Hugh Watt

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If I were to resign now as a Member of Parliament [for Onehunga] it would mean that I would lose my Cabinet status and the unique position that I have as High Commissioner with Executive Council rank that gives me access to British Government Ministers." [21]

Upon arriving in London he encountered low staff morale due to a recent workplace restructuring. Watt made it a priority to boost confidence with employees by going out of his way to engage with people in person, gather groups to make decisions collectively and by attending all the staff training sessions himself. He was also shocked at how high a workload the post of high commissioner had, finding himself doing almost the same amount of work as he was when he was a minister. He also worked to advocate for New Zealand's trade interests in Britain, which were severely impacted by Britain's joining the European Communities (EC). During the British referendum (held to gauge support for continued EC membership) Watt was invited to speak at about 100 different gatherings during this period. When discussing the topic with Londoners he found there was still much demand for New Zealand products particularly lamb and butter. [22]

Following the election of the Third National Government Watt was pressured to resign by new Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, it was widely speculated that his recall was purely for political reasons. [10] In the midst of the dispute he warmly welcomed Brian Talboys, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to London reinforcing his considerate, genial reputation. During his brief time at the High Commission he did a great deal to boost the morale of the staff and a senior official there told media that "His [Watt's] politics and mine do not coincide, but that has nothing to do with the job. He is one of the best high commissioners we have had here for many years". [23] His most important diplomatic task while in London was relaying to Wellington the seriousness of New Zealand's 1976 rugby tour of South Africa and its potential impact on New Zealand's participation in the upcoming Olympic Games in Montreal. His confidential cables cautioned that the All Black tour was perceived abroad as giving tacit support to the apartheid regime in South Africa. [24]

He served only fifteen months of his three-year contract and as part of a well publicised deal he relinquished the role of High Commissioner in exchange for the role of Commissioner of the Accident Compensation Corporation in Wellington. He was replaced by Douglas Carter (a recently retired National MP) which served to strengthen the public perception that his removal was politically motivated. Upon his return to New Zealand over 300 people attended a function supporting Watt after his treatment by the new government. [3]

Later life and death

In late 1977, after witnessing the Moyle Affair and generally depreciating state of politics under Muldoon, Watt put himself forward as a nominee for Onehunga once again stating that he felt that a man of his experience could guide MPs in conduct. Watt had intended to win the nomination again and only serve one term, using the time to lay the groundwork for Mike Moore, his friend and former MP for Eden, to succeed him. [25] Watt had previously encouraged Moore to seek the Onehunga nomination when he retired in 1975, even offering to return from London to campaign on his behalf, but Moore declined. [26] Watt later withdrew his nomination. [3] In December 1979 he was made a life member of the Labour Party. [27]

Watt died on 4 February 1980 in Auckland's Greenlane Hospital after a long illness, aged 67 years. He was survived by his wife, ex-wife and four children. [1]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Watt – disappointment was part of his politics". Auckland Star . 5 February 1980. p. 3.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Leigh, Jack (27 November 1972). "The man who is happy to be deputy". Auckland Star .
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Hugh Watt — Politician of the People". The New Zealand Herald . 6 February 1980. p. 14.
  4. 1 2 3 Traue 1978, p. 283.
  5. "Mr Watt Will Hand Over to New Director". The New Zealand Herald . 4 September 1962. p. 3.
  6. "Personal Items". The Press . Vol. XCVI, no. 28463. 18 December 1957. p. 14.
  7. Norton 1988, pp. 314, 331.
  8. 1 2 Wilson 1985, p. 244.
  9. Wilson 1985, p. 88.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 "Mr Rowling pays tribute to 'gentleman Hugh Watt'". The New Zealand Herald . 6 February 1980. p. 3.
  11. "Labour Party Elects Deputy Leader". The Evening Post . 7 June 1962. p. 15.
  12. "Labour Party Makes Its Choice – Mr Watt New Deputy Leader". The Evening Post . 30 April 1963.
  13. "Life will be in danger". The Canberra Times . 12 January 1967. p. 12.
  14. Hayward 1981, pp. 1–2.
  15. Wilson 1985, p. 92.
  16. "Caucus Will Choose New Leader". The New Zealand Herald . 2 September 1974. p. 1.
  17. "Solid weight for Watt but Rowling in?". Auckland Star . 5 September 1974. p. 1.
  18. Henderson 1981, p. 104-5.
  19. Wilson 1985, p. 93.
  20. Hay, John (22 February 1975). "New Zealand: Island unties apron strings". The Montreal Gazette . Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  21. Cooper, C.S. (13 June 1975). "Speculation on Commissioner Seems Off Mark". The Evening Post . p. 1.
  22. Bradwell, Judy (17 May 1976). "He's returning a sad and disappointed man". Auckland Star . p. 25.
  23. Ross, John (14 May 1976). "Sad Mr Watt to Leave London Job Uncompleted". The New Zealand Herald . p. 12.
  24. "On your marks, set, go home NZ". Sunday Star-Times . 21 August 2016. p. A9.
  25. Parussini 2020, p. 86.
  26. Parussini 2020, pp. 69–70.
  27. "Honour for Mr Watt". The New Zealand Herald . 20 December 1979. p. 1.

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Hugh Watt
Hugh Watt, 1951 (1).jpg
Watt in 1951
Acting Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
31 August 1974 6 September 1974
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Onehunga
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Prime Minister of New Zealand

Succeeded by
Preceded by Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Labour
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Works


Succeeded by
Preceded bySucceeded by
Preceded bySucceeded by
Minister of Electricity
Party political offices
Preceded by Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by High Commissioner of New Zealand to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by