Three years ago, when New Zealanders overwhelmingly elected Robert Muldoon prime minister, his campaign slogan was “New Zealand the way you want it.” But, as one TV comic put it, Muldoon’s rule quickly took on the look of “New Zealand the way I want it,” and as the final voting tallies continued to trickle in last week it became clear that Kiwis were largely disenchanted with their brash leader. Indeed, opposition Labor party leader Bill Rowling refused to admit defeat until the last postal ballots were counted, for he had great hopes of strong, last-minute support from the masses of New Zealanders who have been leaving the country recently. But he appeared to wait in vain, although by week’s end Muldoon’s majority in the 92-seat parliament was reduced from 22 to six.
The emigrants, some 30,000 this year, have largely been driven out by Muldoon’s draconian economic tactics in what has proved only a moderately successful battle against inflation (still around 11 per cent). Elected on a ticket of economic austerity, the National Party froze wages, cut welfare doles and slashed subsidies: but unemployment increased from almost zero to four per cent. The crippling burden of duties and taxes—necessary for the cradle-tograve welfare system—has not been lightened. (Income taxes nick 37 per cent from a $16,000 salary.)
Economics, however, are not the sole cause of disenchantment with Muldoon—whose abusive, tyrannical political style has earned him such epithets as “our local jackboot Mussolini.” In his time as a leading political figure he has been censured by parliament and has offended racial minorities; and during the recent campaign he also took on the unions—“if the militant element and the extremists are of a mind to step out of line, they will get it where the chicken got the axe” —and traded punches with hecklers.
It seems contradictory that so belligerent a character would choose cultivating lillies as a hobby, but not so strange that he could alienate so many technicians, tradesmen and professionals, who are mostly under the age of 25. For them, New Zealand is not “the way you want it,” and their loss may prove to be a high price to pay for renewal of the National Party’s mandate.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.