Bill Rowling

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Sir Wallace Rowling

Bill Rowling, 1962.jpg
Rowling in 1962
30th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
6 September 1974 12 December 1975
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor-General Denis Blundell
Deputy Bob Tizard
Preceded by Norman Kirk
Succeeded by Robert Muldoon
33rd Minister of Finance
In office
8 December 1972 6 September 1974
Prime Minister Norman Kirk
Preceded byRobert Muldoon
Succeeded byBob Tizard
22nd Leader of the Opposition
In office
12 December 1975 3 February 1983
Preceded byRobert Muldoon
Succeeded by David Lange
8th Leader of the Labour Party
In office
6 September 1974 3 February 1983
DeputyBob Tizard
Preceded by Norman Kirk
Succeeded byDavid Lange
22nd President of the Labour Party
In office
Preceded by Norman Douglas
Succeeded by Charles Bennett
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Buller
In office
Preceded by Jerry Skinner
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Tasman
In office
Succeeded by Ken Shirley
Personal details
Born(1927-11-15)15 November 1927
Motueka, Tasman District, New Zealand
Died31 October 1995(1995-10-31) (aged 67)
Nelson, New Zealand
Political party Labour
Spouse(s)Glen Elna Reeves (m. 1951)
Alma mater University of Canterbury
Signature Bill Rowling Signature.jpg
Military service
Allegiance New Zealand Army
Rank UK Army OF2.png Captain
Battles/wars Malayan Emergency

Sir Wallace Edward Rowling KCMG PC ( /ˈrlɪŋ/ ; 15 November 1927 – 31 October 1995), commonly known as Bill Rowling, was a New Zealand politician who was the 30th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1974 to 1975. He held office as the parliamentary leader of the Labour Party.

Prime Minister of New Zealand head of the New Zealand government

The Prime Minister of New Zealand is the head of government of New Zealand. The incumbent Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, took office on 26 October 2017.

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.


Rowling was a lecturer in economics when he entered politics; he became a Member of Parliament in the 1962 Buller by-election. He was serving as Minister of Finance (1972–1974) when he was appointed Prime Minister following the death of the highly popular Norman Kirk. His Labour government's effort to retrieve the economy ended with an upset victory by the National Party in November 1975. Rowling continued to lead the Labour Party but lost two more general elections. Upon retiring from the party’s leadership in 1983, he was knighted. He served as Ambassador to the United States from 1985 to 1988.

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.

Norman Kirk 29th Prime Minister of New Zealand

Norman Eric Kirk was a New Zealand politician who served as the 29th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1972 until his sudden death in 1974.

The Third Labour Government of New Zealand was the government of New Zealand from 1972 to 1975. During its time in office, it carried out a wide range of reforms in areas such as overseas trade, farming, public works, energy generation, local government, health, the arts, sport and recreation, regional development, environmental protection, education, housing, and social welfare. Māori also benefited from revisions to the laws relating to land, together with a significant increase in a Māori and Island Affairs building programme. In addition, the government encouraged biculturalism and a sense of New Zealand identity. The government lasted for one term before being defeated a year after the death of its popular leader, Norman Kirk.

Early life

Rowling was born in a country suburb of Mariri neighbouring the town of Motueka, near Nelson. He was a member of a long-established farming family. He was educated at Nelson College and the University of Canterbury, gaining a degree in economics. He also attended the Christchurch College of Education (currently, University of Canterbury), qualifying as a teacher. After completing his education, Rowling taught at several schools around the country, including at Motueka, Christchurch, Waverley and in Northland. In 1958, Rowling left teaching and joined the New Zealand Army, becoming Assistant Director of Army Education. He spent a short amount of time serving abroad in Malaysia and Singapore, a deployment connected with the Malayan Emergency. [1]

Motueka Town in Tasman District, New Zealand

The town of Motueka in the South Island of New Zealand lies close to the mouth of the Motueka River, on the western shore of Tasman Bay. It is, after Richmond, the second largest centre in the Tasman Region, with a population of 7125. The Motueka Ward had an estimated population of 10,900 at 30 June 2009.

Nelson, New Zealand City in Nelson City, New Zealand

Nelson is a city on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay. Nelson is the oldest city in the South Island and the second-oldest settled city in New Zealand – it was established in 1841 and was proclaimed a city by royal charter in 1858.

Nelson College is the oldest state secondary school in New Zealand. It is a boys-only school in the City of Nelson that teaches from years 9 to 13. In addition, it runs a private Preparatory School for year 7 and 8 boys. The school also has places for boarders, who live in three boarding houses adjacent to the main school buildings on the same campus. These boarding houses are called Rutherford, Barnicoat and Fell. In 2017 and 2018 Rutherford received a complete interior overhaul and reopened in late 2018. Fell house will be receiving the same treatment during 2019 and 2020 and is currently closed to boarders.

