He is best known for his prominent role in the radical economic restructuring of the 1980s, when the Fourth Labour Government's economic policy became known as Rogernomics. In 1993, Douglas and Derek Quigley founded the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (the forerunner of the ACT New Zealand Party). He served as a Labour Member of Parliament from 1969 to 1990 and returned to Parliament as an ACT backbencher in 2008 before retiring in 2011.
Douglas was born on 5 December 1937. His family had strong ties with the trade-union movement, and actively engaged in politics. His maternal grandfather Bill Anderton, who was Labour Member of Parliament for Eden from 1935 to 1946 and for Auckland Central from 1946 to 1960, was a cabinet minister in the Second Labour Government. His father Norman Douglas, a union secretary, was MP for Auckland Central from 1960 to 1975. His brother Malcolm Douglas was briefly Labour MP for Hunua 1978–1979.
|Parliament of New Zealand|
After some experience in local body politics as a member of the Manukau City Council, Douglas began his career in national politics in 1969 when he won election to parliament as the Labour Member of Parliament for Manukau. He gave his maiden speech in the Address-in-Reply debate on 7 April 1970. He devoted the greater part of his speech to the case against foreign investment in the domestic economy. He became involved in the party's policies on industry and economics. He served as the MP for Manukau from 1969 to 1978, and then for Manurewa from 1978 to 1990.
Cabinet Minister (1972–1975)
Labour under Norman Kirk won the 1972 election, and the Labour parliamentary caucus elevated Douglas, then aged 34, to Cabinet rank. His father, and parliamentary colleague, Norman Douglas, failed to win a place in the ballot for Cabinet, and did not hide his bitter disappointment. On the day of the ballot, Kirk was so concerned by the extremity of Norman Douglas’s reaction, and its effects on his son, that he called Douglas’s mother to enlist her help. Kirk told his secretary, “It should have been the best day of Roger’s life but instead it was the worst”.
During the Third Labour Government, Douglas served as Postmaster-General and Minister of Broadcasting until the unexpected death of Kirk in 1974. Kirk’s successor Bill Rowling appointed Douglas Minister of Housing. He remained Minister of Broadcasting until 1975, when the portfolio was disestablished. Douglas was Minister of Housing and Minister of Customs until Labour's defeat by the National Party under Robert Muldoon in the 1975 election.
Douglas was the most junior member of Cabinet, but soon earned a reputation for hard work and competence. His appointment as Minister of Housing in 1974 marked him publicly as a talent in the Cabinet. It was a significant and, in political terms, a sensitive portfolio.
As Minister of Broadcasting, Douglas devised an administrative framework to allow for the introduction of a second television channel. It replaced the monopoly New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation with two competing publicly owned television channels, Television One, and Television Two (later called South Pacific Television) a corporation to manage public radio, Radio New Zealand, and a new Broadcasting Council. After public consultation, the scheme was implemented on 1 April 1975. However, the government of Robert Muldoon merged the three broadcasters into a single Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand in 1977, with the two television channels being merged into Television New Zealand in 1980.
Douglas was an early and enthusiastic promoter of the government’s plans for a compulsory contributory superannuation scheme that would supplement the old age pension. In 1972, while still in opposition, he introduced a private member’s bill that provided for a form of compulsory superannuation. In Cabinet, Rowling, who was then Minister of Finance, and Douglas were largely responsible for a 1973 White Paper setting out the government's proposals for superannuation. As well as augmenting individual provision for retirement, the scheme was intended to be a source of capital for investment in the domestic economy. The scheme became law in the form of the New Zealand Superannuation Act 1974.
Douglas was among the designers of the Dependent Minders’ Allowance, which was part of Labour’s platform in the 1975 election. Originally intended as a means of compensating women whose absence from the workforce reduced their superannuation contributions, the scheme offered a cash payment to women on the birth of their first and second children, or the first two children born after the election. It was immediately dubbed the “Baby Bonus” by Muldoon.
