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David Lange

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David Lange

The Right Honourable
David Russell Lange
Prime Minister David Lange posts a letter, at the opening of the new Foxton Post Office, 1980s.
32nd Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
26 July 1984 – 8 August 1989
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor-General David Beattie
Paul Reeves
Deputy Geoffrey Palmer
Preceded by Robert Muldoon
Succeeded by Geoffrey Palmer
23rd Leader of the Opposition
In office
3 February 1983 – 26 July 1984
Preceded by Bill Rowling
Succeeded by Robert Muldoon
26th Attorney-General
In office
8 August 1989 – 2 November 1990
Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer
Preceded by Geoffrey Palmer
Succeeded by Paul East
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Mangere
In office
Preceded by Colin Moyle
Succeeded by Taito Phillip Field
Personal details
Born (1942-08-04)4 August 1942
Otahuhu, Auckland, New Zealand
Died 13 August 2005(2005-08-13) (aged 63)
Middlemore, Auckland, New Zealand
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Naomi Joy Crampton
Margaret Pope
Children 4
(three with Crampton)
(one with Pope)
Profession Lawyer
Religion Methodist

David Russell Lange, ONZ, CH ( ; 4 August 1942 – 13 August 2005), served as the 32nd Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1984 to 1989. He headed New Zealand's fourth Labour Government, one of the most reforming administrations in his country's history, but one which did not always conform to traditional expectations of a social-democrat party. He had a reputation for cutting wit (sometimes directed against himself) and eloquence. His government implemented far-reaching free-market reforms. Helen Clark described New Zealand's nuclear-free legislation as his legacy.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Political career 2
    • Leader of the Opposition 2.1
  • Prime Minister 3
    • First term: 1984–1987 3.1
      • Rogernomics 3.1.1
      • International affairs and nuclear free policy 3.1.2
      • Rainbow Warrior Affair 3.1.3
      • 1987 general election 3.1.4
    • Second Term: 1987–1989 3.2
      • Tomorrow's Schools 3.2.1
      • Resignation 3.2.2
  • Cabinet minister: 1989–1990 4
  • Life after politics 5
    • Accidental release of secret report 5.1
  • Honours 6
  • Personal life 7
  • See also 8
  • References and notes 9
    • Notes 9.1
    • References 9.2
  • External links 10

Early life

Lange was born in Otahuhu, a South Auckland suburb.[2] He was the son of a doctor of German stock. His relatives had suffered from prejudice during the First World War due to their German ancestry, and Lange himself would face a political rival in 1984 who tried to discredit him because of his German heritage. He received his formal education at Fairburn Primary School, Otara Intermediate School and Otahuhu College, then at the University of Auckland, where he graduated in law in 1965. He paid his way through university by working in a meat-freezing works. In 1968 he married Naomi Crampton. He gained a Master of Laws in 1970, then practised law in Northland and Auckland for some years, often giving legal representation to the most dispossessed members of Auckland society.

Lange suffered all his life from obesity and the health problems it caused. By 1982 he weighed about 175 kilograms (27.6 st), and had surgery to staple his stomach in order to lose weight.[3][4] He attributed his talents with oratory to the need to compensate for his clumsiness during his intermediate school days.[5][6]

Political career

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1977–1978 38th Mangere Labour
1978–1981 39th Mangere Labour
1981–1984 40th Mangere Labour
1984–1987 41st Mangere Labour
1987–1990 42nd Mangere Labour
1990–1993 43rd Mangere Labour
1993–1996 44th Mangere Labour

Lange joined the Labour Party in 1963, and helped in the campaigns of Phil Amos in 1963 and Norman Douglas in 1966. In 1974 his cousin Michael Bassett suggested that Lange should stand on the Labour ticket for the Auckland City Council. 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." Lange's father Roy, who was a doctor at Otahuhu and had delivered Bassett. Lange later said that:[7] "My father had delivered him, and it became plain in later days that he must have dropped him."

Lange then stood for Labour in Hobson in 1975, and came third.[8]

Lange entered the New Zealand Parliament as the Labour MP for Mangere, a working-class Auckland electorate with a large Māori population, in 1977 in the Mangere by-election. On becoming an MP, Lange quickly made an impression in the House as a debater, a wit, and the scourge of Prime Minister Robert Muldoon.

