Trevor de Cleene

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The Honourable
Trevor de Cleene
Under-Secretary of Finance
In office
Prime Minister David Lange
Minister of Revenue and Customs
In office
Prime Minister David Lange
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Palmerston North
In office
Preceded by Joe Walding
Succeeded by Steve Maharey
Personal details
Born 24 March 1933
Palmerston North,
 New Zealand
Died 22 April 2001(2001-04-22) (aged 68)
Political party Labour Party
ACT New Zealand
National Party
Profession Lawyer

Trevor Albert de Cleene, OBE (24 March 1933 – 22 April 2001) was a New Zealand politician and lawyer. After gaining experience as a councillor with Palmerston North City Council, he was elected to Parliament for the Labour Party in 1981. He was a strong supporter of Rogernomics and was a minister outside cabinet. He resigned his ministerial portfolios in 1988 when Roger Douglas was sacked by David Lange. For his remaining parliamentary career, he was a backbencher known as one of the Three Musketeers. Later, he was a founding member of ACT New Zealand and some years later joined the National Party to help oppose Winston Peters in Tauranga.

Early life[edit]

De Cleene was born in Palmerston North on 24 March 1933;[1] the first Palmerston North MP who was actually born in the city.[2] His parents were poor and he was born during the Great Depression.[1] The family moved frequently until they finally obtained state housing.[3] He attended Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School, then Palmerston North Boys' High School and left school in 1951.[2][3] He studied law at the University of Canterbury before changing to the Faculty of Law of Victoria University. There, he won the Law Moot Prize in 1954 and graduated LLB in 1955, having achieved Senior Law Scholar in his final year.[3] He financed his degree by working several seasons at the freezing works in Feilding.[1]

Family and personal interests[edit]

In 1962, he married Gwenda Doris Taylor and they had one girl and two boys between 1964 and 1970. They divorced and he remarried in 1982 to Raewyn Watt.[3]

He played hockey for Canterbury University, then Victoria University and finally Hockey Manawatu. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed hunting, fishing and shooting.[3] He made potential enemies through defending high-profile criminals and his controversial policies as a politician, and once revealed that he kept a pump-action shotgun under his bed for personal protection.[1] He was interested in race horses and after successfully defending a client's drink driving charge, he purchased a race horse which he called Breathalyser.[3]

Professional career[edit]

Law seemed an ideal profession for de Cleene. He was a gifted scholar, was good with words and loved public speaking. He was a good debater, was witty and a very quick thinker. Due to his presentation, he quickly became the centre of attention wherever he went.[2] He was admitted to the bar in 1956 and started his professional career working for Innes and Oakley in Palmerston North. His move to start his own practice was summed up by himself as follows: "I crossed the street and put up my own plate." Between 1966 and 1970, he shared the practice with Bob Calkin. For the next two years, he practised on his own again, and beginning in 1973, he was with Loughnan, de Cleene and Co for three years.[3]

1976 saw him move to Tauranga, where he practised on his own. In the following year, he returned to Palmerston North and continued as a partner with Loughnan, de Cleene & Co until his election to Parliament.[3]

He specialised in criminal law, commercial law and worker compensation. He especially enjoyed criminal law because of the high profile that it gave him both within the profession and the public. He was legal advisor to the export company run by Joe Walding. He also provided legal advice pro bono for many sporting organisations.[2]

Political career[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1981–1984 40th Palmerston North Labour
1984–1987 41st Palmerston North Labour
1987–1990 42nd Palmerston North Labour

De Cleene joined the Labour Party in 1952. His family had a long connection with the party and his earliest memory of his mother was her pouring tea at Labour Party functions, always grateful of having obtained a State house to live in. He became more active in the 1960s.[2]

De Cleene was first elected to Palmerston North City Council in 1962 and aged 29, he was the youngest councillor.[3] However, party politics had no place in Palmerston and those who tried to represent one of the parties had always failed, so his Labour affiliation was no feature while standing for council.[2] He was re-elected after the end of his first term in 1965, but was forced to resign a year later. He had taken the American singer P.J. Proby deer stalking and trespassed Crown land in the Tangimoana forest, for which he was fined £5; the Municipal Corporations Act 1908 required elected members committed of an offence that is punishable by imprisonment to resign.[3] He successfully stood again at the next election in 1968 and was re-elected in 1971.[3] In 1974, he stood both as a council candidate and for the mayoralty, opposing the incumbent Brian Elwood, with the new council office the main point of the campaign. Elwood was a proponent of the scheme, whilst de Cleene opposed it on financial grounds. Elwood achieved 58% of the vote, but de Cleene was elected as a councillor and served until 1976, when he moved away from Palmerston North.[2]