Like his colleague David Lange, who entered parliament in 1977, Douglas was critical of Labour’s performance in government between 1972 and 1975. Labour’s defeat in the 1975 election was the greatest electoral reversal since 1928. A Labour majority of 23 seats in a Parliament of 87 members became a National majority of the same number. The Third Labour Government attempted to cushion economic contraction by borrowing abroad, but while it held unemployment to the level it had inherited, the rate of inflation trebled to an annual rate of 15 per cent and a surplus in the balance of payments became a deficit. Labour lost credibility as an economic manager by 1975. A series of scandals and misadventures, incompetence among some ministers, and Rowling’s inability to counter Muldoon’s populism contributed to the defeat. The nature of the defeat widened a division that already existed between the older and younger members of the Labour caucus.
In opposition after 1975, Douglas became successively Labour's spokesperson on housing, special projects, consumer affairs and transport. In 1980, he published a series of proposals for future economic development under the title an "Alternative Budget". The proposals were not Labour policy and their publication was seen by the party leader Rowling as a challenge to his authority. Rowling demoted Douglas from the parliamentary front bench and he lost his responsibility for transport. In 1981 he became spokesperson for trade and industry.
Douglas argued that the Labour Party’s approach to economic policy was fragmented and based on unrealistic promises. He also believed that the party leadership should be revitalised, and supported David Lange’s unsuccessful bid for the leadership in 1980. In informal Labour caucus politics, Douglas became a member of the so-called "Fish and Chip Brigade", which included Rowling's leading caucus opponents. He identified his closest colleagues as Richard Prebble, Mike Moore, and Michael Bassett.
The failure of Lange’s leadership bid, continuing dissatisfaction with Labour’s approach to economic policy, and his difficult relationship with leading figures in the party led Douglas to declare his intention to retire from Parliament at the 1981 general election. Lange was among those who persuaded him to reconsider. Lange saw Douglas as a moderniser. He saw Douglas as sometimes obstinate and limited, but in Lange’s view he had drive, and the ability to break from the traditions that had kept Labour so long in opposition. In February 1983, when Lange became leader of the Labour Party, he made Douglas the Labour spokesperson for finance.
At the time of his appointment, Douglas had a reputation as a radical but his thinking on economic issues remained within the boundaries of Labour's Keynesian approach to economic management. By the end of 1983, his thinking had shifted markedly to the economic right.
In late 1983, Labour's Caucus Economic Committee adopted a paper that Douglas named the economic policy package. The committee’s support was not unanimous. The Douglas paper polarised opinion in the caucus. Several members of the caucus presented an alternative draft economic policy to the Labour Party’s Policy Council. The Policy Council was divided. Its members could not agree on the party’s economic platform. When disagreement became increasingly a matter of public knowledge, and the 1984 general election drew closer, the party’s deputy leader Geoffrey Palmer drafted a compromise proposal that combined elements of both sides of the argument. Lange doubted that Palmer’s paper satisfied either side. When Muldoon unexpectedly called an early election, the Palmer document became part of Labour’s election policy platform.
A critical element of Douglas’s economic policy package, but not the Labour Party’s policy document, was a 20 per cent devaluation of the New Zealand dollar. This was a sensitive subject. If it was widely known that an incoming government would devalue the dollar, dealers would seek profit by selling the dollar at its higher price before the election, and buying it back at its lower price afterwards. The difference, which might amount to hundreds of millions of dollars if there was a run on the currency, would be met by the taxpayer. Soon after Muldoon called the election, Douglas held a public meeting in his electorate and distributed copies of his economic policy package, which made the case for a 20 per cent devaluation. Muldoon obtained a copy and released it to the news media, intending to embarrass the Labour Party. Douglas acknowledged that devaluation was not part of Labour policy and accepted responsibility for the mistake. Although Lange believed that the error cast doubt on Douglas’s judgement, he did not accept Douglas’s resignation because he did not wish to appoint a new finance spokesperson so close to the election.