Member of Parliament

New Zealand Parliament
1962 1963 33rd Buller Labour
1963 1966 34th Buller Labour
1966 1969 35th Buller Labour
1969 1972 36th Buller Labour
1972 1975 37th Tasman Labour
1975 1978 38th Tasman Labour
1978 1981 39th Tasman Labour
1981 1984 40th Tasman Labour

In the 1960 election, Rowling was selected as the Labour Party's candidate for the Fendalton electorate in Christchurch. Fendalton was regarded as a safe National seat, and Rowling was defeated by the National Party's Harry Lake (who was appointed Minister of Finance in the new National government). Two years later, however, Rowling successfully contested the by-election for Buller, which had been caused by the death of prominent Labour MP Jerry Skinner. Rowling was to hold this seat until the election of 1972, when the seat was dissolved – Rowling then contested successfully the new seat of Tasman, which intriguingly he did travelling up and down the electorate by Commer campervan, which he lived in for the time.

1960 New Zealand general election

The 1960 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the New Zealand Parliament's 33rd term. It saw the governing Labour Party defeated by the National Party, putting an end to the short second Labour government.

Fendalton is a former New Zealand parliamentary electorate. It existed during two periods between 1946 and 1996. The electorate was in the western suburbs of Christchurch, New Zealand. Fendalton is an expensive suburb, and was always represented by the National Party.

New Zealand National Party Major New Zealand political party

The New Zealand National Party, shortened to National or the Nats, is a centre-right political party in New Zealand. It is one of two major parties that dominate contemporary New Zealand politics, alongside its traditional rival, the New Zealand Labour Party.

In the lead up to the 1972 election Labour leader Norman Kirk tried to persuade Rowling to transfer from the more marginal Tasman seat to the safe Christchurch seat of Avon. Kirk feared Rowling (by then party president) might lose his seat and did not want to lose his economics expertise. Rowling refused on the grounds that such a self interested move would not be befitting of a party president. [2]

1972 New Zealand general election

The New Zealand general election of 1972 was held on 25 November to elect MPs to the 37th session of the New Zealand Parliament. The Labour Party, led by Norman Kirk, defeated the governing National Party.

Avon is a former New Zealand parliamentary electorate. It was created for the 1861 general election and existed until 1996. It was represented by 13 Members of Parliament and was held by Independents, Liberal Party or Labour Party representatives.

Minister of Finance

When the Labour Party won power under Norman Kirk in the 1972 election, Rowling was appointed Minister of Finance. This could be seen as a considerable promotion for someone without prior ministerial experience. Rowling's term as Minister of Finance was somewhat turbulent; from late in 1973, a series of externally generated crises, of which the 'oil shocks' were the most serious, destabilised the New Zealand economy. These added to other problems, such as growing overseas debt and falling export prices. A major financial policy during Rowling's tenure was a comprehensive superannuation scheme. [3]

1970s energy crisis

The 1970s energy crisis was a period when the major industrial countries of the world, particularly the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, faced substantial petroleum shortages, real and perceived, as well as elevated prices. The two worst crises of this period were the 1973 oil crisis and the 1979 energy crisis, when the Yom Kippur War and the Iranian Revolution triggered interruptions in Middle Eastern oil exports.

Prime Minister

Rowling with US President Gerald Ford in 1975. Bill Rowling and Gerald Ford, 1975 crop.jpg
Rowling with US President Gerald Ford in 1975.

When Norman Kirk died unexpectedly in 1974, Hugh Watt, served as acting prime minister for several days while the Labour Party chose a new leader. Rowling was the front-runner to replace Kirk, However, the party National Executive and the Federation of Labour preferred Kirk's deputy Hugh Watt. [4]

Rowling was officially confirmed as party leader and 30th Prime Minister on 6 September 1974. [5] In the cabinet reshuffle following Kirk's death, Rowling took the foreign affairs portfolio. [6] He was appointed to the Privy Council. [7] Rowling had the option of replacing Kirk in the safe Labour seat of Sydenham but chose to remain in his (more marginal) home electorate of Tasman. [8]

Unlike the pro-life Kirk and Muldoon, Rowling was pro-choice.[ citation needed ]

Although Rowling served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Labour Government concentrated primarily on domestic affairs. Although Rowling's deputy Bob Tizard had replaced him as Minister of Finance, the seriousness of the economic downturn required the Prime Minister's attention. The Government defended heavy overseas borrowing as necessary to protect jobs. In August 1975, the New Zealand dollar was devalued by 15%. [9]

1975 general election

Rowling opening a new Fire Station on 11 October 1975 Bill Rowling opening Fire Station.tif
Rowling opening a new Fire Station on 11 October 1975

During the 1975 election campaign, Rowling was attacked by the Opposition led by Robert Muldoon, and was generally characterised as being weak and ineffective. Rowling supporters responded with a "Citizens for Rowling" campaign which enlisted high-profile New Zealanders such as Sir Edmund Hillary to praise Rowling's low-key consultative approach. The campaign was labelled as being elitist, and was generally regarded as having backfired on Rowling. [10] The November election was a major defeat for the Labour Party, and Rowling was unable to retain the premiership.

