Arnold Nordmeyer

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Sir Arnold Nordmeyer

Arnold Nordmeyer (1954).jpg
Nordmeyer in 1954
18th Leader of the Opposition
In office
1 April 1963 16 December 1965
Prime Minister Keith Holyoake
Preceded by Walter Nash
Succeeded by Norman Kirk
6th Leader of the Labour Party
In office
1 April 1963 16 December 1965
President Martyn Finlay
Norman Kirk
Deputy Hugh Watt
Preceded by Walter Nash
Succeeded by Norman Kirk
30th Minister of Finance
In office
12 December 1957 12 December 1960
Prime Minister Walter Nash
Preceded by Jack Watts
Succeeded by Harry Lake
17th President of the Labour Party
In office
Vice President James Roberts (1950-54)
Michael Moohan (1954-55)
Leader Peter Fraser
Walter Nash
Preceded byJames Roberts
Succeeded byMichael Moohan
13th Minister of Health
In office
21 January 1941 29 May 1947
Prime Minister Peter Fraser
Preceded by Tim Armstrong
Succeeded by Mabel Howard
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Oamaru
In office
1935   1949
Preceded by John Andrew MacPherson
Succeeded by Thomas Hayman
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Brooklyn
In office
1951   1954
Preceded by Peter Fraser
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Island Bay
In office
1954   1969
Preceded by Robert McKeen
Succeeded by Gerald O'Brien
Personal details
Born(1901-02-07)7 February 1901
Dunedin, New Zealand
Died2 February 1989(1989-02-02) (aged 87)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political party Labour
Spouse(s)Frances Maria Kernahan (married 28 October 1931)
Profession Presbyterian minister

Sir Arnold Henry Nordmeyer ONZ KCMG (7 February 1901 – 2 February 1989), born Heinrich Arnold Nordmeyer, was a New Zealand politician. He served as Minister of Finance (1957–1960) and later as Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition (1963–1965).

Minister of Finance (New Zealand) in New Zealand

The Minister of Finance, originally known as Colonial Treasurer, is a senior figure within the Government of New Zealand and head of the New Zealand Treasury. The position is often considered to be the most important cabinet post after that of the Prime Minister. The Minister of Finance is responsible for producing an annual New Zealand budget outlining the government's proposed expenditure.

Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party

The Leader of the Labour Party is the highest ranked politician within the Labour Party in New Zealand. The officeholder serves as the parliamentary leader and leading spokesperson of the party. Since 1 August 2017, the office has been held by Jacinda Ardern, who is the MP for Mount Albert.

The New Zealand Labour Party, or simply Labour, is a centre-left political party in New Zealand. The party's platform programme describes its founding principle as democratic socialism, while observers describe Labour as social-democratic and pragmatic in practice. It is a participant of the international Progressive Alliance.


Early life

Nordmeyer, c. 1935 Arnold Nordmeyer 1935.jpg
Nordmeyer, c.1935

Nordmeyer was born on 7 February 1901 in Dunedin, New Zealand. His father was a German immigrant, his mother was from Northern Ireland. He was educated at Waitaki Boys' High School, and at the University of Otago where he completed his BA. After graduating he studied theology, having always been highly religious. [1] At university he became known for his skills in debating which were to serve him well in his later career. Although he did not join the Labour Party until 1933, he became increasingly sympathetic to the party's views. It was at this time that he met Walter Nash who may have been influential in shaping his views in health and social policy. In 1925 Nordmeyer received his ordination as a Presbyterian minister and was appointed to a position in the small town of Kurow.

Dunedin City in Otago, New Zealand

Dunedin is the second-largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, and the principal city of the Otago region. Its name comes from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.

Northern Ireland Part of the United Kingdom lying in the north-east of the island of Ireland, created 1921

Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom in the north-east of the island of Ireland, variously described as a country, province or region. Northern Ireland shares a border to the south and west with the Republic of Ireland. In 2011, its population was 1,810,863, constituting about 30% of the island's total population and about 3% of the UK's population. Established by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as part of the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Assembly holds responsibility for a range of devolved policy matters, while other areas are reserved for the British government. Northern Ireland co-operates with the Republic of Ireland in some areas, and the Agreement granted the Republic the ability to "put forward views and proposals" with "determined efforts to resolve disagreements between the two governments".

Waitaki Boys' High School is a secondary school for boys located in the northern part of the town of Oamaru, Otago, New Zealand, with day and boarding facilities, and was founded in 1883. As of 2012, it has a school roll of just under 500.

While in Kurow during the Great Depression, Nordmeyer became interested in the welfare of workers involved in the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Waitaki River. He became increasingly politically active as a result witnessing both the working conditions of the labourers and the poor living conditions of the unemployed men and their families who were attracted to the area by the promise of work. At Kurow, Nordmeyer, along with local doctor and future Labour MP Gervan McMillan and school headmaster Andrew Davidson developed ideas of how to apply Christian ethics to politics to solve the miseries of unemployment, poverty and illness – ideas that were later implemented by the First Labour Government of New Zealand. It was also in Kurow that Nordmeyer met his future wife, Frances Kernahan whom he married in 1931. [2]

Great Depression 20th-century worldwide economic depression

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations; in most countries it started in 1929 and lasted until the late-1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how intensely the world's economy can decline.