De Cleene first stood for Parliament in the 1969 general election in the Pahiatua electorate against the Prime Minister, Keith Holyoake. The political novice had no chance to unseat the incumbent in the election, was aware of it and was not interested in entering Parliament at that point anyway: "I was too young and with a wife and kids. But it was good experience for the future."[2] The electorate was contested by four candidates, and Holyoake and de Cleene obtained 62.3% and 28.3% of the votes, respectively.[2]

In 1976, de Cleene moved to Tauranga for personal reasons.[3] One biographer describes his as being restless during that period, trying to break his political links with his home town Palmerston North.[2] He returned home to contest the 1978 election. His friend Joe Walding, who had previously represented the Palmerston North electorate and whom he had previously supported, was nominated for Palmerston North again. De Cleene won the Labour nomination for the Manawatu electorate. He came second in the general election against Michael Cox of the National Party.[2]

Walding had been successful again in the 1978 election, but had to announce his retirement from politics for health reasons prior to the 1981 election. De Cleene was the most experienced Labour candidate who put his name forward for selection, and despite concerns about his often controversial nature, he was nominated by the party. The candidate put forward by National was his old foe Brian Elwood, with whom he had worked on the Palmerston North City Council for many years, and against whom he lost the mayoralty contest in 1974. Elwood and de Cleene received 8315 and 10425 votes, respectively (representing 35.7% and 48.5%, respectively), with de Cleene thus entering Parliament in 1981.[2][4] Helen Clark, the later Prime Minister, entered Parliament at the same time and the two became close friends.[1]

De Cleene won the 1984 election, called early by Robert Muldoon, with an increased majority over National's candidate, C G Singleton.[2] In the 1987 election, de Cleene raised his share of the vote to 56.2%, defeating National's Paul Curry. He did not seek re-election in the 1990 election.[2]

De Cleene was a supporter of Rogernomics, and in 1984 when the Fourth Labour Government was elected he was appointed undersecretary to Minister of Finance Roger Douglas with responsibility for the IRD. He became a minister outside cabinet in 1987, with Customs and Revenue portfolios. He memorably described the bulky Report of the Royal Commission on Social Policy as a useful doorstop.[5]

He resigned from Cabinet in 1988 when Douglas was sacked by Lange. De Cleene, Douglas and Prebble were known as the Three Musketeers, and sat together in the remotest backbench seats.[6] When de Cleene retired in 1990, he was replaced by Steve Maharey.[7]

After leaving Parliament, de Cleene initially resumed his legal practice. He then moved to Tauranga again. He left the Labour Party and became a founding member of ACT New Zealand in 1993. In 1996, he then joined the National Party so that he could support Katherine O'Regan with the attempted unseating of Winston Peters from the Tauranga electorate.[2]


De Cleene died in Tauranga of cancer on 22 April 2001.[3] He was survived by his second wife Raewyn and three adult children from his first marriage.[1] His death was announced to Parliament by his friend, Helen Clark, two days later.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Macbrayne, Rosaleen (28 April 2001). "Obituary: Trevor de Cleene". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 27 December 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Hancock, Mervyn (December 2005). "Trevor Albert De Cleene : Member of Parliament for Palmerston North 1981–1990" (PDF). Palmerston North Library. Retrieved 28 December 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Trevor Albert de Cleene, 1932 - 2001". New Zealand Law Society. Retrieved 27 December 2011. 
  4. ^ Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103. 
  5. ^ Bassett pp. 108, 219
  6. ^ Bassett pp. 457, 459, 475
  7. ^ Hancock, Mervyn (December 2005). "Steven Maharey : Member of Parliament for Palmerston North 1990 – Present" (PDF). Palmerston North Library. Retrieved 26 December 2011. 
  8. ^ "Death of Trevor de Cleene". New Zealand Government. Retrieved 4 January 2012. 


New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Joe Walding
Member of Parliament for Palmerston North
Succeeded by
Steve Maharey