In 1980 Lange and a group consisting of Roger Douglas, Michael Bassett, Richard Prebble and Mike Moore tried to remove Bill Rowling as leader of the Labour Party. After Labour lost the 1981 general election, the group, later known as the "Fish and Chip Brigade" (after a picture published at the time with the plotters eating Fish and chips)[9] succeeded in their second attempt in 1983.[10]

Leader of the Opposition

Lange succeeded Rowling as leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party and as Leader of the Opposition on 3 February 1983. Significant debate emerged within the Labour Party on the party's economic direction, following a paper by Roger Douglas to the party's policy council. Eventually a compromise was reached, which Lange described as "A manifesto which appealed to the right, the left, the centre and the totally bewildered. It was, in fact, anodyne."[10]

Muldoon unexpectedly called a snap election in 1984, as a result of Marilyn Waring voting for a members Bill introduced by Richard Prebble to introduce a nuclear-free zone.[11] Lange led Labour to a landslide victory, greatly helped by vote splitting between National and the New Zealand Party. However, before Lange was sworn in as Prime Minister a foreign exchange crisis arose, which lead to a constitutional crisis. The New Zealand Dollar was overvalued and following the announcement of the snap election in June, traders started selling off the New Zealand Dollar on the assumption that Labour would win the election and devalue the currency.[12]

Muldoon refused to do as Lange instructed - devalue the currency - causing the currency crisis to worsen. Eventually on 19 July Muldoon relented, after his position as leader of the National party was threatened by members of his caucus.[12]

Prime Minister

Lange partaking in a motor race.

David Lange was sworn in as New Zealand's 32nd Prime Minister on 26 July 1984, becoming at the age of 41 New Zealand's youngest prime minister of the 20th century, a record later surpassed by Mike Moore in 1990.

During his tenure as Prime Minister, Lange engaged in competitive motor-sport, appearing in the New Zealand One Make Ford Laser Sport series.

First term: 1984–1987

During his term of office as Prime Minister, Lange also held the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs.


The currency crisis and devaluation of the New Zealand dollar spurred on the reform drive of Roger Douglas, who Lange made Minister of Finance in the new government.[13] The New Zealand Listener coined the term Rogernomics for these policies, drawing connections with Reaganomics and with Thatcherism.

Upon coming to office, Lange's government uncovered a skyrocketing public debt, ostensibly the result of Muldoon's policy of government regulation of the economy, including a wage and price freeze and regulation of the exchange rate. Such economic conditions prompted Lange to remark: "We ended up being run very similarly to a Polish shipyard".[14] Their first move was to hold an Economic Summit, similar to the one held in Australia by Bob Hawke in 1983, to create a feeling of consensus and to lay out the underlying problems in New Zealand's economy.[15]

Lange and Douglas engaged in a rapid program of deregulation and the removal of tariffs and subsidies. The first sector affected was New Zealand's agricultural community, a traditionally National-supporting community. The loss of subsidies hit some farmers hard.[16] Other changes brought criticism from many people in Labour's traditional supporter base. The Labour Party also lost support from many elderly people by introducing a superannuation surcharge after having promised not to reduce superannuation.

Douglas also deregulated the finance markets, removing restrictions on interest rates, lending and foreign exchange. In March 1985, with Lange's blessing, the New Zealand Dollar was floated.[17] From 1 April 1987, several government departments were corporatised into state owned enterprises, with massive loss of jobs.[18]

International affairs and nuclear free policy

Lange made his name on the international stage with a long-running campaign against nuclear weapons. His government refused to allow nuclear-armed ships into New Zealand waters, a policy that New Zealand continues to this day. The policy, developing in 1985, had the effect of prohibiting United States Navy ships from visiting New Zealand. This displeased the United States and Australia: they regarded the policy as a breach of treaty obligations under ANZUS and as an abrogation of responsibility in the context of the Cold War against the Soviet bloc. After consultations with Australia and after negotiations with New Zealand broke down, the United States announced that it would suspend its treaty obligations to New Zealand until the re-admission of United States Navy ships to New Zealand ports, characterising New Zealand as "a friend, but not an ally".

Erroneous claims sometimes suggest that David Lange withdrew New Zealand from ANZUS. His government's policy may have prompted the US's decision to suspend its ANZUS Treaty obligations to New Zealand, but that decision rested with the US government, not with the New Zealand government.

An Oxford Union debate shown live on New Zealand television in March 1985 showcased Lange, a skilled orator, arguing for the proposition that "Nuclear weapons are morally indefensible",[19] in opposition to US televangelist Jerry Falwell.[20] Lange regarded his appearance at the Oxford Union as the highest point of his career in politics.[21] His speech included his memorable statement "I can smell the uranium on it [your breath]...!".[19]

Rainbow Warrior Affair

Relations with France became strained when French agents of the DGSE bombed and sank the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior on 10 July 1985 while it lay moored in Auckland Harbour, killing photographer Fernando Pereira. In June 1986 Lange obtained a political deal with France over the Rainbow Warrior affair, presided over by United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar. France agreed to pay compensation of NZ$13 million (US$6.5 million) to New Zealand and also to apologise. In return, Lange agreed that French authorities could detain the convicted French agents Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur at the French military base on Hao Atoll for three years. However, the two spies both were freed by May 1988, after less than two years had elapsed.

