Richard Prebble

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Richard Prebble
Richard Prebble.jpg
Prebble in 1999
2nd Leader of ACT New Zealand
In office
26 March 1996 – 13 June 2004
Preceded byRoger Douglas
Succeeded byRodney Hide
28th Minister of Police
In office
10 July 1990 – 2 November 1990
Prime MinisterGeoffrey Palmer
Mike Moore
Preceded byRoger Douglas
Succeeded byJohn Banks
1st Minister for State Owned Enterprises
In office
9 February 1990 – 2 November 1990
Prime MinisterGeoffrey Palmer
Mike Moore
Preceded byStan Rodger
Succeeded byDoug Kidd
In office
1 August 1987 – 4 November 1988
Prime MinisterDavid Lange
Succeeded byDavid Lange
14th Minister of Transport
In office
26 July 1984 – 24 August 1987
Prime MinisterDavid Lange
Preceded byGeorge Gair
Succeeded byBill Jeffries
Member of the New Zealand Parliament for Auckland Central
In office
29 November 1975 – 6 November 1993
Preceded byNorman Douglas
Succeeded bySandra Lee
Member of the New Zealand Parliament for Wellington Central
In office
12 October 1996 – 27 November 1999
Preceded byElectorate re-created
Succeeded byMarian Hobbs
Personal details
Born (1948-02-07) 7 February 1948 (age 74)
Kent, England
Political partyACT New Zealand (1996 – 2004)
Other political
Labour (until 1996)
RelativesTom Prebble (brother)
Mark Prebble (brother)
Antonia Prebble (niece)

Richard William Prebble CBE (born 7 February 1948) is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996 to 2004.

Early and personal life[edit]

Prebble was born in Kent, England, to Kenneth Ralph Prebble and Mary Prebble (née Thoad), and raised in Auckland. His father was an Anglo-Catholic Anglican priest, and a leader in the Charismatic Renewal as archdeacon at St. Pauls, on retirement he and Mary were received into the Roman Catholic Church.[1] He was educated at Auckland Grammar School before becoming a barrister and solicitor in 1971.[2] From 1973 to 1974 he worked overseas in Fiji where he practised law.[3]

Prebble's older brother, John Prebble QC, is a law professor at Victoria University of Wellington. His younger brother, Mark Prebble was the State Services Commissioner and head of New Zealand's public service. John's daughter Antonia Prebble is an actor with a number of television roles.

Prebble has been married three times. His first wife was Nancy Cocks, and his second was Doreen Kuper, a former Honorary Consul for the Solomon Islands in New Zealand.[4] His current wife is former Press Gallery radio journalist Ngahuia Wade.[5] Cocks was a member of the Labour Party's Fijian branch and in 1975 she was elected to Labour's national executive.[6]

Member of Parliament[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate List Party
1975–1978 38th Auckland Central Labour
1978–1981 39th Auckland Central Labour
1981–1984 40th Auckland Central Labour
1984–1987 41st Auckland Central Labour
1987–1990 42nd Auckland Central Labour
1990–1993 43rd Auckland Central Labour
1996–1999 45th Wellington Central 1 ACT
1999–2002 46th List 1 ACT
2002–2005 47th List 1 ACT


Prebble was originally a member of the Labour Party and in 1965 he became chairman of the Auckland Central Electorate Committee. At the 1969 and 1972 elections he was a campaign organiser for Auckland Central MP Norman Douglas. When Douglas announced his retirement Prebble was selected, aged 27, to replace him as Labour's candidate in the seat.[7] He was successful in being elected in the Auckland Central electorate at the 1975 election.[8]

Soon after his election, owing mainly to Labour's drastic reduction in MPs in their 1975 defeat, he was made Labour's spokesman for race relations and the environment.[9] Following the 1978 election he was given the more prominent portfolio of justice by Labour leader Bill Rowling.[10] From 1978 until 1980 he was additionally the Labour Party's junior whip.[11] In 1979 Rowling decided to create a separate shadow cabinet above the caucus. Prebble was given a seat in the shadow cabinet, but was displeased at the change in portfolio allocations in which he lost justice and was instead given immigration, regional development and the environment. As a result, he refused to join the shadow cabinet to protest his allocation of portfolios he did not want. Colleagues described the move as petulant, with Prebble countering by saying "The difference in opposition to being in a shadow cabinet and being a backbencher is only in name. It's a shadow rather than a substance."[12] He resigned as junior whip as well and returned to the backbench until March 1981 when he rejoined the shadow cabinet as Shadow Minister for Social Welfare and Pacific Island Affairs.[13]