Minister of Finance (1984–1988)
Labour returned to power in the election of 1984 and formed the Fourth Labour Government. Lange became Prime Minister and Douglas became Minister of Finance. At Douglas's request, Lange appointed two senior ministers as associate finance ministers: David Caygill, who was also Minister of Trade and Industry, and Richard Prebble, who was also Minister of Transport.
Soon after the election, the outgoing government carried out the devaluation that Douglas supported. The heads of Treasury and the Reserve Bank advised that devaluation was the only way to stop the currency crisis that followed the announcement of an early election.
The unsettled political climate around the early election and the currency crisis gave Douglas a powerful position in the cabinet. Lange said in 1986 that the economic and political climate in 1984 gave Douglas influence he would not have had if the government had been elected in November 1984 and presented its first budget in June 1985. ‘When the crisis hit in July 1984, it was Roger Douglas who, above all, had thought through the economic issues – so when the cabinet needed to fall back on an economic philosophy, it was Douglas who had one.’
Labour promised during the election campaign to ‘open the books’, largely as a challenge to Muldoon’s supposedly secretive and ad hoc approach to economic management. Douglas responded by agreeing to the publication of Treasury’s briefing to the incoming government, which appeared under the title Economic Management.
Douglas took a limited part in the Economic Summit Conference that began on 11 September 1984 because he was already at work on his first budget. He saw the summit as preparing the country to accept change, but noted the possibility that it might heighten expectations of continued consensus and involvement. He said later that he had taken up the finance portfolio with a plan for economic restructuring already in mind, and described the budget he delivered in November 1984 as ‘an amalgam of what I had originally envisaged and fresh options presented in briefing papers and in debate with fellow ministers and Treasury officials.’ 
The 1984 budget was a radical departure from Labour’s established approach to economic management. Douglas answered criticism that the government’s intentions had not been made clear to the electorate by saying that he had spelled out his whole programme to the Policy Council, which, he said, had understood and endorsed his intentions. He maintained that the detail was not made available to the public because it did not have the capacity to absorb it in the short time available.
The budget owed almost nothing to Labour’s manifesto. Its content closely matched the Treasury view set out in Economic Management. Douglas’s identification with Treasury was complete by 1985. Treasury initiatives adopted by the government that were not signalled before the 1984 election included the introduction of a comprehensive tax on consumption (GST), the floating of the dollar (which Douglas opposed until 1984) and the corporatisation of the government’s trading activities, announced at the end of 1985.
Treasury’s view of economic policy was neo-classical and monetarist, and used commercial criteria as the basis for decision-making. Douglas did not concede that his advocacy of these views placed him on the right of politics. He maintained that the government’s social goals were the same as those of the First Labour Government and that changed circumstances required Labour to use different economic means to achieve its ends. He defended Treasury from the charge that its advice was at odds with Labour policy by arguing that its role was to give advice based on the interests of the nation as a whole. In his view, Treasury had no duty to help a government implement its manifesto because its responsibility was to advise its minister in a way that was free of party politics or ideology.
The coinage "Rogernomics" was used from at least 1985 onwards as shorthand for the Fourth Labour Government's economic policy. Douglas’s public profile rose, and he built wide support for the government among the business community.
Douglas was reappointed to the finance portfolio after Labour’s victory in the 1987 general election and remained finance minister until December 1988. His second term in office was marked by conflict with the prime minister David Lange.
Lange and Douglas (1984–1989)
The conflict between Lange and Douglas mirrored the inconsistency at the heart of the government. Lange’s talk of consensus and inclusiveness during the 1984 general election campaign echoed Labour’s social democratic history. Douglas personified radical change.
Lange strongly supported the 1984 budget, and promoted it to party and public. Douglas and Lange were a formidable political combination, both in cabinet and in public, where Lange’s humour and rhetoric complemented the determination and single-mindedness embodied in Douglas’s commitment to economic restructuring.