1987 general election

Lange's government was re-elected at the August 1987 general election, the first time a Labour government had won a second term since 1938. The government increased its share of the popular vote, although this may have been due to less vote-splitting. Lange toured the country throughout the campaign and faced, for the first time, protests against his government, especially in provincial areas.[22] On the night, Labour almost won the traditionally National-held seat of Remuera. Labour did not produce a manifesto for the election, and there was disagreement between Douglas and Lange over the direction the government would take if re-elected.[23] Lange later commented " set me to think what on earth have we done that we come within 400 votes of winning the true-blue seat of Remuera."[24]

Second Term: 1987–1989

Following the 1987 election, Lange made himself Minister of Education.

The stock-market crash of 19 October 1987 damaged confidence in the New Zealand economy, which went into a prolonged recession from December of that year, and remained so until June 1991.[25] During that time unemployment skyrocketed 170%, the unemployment rate rose from 4.2% in the September 1987 quarter to 7.5% in the June 1989 quarter.[25]

Tomorrow's Schools

As Minister of Education, Lange pushed the introduction of "Tomorrow's Schools", a radical restructure of New Zealand's primary and secondary school education system.[26] The Department of Education was down-sized to become the Ministry of Education and have a supervisory role, education boards were abolished and parents at each school elected their own boards of trustees.[27]


In 1988 consensus on economic policy amongst the Labour leadership finally broke down, with Douglas resigning after Lange overruled his radical flat income-tax and universal basic income proposal. After losing many members, the Labour Party finally fractured; in April 1989 Jim Anderton MP formed a breakaway NewLabour Party, stating "I did not leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me."

However, Labour's caucus re-elected Douglas to Cabinet in 3 August 1989, and Lange interpreted this as a vote of no-confidence in his leadership. He resigned five days later on 8 August 1989.[28]

Cabinet minister: 1989–1990

Geoffrey Palmer succeeded Lange as Labour party leader and Prime Minister in 1989, Lange became Attorney-General, Minister in Charge of the Serious Fraud Office and a Minister of State. Palmer was then replaced by Mike Moore as Prime Minister shortly before the 1990 general election in November, which Labour lost by a landslide. Lange was re-elected at this election (and again in 1993) as the member for Mangere.

In failing health, Lange retired from Parliament before the 1996 general election. His Labour Party colleague Taito Phillip Field succeeded him as the member for the Mangere electorate.

Life after politics

In 1991 and 1992 he wrote a Monday column in The Dominion, published alternately with Simon Upton who (Lange commented) "writes erudite obfuscation tempered by occasional attempts to explain the arcana of the health reforms."[29]

In 1996 Lange sued the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over an alleged defamation that it broadcast about him. The ABC used the defence that there exists in the Australian Constitution an implied right to freedom of speech on political matters, but the High Court of Australia found against them, reversing the then existing law (see Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation). The case was later settled on terms favourable to Lange.

In a key New Zealand defamation case (Lange v Atkinson [2000] 3 NZLR 385), Lange sued political scientist Joe Atkinson for representing him in the magazine North & South as a lazy prime minister. In a 1998 judgment, and on appeal in 2000, the courts affirmed a new qualified privilege for the media to discuss politicians when expressing the criticisms as the "honest opinion" of the author.

Lange was a

Government offices
Preceded by
Robert Muldoon
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Palmer
Political offices
Preceded by
Russell Marshall
Minister of Education
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Palmer
Preceded by
Geoffrey Palmer
Succeeded by
Paul East
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Colin Moyle
Member of Parliament for Mangere
Succeeded by
Taito Phillip Field
  • David Lange Memorial Trust
  • Transcript of speech that "Nuclear Weapons are Morally Indefensible", Oxford Union debate, 1 March 1985
  • Audio recording of speech that "Nuclear Weapons are Morally Indefensible", Oxford Union debate, 1 March 1985
  • Interview with John Campbell, TV3
  • Obituary, by Jonathan Milne, Herald on Sunday; and tribute by political correspondent John Armstrong, New Zealand Herald.
  • Amyloidosis Australia, Information on Amyloidosis in Aust/NZ
  • Tribute from Helen Clark at memorial service.
  • Account of memorial service, by Jonathan Milne and Amanda Cameron, Herald on Sunday
  • Personal Reflections Of South Auckland's Statesman, by Scoop's Selwyn Manning
  • David Lange biography from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