Waitaki River river in New Zealand

The Waitaki River is a large braided river that drains the Mackenzie Basin and runs some 110 kilometres (68 mi) south-east to enter the Pacific Ocean between Timaru and Oamaru on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It starts at the confluence of the Ohau River and the Tekapo River, now in the head of the artificial Lake Benmore, these rivers being fed by three large glacial lakes, Pukaki, Tekapo, and Ohau. The Waitaki flows through Lake Benmore, Lake Aviemore and Lake Waitaki, these lakes being contained by hydroelectric dams, Benmore Dam, Aviemore Dam and Waitaki Dam. The Waitaki has several tributaries, notably the Ahuriri River and the Hakataramea River. It passes Kurow and Glenavy before entering the Pacific Ocean.

Gervan McMillan New Zealand politician

David Gervan McMillan, known as Gervan McMillan, was a New Zealand politician of the Labour Party, and a medical practitioner.

Member of Parliament

New Zealand Parliament
1935 1938 25th Oamaru Labour
1938 1943 26th Oamaru Labour
1943 1946 27th Oamaru Labour
1946 1949 28th Oamaru Labour
1951 29th Brooklyn Labour
1951 1954 30th Brooklyn Labour
1954 1957 31st Island Bay Labour
1957 1960 32nd Island Bay Labour
1960 1963 33rd Island Bay Labour
1963 1966 34th Island Bay Labour
1966 1969 35th Island Bay Labour

Shortly before the 1935 election Nordmeyer stepped down from his church position, stating an intent to contest the Oamaru seat for the Labour Party. He was elected. The 1935 election itself was a huge victory for Labour and the party's leader, Michael Joseph Savage, became the country's first Labour Prime Minister. [3]

1935 New Zealand general election

The 1935 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the New Zealand Parliament's 25th term. It resulted in the Labour Party's first electoral victory, with Michael Joseph Savage becoming the first Labour Prime Minister. The governing coalition, consisting of the United Party and the Reform Party, suffered a major defeat, attributed by many to their handling of the Great Depression. The year after the election, United and Reform took their coalition further, merging to form the modern National Party.

Oamaru was a parliamentary electorate in the Otago region of New Zealand, during three periods between 1866 and 1978.

Michael Joseph Savage first Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand

Michael Joseph Savage was a New Zealand politician who served as the 23rd Prime Minister of New Zealand, heading the First Labour Government from 6 December 1935 until his death.

In Parliament Nordmeyer proved to be a skilled debater but also had a somewhat troubled relationship with his party's leadership. Nordmeyer became part of the faction led by John A. Lee who criticised Savage's policies as too moderate. Gradually, however, Nordmeyer became disillusioned with Lee, alleging that Lee was egotistical and self-important. Nordmeyer later co-operated with more moderate politicians such as Walter Nash in drafting the party's social security policies.

New Zealand Parliament legislative body of New Zealand

The New Zealand Parliament is the legislature of New Zealand, consisting of the Queen of New Zealand (Queen-in-Parliament) and the New Zealand House of Representatives. The Queen is usually represented by a governor-general. Before 1951, there was an upper chamber, the New Zealand Legislative Council. The Parliament was established in 1854 and is one of the oldest continuously functioning legislatures in the world.

John A. Lee New Zealand politician

John Alfred Alexander Lee was a New Zealand politician and writer. He is one of the more prominent avowed socialists in New Zealand's political history.

Walter Nash New Zealand politician

Sir Walter Nash was a New Zealand politician who served as the 27th Prime Minister of New Zealand in the Second Labour Government from 1957 to 1960. He is noted for his long period of political service, having been associated with the New Zealand Labour Party since its creation.

After the 1938 election that Labour won resoundingly, tensions between the moderate and extreme wings of the party became worse. Nordmeyer attempted to take a position between both groups but was generally closer to Lee's camp than to the other. The year 1940 saw both the death of Savage and the expulsion from the Labour Party of Lee (a move which Nordmeyer opposed, weakly). Nordmeyer nominated Gervan McMillan, an old friend from Kurow and a supporter of Lee, as the party's new leader. McMillan, however, was defeated by Peter Fraser, Savage's chief lieutenant.

1938 New Zealand general election

The 1938 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the New Zealand Parliament's 26th term. It resulted in the governing Labour Party being re-elected, although the newly founded National Party gained a certain amount of ground.

Peter Fraser New Zealand politician

Peter Fraser was a New Zealand politician who served as the 24th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 27 March 1940 until 13 December 1949. Considered a major figure in the history of the New Zealand Labour Party, he was in office longer than any other Labour prime minister, and is to date New Zealand's fourth-longest-serving head of government.