On 2 September 1983 Prebble was injured in a head-on car collision whilst he was returning to Wellington after addressing the Taxi Proprietors' Association conference. He was taken to Dannevirke Hospital and was treated for a concussion and broken pelvis.[14]

Owed to his legal background Prebble became quickly known for his "tough, aggressive, non-compromising debating style."[3] From 1975 to 1984 Labour was in opposition, and Ross Meurant recalled that "Sir Rob has often said that when he was in government, the most irritating and damaging of his opponents was Richard Prebble. 'Always at it' said Sir Rob, 'Always a bother to us. Even if some thought he was mad the way he carried on, we never knew what he was going to come up with next.'"[15]


When the Fourth Labour Government was formed, after the 1984 election, Prebble was elected to the cabinet and was appointed Minister of Transport, Minister of Civil Aviation and Meteorological Services, Minister of Railways and Minister of Pacific Island Affairs.[16] He pressed for a Pacific affairs ministerial portfolio to be established, having an interest in the experiences of Pacific Island New Zealanders due to his time working in Fiji and the large concentration of Pacific Islanders living in his Auckland Central constituency.[3]

During the government Prebble aligned himself with Roger Douglas, the controversial Minister of Finance, and was an associate finance minister. Douglas, Prebble and David Caygill were together dubbed "the Treasury Troika",[17] and were responsible for most of the economic reform undertaken by the Labour government. The "Rogernomics" reforms, which were based on free market economic theory, were unpopular with many traditional Labour supporters. In August 1988 Prebble spoke at a public meeting in Sydenham and was greeted with jeering crowds of Labour supporters who were angry with the reforms and their consequent unemployment. While being interviewed by a television reporter he was hit, mid-sentence, by an egg thrown from the crowd. The egg was thrown by Christopher Owen-Cooper, a former serviceman who served in both World War II and the Korean War, who faced a disorderly behaviour charge. Owen-Cooper was quoted by The Dominion newspaper as saying "We've all built up frustration, we're sick of what the Government's doing. They [politicians] can't give us any answers so it was time someone gave them the hurry along." He was discharged but paid $50 in costs.[18]

Prebble held more portfolios than any other minister in the government as his post of Minister for State Owned Enterprises absorbed almost all the portfolios of government owned operations and assets which were scheduled to be privatised (much to the opposition of the public). As such Prebble became grossly overworked and colleagues noticed he paid little attention to his appearance with unkempt hair and ragged suits.[19] Other ministers also felt his portfolio took up too much time in cabinet meetings. Lange, in tune with the public mood, was opposed to public asset sales and impeded Prebble's efforts in selling them. The disagreement became a very public falling-out when Lange stripped him of the State Owned Enterprises (SOE) portfolio on 4 November 1988.[20] Prebble publicly counterattacked in a television interview that night saying that Lange was acting dictatorial and was in no state to be making decisions.[21] Prebble commented: "He [Lange] said the matter had been eating and gnawing at him and was killing him. I said I didn't think this was a proper basis for making policy. Mr Lange said in that case I should resign."[22] The comments on television by Prebble lead to his dismissal from cabinet altogether the following day. Lange stated at a press conference that Prebble had misrepresented the detail and nature of a private conversation between the two.[20]

Prebble returned to the backbenches afterwards. In August 1989 he put himself forward to fill one of two vacant seats in cabinet, but lost a caucus ballot to Annette King.[23] When Lange's replacement as Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer held a complete re-election of cabinet in January 1990 Prebble was elected and returned to the frontbench and cabinet. Palmer gave him the SOE portfolio once again and later appointed him Minister of Police as well.[24]

1990 and 1993 elections[edit]

Prebble on the campaign trail in 1993

Prebble retained his Auckland Central seat in the 1990 election. In opposition he was appointed Shadow Minister of State Owned Enterprises, Works, Police and Pacific Island Affairs.[25] In the 1993 election, Prebble lost his seat to Sandra Lee, deputy leader of the new left-wing Alliance party.

