David Beattie

Last updated
The Honourable
Sir David Stuart Beattie
14th Governor-General of New Zealand
In office
6 November 1980 10 November 1985
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Robert Muldoon (1980–1984)
David Lange (1984–1985)
Preceded by Sir Keith Holyoake
Succeeded by Sir Paul Reeves
Personal details
Born(1924-02-29)29 February 1924
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Died 4 February 2001(2001-02-04) (aged 76)
Upper Hutt, New Zealand
Nationality Australian and New Zealand
Spouse(s) Norma Margaret Sarah Macdonald
Profession Judge

Sir David Stuart Beattie GCMG GCVO QSO KStJ QC (29 February 1924 – 4 February 2001) was an Australian-born New Zealand judge who served as the 14th Governor-General of New Zealand, from 1980 to 1985. During the 1984 constitutional crisis, Beattie was nearly forced to dismiss the sitting Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon.


Early life

Born in Sydney on 29 February 1924, he was brought up by his mother in Takapuna. He went to Dilworth School in Auckland.

In 1941, at age 17, he joined the army during World War II, and rose to the rank of sergeant before transferring to the Naval Volunteer Reserve as a Sub-Lieutenant.

Judge of the Supreme Court

After the war, he gained a law degree at the University of Auckland in 1948 before setting up in private practice. In 1969 Beattie was appointed as a Supreme Court [1] judge (the old name for the High Court, not to be confused with the new final court of appeal, the Supreme Court of New Zealand), serving on the bench until 1980. [2]

He was heavily involved in sports administration, serving as New Zealand Olympic Committee president for 11 years. He was president of the Olympic and Commonwealth Games Association in 1989 and was president of the Sports Foundation twice. His work was recognized with the award of the Olympic Order. He was also patron of the New Zealand Rugby Union, the New Zealand Boxing Association, the New Zealand Squash Rackets Association, and the legion of Frontiersmen (NZ) Command. He was a keen golfer, tennis player and fisherman.


On 1 August 1980 Beattie was appointed as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George and was granted the right to retain the title of The Honourable for life. [3] One of the roles of Governor-General is to act as Grand Prior of New Zealand, and Beattie was appointed as a Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem [4] just prior to assuming the office of Governor-General. He was appointed as Governor-General by Queen Elizabeth II on the advice of her New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, his term of office beginning on 6 November 1980 [5] [6] and continuing until 10 November 1985. [7] On resignation from office, both Sir David and Lady Beattie were appointed as Companions of the Queen's Service Order. Sir David was recognised for his Public Services and Lady Beattie for Community Service. [8]


At the height of the Springbok tour of 1981, Beattie met a delegation from Halt All Racist Tours. Beattie promised to discuss their issues with the Prime Minister Rob Muldoon. Beattie was ridiculed by supporters of the tour, and as a result, the Prime Minister refused to speak to the Governor-General about his meeting with HART. [9]

Beattie again caused controversy when he met with protesters trying to petition the Queen at the 1983 Waitangi Day celebrations, after the Prime Minister had blocked all petitions. As a result, Muldoon declared that Beattie's term would not be extended beyond the traditional five-year tenure. [9]

Beattie's final controversial move was to import two Mercedes-Benz cars at the end of his term in 1985. At the time the Governor-General was exempt from paying taxes and thus exempt from paying import tariffs on cars as well. The tax benefit to Beattie was $85,000.00. [9]

Constitutional Crisis

Following the 1984 general election, a political crisis arose. Muldoon declined to follow the instructions of the incoming Prime Minister, David Lange, as he was constitutionally required to do. [10] At the time, many felt that Muldoon should accede to Lange's demands. It has been stated that Beattie suggested to senior members of the National Party that he could dismiss Muldoon and appoint his deputy, Jim McLay, as Prime Minister before swearing in David Lange as Prime Minister (McLay was to replace Muldoon as leader later that year). However, such action proved unnecessary as Muldoon's cabinet threatened to remove him as leader themselves if he did not accept Lange's instructions. [11]

The crisis led to an inquiry which recommended passing the Constitution Act 1986.

Beattie died in Upper Hutt in February 2001. Norma, Lady Beattie, died on 9 May 2018. [12]



  1. "Appointment of Members of Rules Committee" (17 April 1969) 23 New Zealand Gazette 735.
  2. "Resignation of Judges of the High Court" (16 Oct 1980) 122 New Zealand Gazette 3063.
  3. "Honours and Awards" (31 July 1980) 90 New Zealand Gazette 2323.
  4. "No. 48456". The London Gazette . 18 December 1980. p. 17522.
  5. "Commission Appointing the Honourable Sir David Stuart Beattie, G.C.M.G., Q.C., to be Governor- General and Commander-in-Chief of New Zealand" (6 November 1980) 130 New Zealand Gazette 3254.
  6. "Assumption of the Office of Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of New Zealand by the Honourable Sir David Smart Beattie, G.C.M.G., Q.C." (6 November 1980) 130 New Zealand Gazette 3253.
  7. "Revocation of the Commission Appointing the Honourable Sir David Stuart Beattie, G.C.M.C, G.C.V.O., Q.S.O., Q.C, to be Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of New Zealand" (8 November 1985) 207 New Zealand Gazette 4895
  8. "Honours and Awards" (7 November 1985) 206 New Zealand Gazette 4893
  9. 1 2 3 Gavin Mclean (October 2006), The Governors, New Zealand Governors and Governors-General, Otago University Press, p. 281
  10. Cabinet Office Cabinet Manual 2008 at [6.12]
  11. Television New Zealand (1994-07-10). "TVNZ On Demand – Frontline – Four days in June".
  12. "Norma Beattie death notice". New Zealand Herald. 11 May 2018. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Keith Holyoake
Governor-General of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Sir Paul Reeves