1974 New Zealand Labour Party leadership election

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1974 New Zealand Labour Party leadership election
Labour L Logo.png
← 1965 6 September 1974 1980 →
  Bill Rowling, 1962.jpg Hugh Watt.jpg
Candidate Bill Rowling Hugh Watt
Popular vote 44 9
Percentage 83% 17%

Leader before election

Hugh Watt (interim)

Leader after election

Bill Rowling

The 1974 New Zealand Labour Party leadership election was held on 6 September 1974 to determine the eighth leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. The election was won by Tasman MP Bill Rowling.


Prime Minister and incumbent Labour party leader Norman Kirk died unexpectedly on 31 August 1974. Kirk's deputy Hugh Watt served as the Prime Minister and leader for several days on an interim basis until a new leader could be elected. Finance Minister Bill Rowling quickly found himself the front-runner in caucus, whilst both Labour's National Executive and the Federation of Labour preferred Hugh Watt.[1]


Bill Rowling[edit]

Rowling was serving as Minister of Finance in Kirk's cabinet. He was officially nominated by Southern Maori MP Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan.[2] President of the New Zealand Federation of Labour, and good friend of Hugh Watt, Tom Skinner attempted to talk Rowling into standing down as a candidate, however the attempt backfired and helped Rowling make up his mind that he would accept a nomination, though he stopped actively lobbying for further support.[3] After Kirk's funeral he told Warren Freer that he would have liked another year or two in cabinet to gain more experience, but had decided to put his name forward. Rowling favoured Colin Moyle as deputy, while Freer preferred Bob Tizard as tough enough to face up to Muldoon; neither wanted Arthur Faulkner who was indecisive and delayed making decisions. [4]

Hugh Watt[edit]

Watt was the interim Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister under Kirk, and had served as the party's deputy leader since 1963 first under Arnold Nordmeyer (1963–65) and then under Kirk (1965–74). Watt was favoured by the party executive as well as having the backing of the trade unions. He was officially nominated by Island Bay MP Gerald O'Brien.[2] Many in the parliamentary party, however, felt at 61 he was too old and that Labour needed a younger leader.[5]


A caucus vote was held on 6 September 1974 where Rowling received an overwhelming majority. Hugh Watt had only 9 votes (to his surprise), with the rest of the caucus voting for Rowling.[2] Watt then surprised caucus by saying he would not stand for deputy, as having served two leaders he had done his fair share. [4]

Bob Tizard was elected deputy leader, defeating Arthur Faulkner by 28 votes to 26.[6] The party whip Ron Barclay learned the previous night that Faulkner had the votes to win on the first round, so he had Warren Freer (who was not interested in either position) nominated for deputy by Trevor Davey; neither Bailey or Freer wanted Faulkner as deputy as he was not leadership material, and with Freer splitting the vote he would miss out to either Bob Tizard or Colin Moyle. There were five nominations for deputy; Faulkner, Moyle, Tizard, Joe Walding and Freer (who got incredulous looks from Faulkner, Tizard and Moyle). Walding dropped out on the first ballot and Moyle on the second ballot. Freer wondered whether he would need to withdraw, but was eliminated in the third ballot. On the fourth ballot Tizard won. Freer wrote that Barclay had been right as usual, and that one of Faulkner’s supporters had failed to keep their promise. [4]

Leadership ballot[edit]

Candidate Votes %
Bill Rowling 44 83.0
Hugh Watt 9 17.0
Majority 35 66.0
Turnout 53 N/A


Rowling age 46, became the youngest New Zealand Prime Minister since 1887.[7] He served as Prime Minister until being defeated in the 1975 election. He remained the Labour Party's leader until 1983. Watt had expected to succeed Kirk and was of the opinion that the role was his of right as Kirk's deputy.[2] Though disappointed, Watt was gracious in defeat also resigning as deputy leader.[8] He remained in Rowling's cabinet, carrying the Works and Development portfolio and was also appointed to the Executive Council without portfolio.[9] Later, Watt was appointed New Zealand's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 22 March 1975 for three years.


  1. ^ Auckland Star 5 September 1974 p11
  2. ^ a b c d Henderson 1981, p. 105.
  3. ^ Henderson 1981, p. 104.
  4. ^ a b c Freer 2004, p. 196-198.
  5. ^ Henderson 1981, p. 104-5.
  6. ^ Henderson 1981, p. 107.
  7. ^ Henderson, John. "Rowling, Wallace Edward". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  8. ^ Henderson 1981, p. 106.
  9. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 93.