External links


  1. ^
  2. ^ Lange 2005, p. 21-22.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Lange 2005, pp. 143-144.
  5. ^ Lange 2005, p. 50.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Lange 2005, p. 98.
  8. ^ Lange 2005, pp. 98,99.
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b Russell 1996, p. 39.
  11. ^ Russell, p. 49.
  12. ^ a b Russell 1996, p. 69.
  13. ^ Russell 1996, p. 76.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Russell 1996, p. 75.
  16. ^ Russell 1996, p. 101.
  17. ^ Russell 1996, p. 80.
  18. ^ Russell 1996, p. 120.
  19. ^ a b
  20. ^
  21. ^ Lange 2005, p. 208.
  22. ^ Russell 1996, p. 144.
  23. ^ Russell 1996, p. 142.
  24. ^ Russell 1996, p. 143.
  25. ^ a b
  26. ^ Russell 1996, p. 160.
  27. ^
  28. ^ Russell 1996, p. 202.
  29. ^ Lange 1992, p. 1.
  30. ^
  31. ^ a b Lange 1994, p. ?.
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ Bassett 2008, p. 525.
  39. ^ Bassett 2008, p. 543.
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ a b
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^


References and notes

See also

Lange's brother Peter is a widely respected New Zealand potter.[45] He has won numerous arts awards and has exhibited widely in New Zealand and overseas.[46] Lange's third cousin Michael Bassett became a fellow Cabinet-minister. Bassett published a book in 2008 about the Lange government entitled Working With David: Inside the Lange Cabinet.

Lange died of complications associated with his renal failure and blood disease in Middlemore Hospital in Auckland at 10 pm on 13 August 2005.[43] He is buried at Waikaraka Cemetery and the headstone has the simple inscription "David Lange 1942 ~ 2005".[44] The David Lange Memorial Trust has erected a memorial to him in Otahuhu.[43]

His declining health resulted in the bringing-forward of the publication of his memoir My Life to 8 August 2005. TV3 broadcast on Campbell Live on the same day an interview;[41] John Campbell had interviewed him just before he went into hospital. In his last interview, given to the Herald on Sunday from his hospital bed, he made a potent intervention in New Zealand's 2005 election campaign by saying he "wanted to get out of bed and get a wheel-chair to Wellington" to stop any relaxation of his ban on nuclear ships.[42]

In the 1990s Lange's health declined, with diabetes and kidney disorders. In 2002, doctors diagnosed Lange as having amyloidosis, a rare and incurable blood plasma disorder. He underwent extensive medical treatment for this condition. Although initially told he had only four months to live, Lange defied his doctors' expectations, and remained "optimistic" about his health. He entered hospital in Auckland in mid-July 2005 to undergo nightly peritoneal dialysis in his battle with end-stage kidney-failure. On 2 August, he had his lower right leg amputated without a general anaesthetic, as a result of diabetes complications.[40]

In 1989 Lange announced in a brief press statement on 10 November that he was separating from his wife of 21 years. On 12 November Naomi Lange named his speech-writer, Margaret Pope as the other woman in a Sunday Times article, and said that she had been told by David five or six months ago that he planned to leave the marriage. Lange's mother Phoebe also publicly criticised him, but they later reconciled.[38] He had three children, Roy, Emily, and Byron (now in their 30s) with his first wife (Naomi) and one daughter, Edith, with his second wife (Margaret). He married Margaret in Glasgow in January 1992 while holidaying in Britain.[39]

Personal life

The Queen made Lange a Companion of Honour in 1990 and created him an Ordinary Member of the Order of New Zealand on 2 June 2003.

Lange received the Right Livelihood Award in 2003 for his strong fight against nuclear weapons.[37]


In January 2006, Archives New Zealand released to The Sunday Star-Times newspaper a box of David Lange's previously classified documents. They revealed New Zealand's ongoing involvement in Western alliance espionage, and a threat by the United States to spy on New Zealand if it did not back down from its ban on nuclear ships.[33] Archives New Zealand chief executive Dianne Macaskill said the paper did not have the authority to access or print the report, and wrote to the paper revoking permission to publish it. In response, the Sunday Star Times said the information had already been released into the public arena and hence could not be retracted.[34] The release of the document prompted a high-level inquiry to investigate how the top-secret report ended up in Lange's personal papers, in breach of security protocol.[35] A secret diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks in 2010 covers the accidental release of the document.[36]

Accidental release of secret report

Lange replied:

Do you think if the election of 1984 had not been a snap election, there would have been time for the opposing forces within the party to have successfully blocked the reforms or to have severely limited them?

In an interview[32] with The New Zealand Herald (published on 3 July 2004) the reporter asked Lange:

Lange was a supporter of changing New Zealand's flag, and wrote in 1994: "[a] stranger who saw the Australian flag and the New Zealand flag outside adjacent buildings would assume that some British hotel chain was advertising deluxe and standard rooms".[31] Lange also expressed support for a New Zealand republic, stating: "Do such things matter? They certainly do. We suffer in this country from a lack of emotional focus... New Zealand will become a republic just as Britain will be blurred into Europe".[31]


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