Lange valued Douglas’s doggedness in the government’s first term of office, when ‘urgency was needed and boldness was at a premium’, but believed he was limited by an inability to accept or understand interests that were not in tune with his. In 1986, the two took opposing sides in cabinet debates about the establishment of a royal commission on social policy, which Lange saw as an intellectual counterweight to Treasury. At the beginning of 1987, relations between the Douglas and Lange offices were strained when Douglas and his ally Richard Prebble persuaded cabinet to reject Lange’s wish to accept the resignation of the Minister of Maori Affairs.
Douglas shocked Lange in April 1987 by telling him that his preferred option for the 1987 budget included a rise in GST from a rate of 10% to 15%, the extension of user charges in public health and education and the sale of most government assets, and the eventual achievement of a flat rate of income tax at 15 per cent. Lange wrote that ‘it was an unaccustomed addition to the burdens of office to have the finance minister take leave of his senses’. After discussions with Lange and senior cabinet colleagues, Douglas did not pursue his proposals. 
In the 1987 election campaign, Douglas underlined the need for continuing radical reform, while Lange said that radical economic reform was largely complete. Douglas’s appeal to commercial interests was reflected in the large amounts of money (including $250,000 given by Auckland businessman Alan Hawkins) he collected for the campaign from the business community. He did not convey the money he raised to the Labour Party organization, but chose to manage it himself, allocating funds for purposes like television advertising.
Lange’s campaign was lacklustre, and Douglas appeared to have contributed more to Labour’s victory in 1987. Mike Moore, then a senior member of cabinet, said that Lange had won the 1984 election, but Douglas won in 1987. Labour increased its parliamentary majority. Votes swung to Labour in National’s safest seats and swung to National in seats that traditionally voted Labour.
Immediately after the election, Lange reshuffled the cabinet without consulting Douglas. He wrote later that he no longer trusted Douglas and wished to use the reallocation of portfolios to put some restraints on him.
Douglas continued to work on the radical proposals he signaled earlier in 1987. A worldwide fall in share markets in October 1987 gave his work greater urgency. In December 1987, cabinet agreed, in spite of Lange’s reservations, to a statement of principle that supported a flat rate of income tax and a new form of income assistance called guaranteed minimum family income (GMFI). GMFI was a Douglas initiative and for reasons of urgency he did not inform cabinet colleagues of Treasury advice that the proposals were a fiscal risk.
The announcement on 17 December 1987 of the government’s intention to introduce GMFI and a flat rate of income tax marked the high tide of Rogernomics but did nothing to settle growing tension between Douglas and Lange. Douglas refused to accept Lange’s contention that his proposals were unworkable. Douglas was in Europe in January 1988 when Lange told a press conference that officials had been unable to resolve the practical difficulties of the flat tax/GMFI proposals and that the government would have to reconsider them. Douglas, believing that he had the support of a majority of cabinet, immediately returned from Europe, and the rift between prime minister and finance minister became a matter of public knowledge.
Although the cabinet abandoned GMFI and reached a compromise about tax scales, the government’s standing did not recover from the division between Douglas and Lange, which worsened and became more open as the year went on. Lange believed that David Caygill was Douglas’s only tenable successor as finance minister, but Caygill refused to serve if Lange sacked Douglas. In December 1988, Douglas wrote to Lange to tell him that he intended to tell the Labour caucus he could no longer serve in a government led by him. Lange construed this letter as a resignation and replaced Douglas with Caygill.
Douglas continued his campaign against Lange through public statements, the unauthorised release of cabinet papers and on 21 December 1988 an unsuccessful challenge against Lange’s leadership in the Labour caucus. In June 1989 his supporters in caucus moved a motion of no-confidence in Lange, which Lange only narrowly won. On 3 August 1989 the Labour caucus voted to return Douglas to Cabinet. Lange, who saw the vote as a choice between him and Douglas, resigned his office almost immediately afterwards.