In 1941 Nordmeyer became Minister of Health. In this role, which he held until 1947, he was responsible (along with Walter Nash) for introducing state subsidies for doctor's visits. From 1947 to 1949, Nordmeyer was Minister of Industries and Commerce and came to be regarded as one of the most senior members of the government. [4]

In the 1949 election, however, Labour was defeated by the National Party under Sidney Holland. Nordmeyer himself lost his seat of Oamaru against Thomas Hayman. [5] In 1950 Peter Fraser died and Nordmeyer was elected in the 1951 by-election as his replacement in the seat of Brooklyn. In 1954 he won the Island Bay seat, which he held until he retired in 1969. [6]

In the short period between Fraser's death and Nordmeyer's return to Parliament Walter Nash had been hastily elected leader of the Labour Party. The speed of Nash's ascent is sometimes seen as evidence that his supporters considered Nordmeyer a threat. Nordmeyer, although he had worked with Nash before, opposed Nash's appointment as he objected to Nash's leadership style and considered Nash to be both autocratic and uninspiring. In 1954 Nordmeyer began a challenge for the leadership. Although Nordmeyer gained considerable backing from certain sectors of the party, Nash enjoyed strong union support and defeated the challenge in caucus on 23 June 1954.

Minister of Finance

Nash and Nordmeyer in 1958. Walter Nash and Arnold Henry Nordmeyer.jpg
Nash and Nordmeyer in 1958.

When Labour won the 1957 election Nordmeyer was made Minister of Finance and was ranked third within the government. [7] A short time after taking office Nordmeyer concluded that the country was on the brink of a balance of payments crisis and decided to take strong measures in response. His first Budget (generally known as "the Black Budget") introduced a number of unpopular changes, including significant tax increases. The particularly large tax increases for alcohol and tobacco, coupled with Nordmeyer's strong religious background, created the impression that he was attempting to impose puritan-like reforms. Labour was voted out of office in the 1960 election, something that many historians blame on Nordmeyer's "Black Budget". [1]

Leader of the Opposition

Despite attracting considerable blame for Labour's loss of support Nordmeyer was elected to lead the Labour Party when Nash retired in 1963. [1] Future interim Prime Minister, Hugh Watt became Nordmeyer's deputy leader. [8] The memory of the "Black Budget" still haunted Nordmeyer's profile, however, and many within the party believed that it was time for "a new generation" to take control. In 1965 a group of Labour MP's formed a group known as the 'Mafia' who were dedicated to replacing Nordmeyer with Norman Kirk. This was due to some within the Labour caucus thinking Nordmeyer "out of touch" with his Members and vice versa, some considering him an autocratic loner, despite his considerable debating abilities. [9] Norman Kirk eventually emerged as the favourite candidate to succeed Nordmeyer and in a vote on 9 December 1965, Nordmeyer was defeated by 25 votes to 10. [1] A later Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand quipped about Nordmeyer: [10]

... the best Prime Minister we never had.

Retirement from politics

Nordmeyer remained in Parliament for another four years, retiring at the 1969 election. [6] He later held a number of government appointments, including the position of director of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. In the 1975 Queen's Birthday Honours Nordmeyer was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George "for public services". [11] On 6 February 1987 Nordmeyer was the fifth appointee to the Order of New Zealand. [1] [12]

Nordmeyer was one of the staunchest opponents of capital punishment and was also staunchly opposed to abortion, being a patron of New Zealand's main pro-life group SPUC.

Nordmeyer married Frances Maria Kernahan in Oamaru on 28 October 1931. The couple had two children, Alan and Alison. Alison married Labour MP Jim Edwards. [1]

Nordmeyer died in Wellington on 2 February 1989, survived by his wife Frances. In the 1989 Queen's Birthday Honours, Lady Nordmeyer was appointed a Companion of the Queen's Service Order for community service. [13]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Brown, Bruce. "Nordmeyer, Arnold Henry - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 6 October 2012.
  2. Logan 2008, p. 32.
  3. Wilson 1985, p. 58.
  4. Wilson 1985, p. 84.
  5. Gustafson 1986, p. 320.
  6. 1 2 Wilson 1985, p. 223.
  7. Wilson 1985, p. 88.
  8. Hayward 1981, p. 13.
  9. Hayward 1981, p. 56.
  10. Weir, Jim (2007). Strong language: very quotable New Zealand quotes. Auckland: New Holland Publishers. p. 65. ISBN   978-1-86966-182-3.
  11. "No. 46595". The London Gazette (1st supplement). 6 June 1975. p. 7405.
  12. "The Order of New Zealand" (12 February 1987) 20 New Zealand Gazette 705 at 709.
  13. "No. 51774". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 June 1989. p. 32.

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New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
John MacPherson
Member of Parliament for Oamaru
Succeeded by
Thomas Hayman
Preceded by
Peter Fraser
Member of Parliament for Brooklyn
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Robert McKeen
Member of Parliament for Island Bay
Succeeded by
Gerald O'Brien
Political offices
Preceded by
Tim Armstrong
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Mabel Howard
Preceded by
Jack Watts
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Harry Lake
Preceded by
Walter Nash
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Norman Kirk