In the 1995 New Year Honours, Prebble was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, for public services.[26]

After leaving parliament Prebble worked making consultancy deals and moved to Vietnam tendering to build New Zealand's first embassy there. In 1996 he also secured a joint-venture deal to restructure Vietnam's railway system (which was still using steam engines).[2] He also joined Auckland businessman Malcolm McConnell to create the company McConnell International.[27]

ACT New Zealand[edit]

New Zealand switched to the mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation electoral system in 1993. Roger Douglas established the ACT New Zealand party, and was joined by Prebble. Initially he did not take an active role in the party and, though frequently invited to speak at ACT functions, he stated in July 1995 that he had not intention of standing for parliament again.[27] However, in March 1996, Douglas stepped down as the new party's leader, and Prebble took over beating former Federated Farmers president Owen Jennings for the party leadership.[2]

1996 election[edit]

In the 1996 election, the first to be held under MMP, ACT won eight seats in Parliament. Prebble won the Wellington Central electorate[2] following a campaign that saw National Party leader and Prime Minister Jim Bolger predict Prebble would win rather than National’s candidate so as to help ACT win the electorate and provide National with a support party in the next government. The events were captured in the documentary Campaign.[28]

1999 election[edit]

Prebble lost his Wellington Central seat in the 1999 election, but remained in Parliament as a list MP and leader of ACT.

2002 election[edit]

Prebble was re-elected as a list MP and leader of ACT in the 2002 election.


Prebble was replaced as ACT leader by Rodney Hide in 2004, and did not stand in the 2005 election.

Prebble's book, Out of the Red, was released on 23 October 2006.

He became campaign manager for ACT leading up to the 2014 election with his stated aim to bring 9 ACT MP's into Parliament; this did not eventuate however as ACT did not gain any new seats, only retaining Epsom.[29]

Prebble now lives in Rotorua[30] and he is a columnist with The New Zealand Herald.[31]


  • Values not politics: ACT New Zealand campaign manifesto: general election 1996, Auckland, [N.Z.]: ACT New Zealand, 1996, ISBN 0-477-01901-3
  • Values not politics: the first 1000 days, Wellington, [N.Z.]: ACT New Zealand Parliamentary Office, 2000, ISBN 0-477-01901-3
  • ACT Members of Parliament. (2001), Closing the gaps: policy papers, Wellington, [N.Z.]: ACT New Zealand Parliamentary Office, ISBN 0-9582178-1-5
  • Prebble's contribution was the paper: "New Zealand: tenth by 2010."
  • from ACT Members of Parliament. (2002), Old values: new ideas, Wellington, [N.Z.]: ACT New Zealand Parliamentary Office, ISBN 0-477-01964-1
  • Prebble's contribution was the paper: "Old values, new ideas."
  • Prebble, Richard (1983), Labour's views on Transport Amendment Bill (no. 5) and future transport policy, n.p.: n.p.
  • Prebble, Richard (1987), Muldoon vs. Bolger, Wellington, [N.Z.]: R. Prebble
  • Prebble, Richard (1996), I've been thinking, Auckland, [N.Z.]: Seaview Publishing, ISBN 1-86958-170-9
    • The second edition of this book is entitled Now it's time to act.
  • Prebble, Richard (1997), What happens next, Auckland, [N.Z.]: Seascape Press, ISBN 0-473-04859-0
  • Prebble, Richard (1999), I've been writing, Wellington, [N.Z.]: Fraser Holland Publishers, ISBN 0-473-06031-0
  • Prebble, Richard (2006), Now it's time to act, Auckland,[N.Z.]: Seaview Press, ISBN 1-86958-170-9
    • This is the second edition of I've been thinking - containing additional material.
  • Prebble, Richard (2006), Out of the red, Rotorua, [N.Z.]: The Letter Ltd., ISBN 0-473-11249-3
  • Prebble, Richard; Bassett, Michael; Harris, Peter (1978), Environment, energy, forestry: Labour's 1978 manifesto, Wellington, [N.Z.]: Labour
  • Prebble, Richard (1987), National's promises, promises, promises-- : or, how to buy an election with other people's money: or, the world's longest political suicide note, Wellington, [N.Z.]: N.Z. Labour Party
  • Prebble, Richard (2003), Liberal thinking, Wellington, [N.Z.]: ACT New Zealand Parliamentary Office, ISBN 0-477-01979-X
  • Prebble's contributions are the papers: "Why I do not vote National"; and (co-authored with Deborah Coddington) "Lessons of freedom and choice."