Lange insisted that policy differences were behind his disagreement with Douglas, telling a press conference following his resignation that ‘Now is the time for the principle to replace the personality’. He was critical of Douglas’s conduct: ‘But with Roger his resolution, and his particular absolutely relentless pursuit of what he conceived to be an agenda worth pursuing, overrode all considerations of loyalty and in the end all manifestations of friendship.’ Douglas did not accept that there were any philosophical differences at issue, and attributed other motives to Lange: ‘In my mind he created the division that in my mind was never there. We had separate roles. I understood what my role was. I felt he should have understood what his role was.’
Lange’s successor Geoffrey Palmer did not restore Douglas to the finance portfolio, then held by David Caygill, but appointed him Minister of Police and Minister of Immigration. Douglas did not stand for Parliament at the 1990 election, which Labour lost. His policies, however, continued under the aegis of Ruth Richardson, the Minister of Finance in the new Fourth National Government of New Zealand in a style that became known as Ruthanasia).
By and large, subsequent governments have retained or reinforced the policies promoted by Douglas in the years 1984 to 1987 – including low levels of import-protection, "credible" monetary and fiscal policies, deregulated financial markets and limited subsidies and other interventions in the economy. The Heritage Foundation / Wall Street Journal 2006 Index of Economic Freedom ranks New Zealand 9th-highest in the world, (equal with the United States and Australia).
ACT New Zealand
In 1993 Douglas co-founded the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers with Derek Quigley. Douglas and Quigley intended the Association to serve as a pressure-group promoting the Douglas economic policies. Shortly afterwards, in 1996, the country switched to using the MMP electoral system. MMP gave smaller groups a much better chance of entering Parliament, and encouraged the Association to establish the ACT New Zealand Party. Douglas served as the party's first leader, but soon stood aside for Richard Prebble (his old ally from their days in the Labour caucus).
Douglas remained a strong supporter of the ACT party, although he became somewhat unhappy with the party's alleged lack of focus on pure economic policy. In particular, Douglas criticised what he saw as populism within the party, claiming that some of its MPs seem more committed to grabbing headlines than to developing policy. When in April 2004 Prebble announced his decision to retire, Douglas spoke out in favour of Stephen Franks and Ken Shirley as possible successors – the other main contender in the leadership race, Rodney Hide, had a reputation for advocating the style that Douglas condemned. Hide won the leadership and headed the ACT party until his resignation in April 2011.
On 2 December 2004, both Douglas and Quigley announced that they would step down as patrons of ACT. They stated as the reason that they wished to have more freedom to disagree with the party publicly.
On 21 February 2008, Douglas renewed his involvement with the ACT party by signing a letter inviting supporters to the 2008 ACT conference, and appearing in television and newspaper interviews endorsing ACT for the 2008 general election. At ACT's 2008 annual conference in Auckland, Douglas announced his intention to stand for Parliament again, as an ACT candidate. The announcement that he would run in the newly created electorate of Hunua came on 8 June 2008. The ACT Party assigned Douglas the number three slot on its party list.
Douglas did not win the Hunua seat, but ACT's 3.65% share of the party vote gave it five seats, so he re-entered Parliament as a list MP. Prime Minister-elect John Key had previously said that he would not give Douglas a Cabinet position, but Douglas indicated a wish for a review of this stance.
In 2010, Douglas had three member's bills drawn from the ballot. The first, the Minimum Wage (Mitigation of Youth Unemployment) Amendment Bill, which would reintroduced a separate minimum wage for 16- and 17-year-olds was drawn from the member's ballot in February, and was defeated at its first reading 117-5. The second, the Tariff Act 1988 Repeal Bill, which would repeal all tariffs on goods imported into New Zealand, was drawn in April, and was also defeated at its first reading 116-5  The third, the Education (Board of Trustee Freedom) Amendment Bill, which would make school teachers' pay in all state and state integrated schools the responsibility of Boards of Trustees rather than the Ministry of Education was drawn in June, and was defeated on its first reading 111-10.
In 1997, in a back-handed compliment, the founders of the annual award for "The Worst Transnational Corporation operating in New Zealand", as voted by "four or five eminent judges – academics, community leaders, artists, even sportspeople", named it the "Roger Award" after Sir Roger Douglas.