Leader of the Opposition

During the late 1970s, Rowling alienated Māori by removing Matiu Rata, the party's effective and well-regarded Māori Affairs spokesman, from the Opposition front bench. Earlier, Rowling had replaced Rata with himself as convenor of Labour's Māori Affairs Committee. Rata complained about the insensitivity of Labour's Māori policy [10] and went on to form his own party, Mana Motuhake, a precursor to the Māori Party.

His approach to the Moyle and O'Brien 'affairs' was regarded as heavy-handed and unnecessary in many circles. In regards to the 'Moyle affair', in which Labour MP Colin Moyle was accused of having a homosexual affair, "it was Rowling who insisted that his close friend, Colin Moyle, must resign". [10] Large numbers protested at the 1977 Labour Party Conference; many in the LGBT community never forgave him. [11]

Rowling, however, managed to retain the party leadership, and gradually managed to improve public perceptions of him. In the 1978 and 1981 elections, Labour actually secured more votes than the National Party but failed to gain a majority of seats. [12]

While Rowling had largely managed to undo his negative image, many people in the Labour Party nevertheless believed that it was time for a change. In 1983 Rowling was replaced as leader by the charismatic David Lange, who went on to defeat Muldoon in the 1984 election. Rowling retired from parliament at the same election.

Later life and death

After leaving politics, Rowling was appointed Ambassador to the United States, serving from 1985 to 1988. He held that position when the issue of nuclear weapons and ANZUS flared up between the United States and New Zealand, and he travelled extensively across the country explaining the policy. [13]

Later, after returning to New Zealand, Rowling became highly involved in a number of community organizations and trusts. He also played a prominent role at the Museum of New Zealand, and is considered to have been the "driving force" behind the eventual establishment of Te Papa. [1]

Rowling died of cancer in Nelson on 31 October 1995. [13]

Personal life

Rowling married Glen Reeves in 1951. The couple lost their second child when she was five months old in 1957; another daughter, Kim, committed suicide at the age of 18. [14] Rowling was a practising Anglican. [1]


Honours that Rowling received include being made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the 1983 Queen's Birthday Honours, [15] an honorary law doctorate from the University of Canterbury in 1987, [16] and being made a Commander in the Orde van Oranje – Nassau (Netherlands). [13]


  1. 1 2 3 Henderson, John. "Rowling, Wallace Edward". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  2. Grant 2014, pp. 196.
  3. Henderson, John (2010). "Rowling, Wallace Edward – Finance minister". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  4. Auckland Star 5 September 1974 p11
  5. "Prime Minister Appointed" (6 September 1974) 87 New Zealand Gazette 1899.
  6. "Ministers Appointed" (10 September 1974) 88 New Zealand Gazette 1901.
  7. "Special Honours List" (26 September 1974) 93 New Zealand Gazette 2047.
  8. Grant 2014, pp. 420.
  9. Henderson, John (2010). "Rowling, Wallace Edward – Prime minister". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  10. 1 2 3 Rowling: The man and the myth by John Henderson, Australia New Zealand Press, 1980.
  11. see Henderson, p. 167 for more on Gerald O'Brien and the O'Brien 'affair'
  12. Henderson, John (2010). "Rowling, Wallace Edward – Opposition and after". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  13. 1 2 3 OBITUARY: Sir Wallace Rowling, The Independent , 1 November 1995.
  14. Barber, David. "OBITUARY: Sir Wallace Rowling". The Independent. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  15. "No. 49376". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 1983. p. 33.
  16. "Honorary Graduates" (PDF). University of Canterbury. p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2015. Retrieved 20 June 2015.

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New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Jerry Skinner
Member of Parliament for Buller
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Tasman
Succeeded by
Ken Shirley
Political offices
Preceded by
Norman Kirk
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Robert Muldoon
Preceded by
Robert Muldoon
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Bob Tizard
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
David Lange
Party political offices
Preceded by
Norman Douglas
President of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Charles Bennett
Preceded by
Norman Kirk
Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
David Lange
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Lance Adams-Schneider
Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
Tim Francis