Michael Bassett

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The Honourable
Michael Bassett
Michael Bassett.jpg
Bassett in 2018
Personal details
Born Michael Edward Rainton Bassett
(1938-08-28) 28 August 1938 (age 80)
Auckland, New Zealand
Political party Labour Party
Spouse(s) Judith Bassett
Children 2
Relatives David Lange (third cousin)
Peter Lange (third cousin)
Alma mater University of Auckland
Duke University
Profession Historian
Website michaelbassett.co.nz

Michael Edward Rainton Bassett CNZM QSO (born 28 August 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[edit]

Bassett was born in 1938 in Auckland and educated at Owairaka School, Dilworth School, Mt Albert Grammar, and the University of Auckland.[1] 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.[2]

In 1964, Bassett returned to New Zealand and became a senior lecturer in history at the University of Auckland. During this time he was a member of the Princes Street Labour branch.[3]

Political career[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1972–1975 37th Waitemata Labour
1978–1981 39th Te Atatu Labour
1981–1984 40th Te Atatu Labour
1984–1987 41st Te Atatu Labour
1987–1990 42nd Te Atatu Labour

Bassett stood unsuccessfully for the Labour Party in the 1966 election for North Shore and in the 1969 election for Waitemata.

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,[4] 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.[4] 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."[5]

Bassett was elected to the Te Atatu electorate in the 1978 election,[4] and held it to 1990.

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),[6] 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.[7] Bassett's switch of sides reflects the present-day Labour Party's semi-repudiation of Rogernomics.

Career after politics[edit]

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.[8]

He was a columnist for The Dominion Post in Wellington (until late 2006)[7][9] and The Press in Christchurch.


In his article The Essentials of Successful Political Leadership in Twentieth Century New Zealand Politics, Bassett outlined the factors he thought were required for a Prime Minister to be successful. These factors include robust health, high energy levels, a good temperament, intelligence, a willingness to take the right, as opposed to the politically expedient, decision, a modicum of luck, a supportive spouse and charisma.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Bassett is married to Judith Bassett, a historian at the University of Auckland and a member of the Auckland Regional Council. They have two children and one grandchild.

Bassett is a third cousin of late Prime Minister David Lange. Bassett had suggested that Lange should stand on the Labour ticket for the Auckland City Council in 1974. The Council was dominated by conservative interests and the only Labour candidates elected were Jim Anderton and Catherine Tizard; Lange was "halfway down the field .... which was better than I expected".[citation needed] Lange's father, who was a doctor, had delivered Bassett. Lange wrote (presumably jokingly referring to Bassett's appointment to Cabinet and their later disagreements): "My father had delivered him, and it became plain in later days that he must have dropped him ...."[11]


In the 1992 Queen's Birthday Honours, Bassett was appointed a Companion of the Queen's Service Order for public services.[12] He was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services as an historian, in the 2018 New Year Honours.[13]

Published works[edit]


  1. ^ Traue 1978, p. 54.
  2. ^ Michael E.R. Bassett, The Socialist Party of America, 1912–1919: Years of Decline. Department of History, Duke University, 1963. Available through University Microfilms International, a division of ProQuest.
  3. ^ Bassett, Michael (3 April 2002). "Self Help". michaelbassett.co.nz. 
  4. ^ a b c Wilson 1985, p. 182.
  5. ^ Bassett, Michael. The Third Labour Government. 
  6. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 98.
  7. ^ a b Young, Audrey (15 December 2006). "Police extend Brash emails inquiry". NZ Herald. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  8. ^ Berry, Ruth (21 September 2004). "I'm out, Bassett tells Waitangi Tribunal". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  9. ^ "Correspondence between Michael Bassett and Tim Pankurst, editor Dominion Post". 13 December 2006. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  10. ^ Bassett, Michael (1999). "The Essentials of Successful Political Leadership in Twentieth Century New Zealand Politics". Political Science. 52 (2): 108–119. 
  11. ^ David Lange My Life p98 (2005, Viking/Penguin, Auckland) ISBN 0 67 004556 X
  12. ^ "No. 52953". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 1992. p. 30. 
  13. ^ "New Year honours list 2018". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 30 December 2017. Retrieved 18 January 2018. 


  • Traue, James Edward, ed. (1978). Who's Who in New Zealand (11th ed.). Wellington: Reed. 
  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103. 

External links[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Frank Gill
Member of Parliament for Waitemata
Succeeded by
Dail Jones
New constituency Member of Parliament for Te Atatu
Succeeded by
Brian Neeson
Political offices
Preceded by
Aussie Malcolm
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
David Caygill