During his absence from national politics Douglas held senior positions at a number of prominent companies such as BIL which he briefly served as Executive Chairman. He also currently[update] serves as the managing director of his own group, Roger Douglas Associates.
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- Russell 1996, p. 144.
- Russell 1996, pp. 144-145.
- Bassett 2008, p. 516.
- "New Zealand Honours". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 25 March 2008.
- Trevett, Claire (27 February 2008). "Sir Roger makes his peace with Act". The New Zealand Herald.
- Young, Audrey (9 June 2008). "Douglas to take high position on Act list". The New Zealand Herald (Auckland). Retrieved 12 July 2008. "The announcement about Sir Roger's decision was made by Mr Hide yesterday at a barbecue at Karaka in the Hunua electorate, where Sir Roger will stand."
- Retrieved 2008-10-16.[dead link]
- Tait, Maggie (20 August 2008). "ACT party announces list". The New Zealand Herald (Auckland). Retrieved 1 September 2008.
- Chief Electoral Office (November 2008). "Official Election Results site". Wellington: Ministry of Justice. Retrieved 9 November 2008. "ACT New Zealand: 3.72%"[dead link]
- Grunwell, Rachel (9 November 2008). "ACT talks terms with National". The New Zealand Herald (Auckland). Retrieved 9 November 2008.
- "Minimum Wage (Mitigation of Youth Unemployment) Amendment Bill". Parliament of New Zealand. Retrieved 24 February 2010.
- "ACT labels National gutless over youth rates bill". Radio New Zealand. 21 April 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
- "Tariff Act 1988 Repeal Bill". Parliament of New Zealand. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
- "Tariff Act Repeal Bill Pulled From Ballot". Scoop Media. 22 April 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
- new Zealand Parliamentary Debates, 662, 10795.
- "Education (Board of Trustee Freedom) Amendment Bill". Parliament of New Zealand. Retrieved 18 June 2010.
- "Sir Roger Douglas quits politics". Newstalk ZB.
- Warriors' track to glory a bumpy road New Zealand Herald, 28 September 2002
- End result is all that really matters New Zealand Herald, 4 March 2000
- Richards, Chris (June 2004). "Interview about: the roger award". New Internationalist. Retrieved 16 October 2008. "Each year four or five eminent judges – academics, community leaders, artists, even sportspeople – come together to confer The Roger on a transnational corporation operating in New Zealand/Aotearoa."
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- Bassett, Michael (2008). Working with David. Auckland: Hodder Moa. ISBN 978-1-86971-094-1.
- Douglas, Roger; Louise Callan (1987). Toward Prosperity. Auckland: David Bateman Ltd. ISBN 0-908610-70-X.
- Easton, Brian ed (1989). The Making of Rogernomics. Auckland University Press. ISBN 1-86940-041-0.
- Hayward, Margaret (1981). Diary of the Kirk Years. Reed. ISBN 978-0-589-01350-9.
- Johansson, Jon (2005). Two Titans: Muldoon, Lange and Leadership. Wellington: Dunmore. ISBN 1-877399-01-9.
- Lange, David (2005). My Life. Auckland: Viking. ISBN 0-670-04556-X.
- Pope, Margaret (2011). At The Turning Point: My Political Life With David Lange. Auckland: AM Publishing. ISBN 978-0-473-19025-5.
- Rice, Geoffrey W ed (2nd edition 1992). Oxford History of New Zealand. Auckland: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-558257-8.
- Russell, Marcia (1996). Revolution: New Zealand From Fortress To Free Market. Auckland: Hodder Moa Beckett. ISBN 1-86958-428-7.
- Sheppard, Simon (1999). Broken Circle: The Decline and Fall of the Fourth Labour Government. Wellington: PSL Press. ISBN 0-9582063-1-7.
|New Zealand Parliament|
|Member of Parliament for Manukau
|Member of Parliament for Manurewa
|Minister of Finance
|Party political offices|
|New political party||Leader of ACT New Zealand