  1. ^ "Kenneth Ralph Prebble". The Dominion Post. 10 July 2008. Archived from the original on 12 September 2012. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d Reid, Neil (13 October 1996). "'Mad Dog' unleashed". Sunday News. p. 13.
  3. ^ a b c "Rail Recovery is Minister's Goal". The New Zealand Herald. 6 August 1984. p. 5.
  4. ^ "Dogged by the past – Uncategorized – The Listener". Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  5. ^ "Today in politics". Fairfax New Zealand. 9 February 2013.
  6. ^ "Karori Candidate Wins Seat on Party Executive". The Evening Post. 14 May 1975. p. 2.
  7. ^ "Young Man for Labour". The New Zealand Herald. 10 February 1975. p. 3.
  8. ^ "A Host of New Faces for New Parliament". The Evening Post. 1 December 1975.
  9. ^ "Surprises Among Party Spokesmen". The New Zealand Herald. 30 January 1976. p. 10.
  10. ^ "Rowling shuffles his pack". Auckland Star. 9 December 1978. p. 3.
  11. ^ Wilson 1985, pp. 281.
  12. ^ "Political Career May Be Hurt". The New Zealand Herald. 15 December 1979. p. 1.
  13. ^ "Labour's shadow line-up". The Evening Post. 13 March 1981. p. 4.
  14. ^ "Head-on crash: MP in hospital". The New Zealand Herald. 2 September 1983. p. 3.
  15. ^ Meurant, Ross The Beat to the Beehive (1989, Harlen Books, Auckland) ISBN 978-0-908757-05-3 p. 174
  16. ^ Wilson 1985, pp. 97.
  17. ^ Bassett 2008, pp. 108, 279.
  18. ^ List, Kevin (29 July 2005). "A Week Of It: Prebble's Departure, Crying and Shame". Scoop. Retrieved 19 June 2021.
  19. ^ Bassett 2008, p. 429.
  20. ^ a b Bassett 2008, p. 434.
  21. ^ Bassett 2008, p. 436.
  22. ^ Russell 1996, p. 197.
  23. ^ Bassett 2008, p. 505-6.
  24. ^ Bassett 2008, pp. 528–9.
  25. ^ "Labour line-up". The New Zealand Herald. 6 December 1991. p. 5.
  26. ^ "No. 53894". The London Gazette (2nd supplement). 31 December 1994. p. 34.
  27. ^ a b "Prebble says 'no' to being an MP again". The New Zealand Herald. 6 July 1995. p. 5.
  28. ^ Sutorius, Tony (1999). "Campaign". NZ On Screen. Retrieved 17 October 2021.
  29. ^ "Prebble aims to bring in nine ACT MPs". Radio New Zealand. 24 February 2014. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  30. ^ Martin, Matthew (3 September 2021). "Formed MP backs new crop". Rotorua Daily Post. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  31. ^ Rake, Muck. "Richard Prebble". Muck Rake.


New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Auckland Central
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished in 1993
Title last held by
Chris Laidlaw
Member of Parliament for Wellington Central
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Minister of Police
Succeeded by
New title Minister for State Owned Enterprises

Succeeded by
Preceded by Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Railways

Succeeded by
Preceded by Succeeded by
Preceded by Postmaster-General
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Transport
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of ACT New Zealand
Succeeded by