Hugh Watt

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Hugh Watt

Hugh Watt.jpg
5th Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
8 December 1972 1 September 1974
Prime Minister Norman Kirk
Preceded by Robert Muldoon
Succeeded by Bob Tizard
Constituency Onehunga
Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
1 September 1974 6 September 1974
Preceded by Norman Kirk
Succeeded by Bill Rowling
Personal details
Born(1912-03-19)19 March 1912
Perth, Western Australia
Died4 February 1980(1980-02-04) (aged 67)
Auckland, New Zealand
Political party Labour
Spouse(s)(1) Alice Merry Fowke (m. 1935; div 1965)
(2) Irene Frances Watt

Hugh Watt PC (19 March 1912 – 4 February 1980) was a Labour member of Parliament and briefly the Acting Prime Minister of New Zealand between 1 and 6 September 1974, following the death of Prime Minister Norman Kirk. He had been Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand since 8 December 1972. Watt later served as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.


Early life

Watt was Australian-born, like Labour Party founders such as Harry Holland, Michael Joseph Savage, Bob Semple and Paddy Webb and later MPs such as Mabel Howard and Jerry Skinner. He was born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1912, but emigrated to New Zealand with his family when he was a child. He attended Seddon Memorial Technical College, where he studied engineering, and established his own engineering business in 1947. [1]

Political career

New Zealand Parliament
1953 1954 30th Onehunga Labour
1954 1957 31st Onehunga Labour
1957 1960 32nd Onehunga Labour
1960 1963 33rd Onehunga Labour
1963 1966 34th Onehunga Labour
1966 1969 35th Onehunga Labour
1969 1972 36th Onehunga Labour
1972 1975 37th Onehunga Labour

He stood unsuccessfully for Labour in Remuera in 1949 and in Parnell in 1951. [2] He then won Onehunga in a 1953 by-election after the death of Arthur Osborne, and held it to 1975. [3]

Watt was first appointed as a minister in the Second Labour Government led by Walter Nash; he was Minister of Works (1957–1960) and Minister of Electricity (1958–1960). [4] During the Third Labour Government, in the ministry led by Norman Kirk, he was Minister of Labour (1972–1974) and Minister of Works and Development (1972–1974). [5]

Following Kirk's sudden death on 31 August 1974 the government was left with a leadership vacancy. Watt, who was then serving as Deputy Prime Minister, acted as prime minister for six days before a new leader was elected. On 6 September, Bill Rowling replaced Kirk as Labour Party Leader and Prime Minister. The party's National Executive and the Federation of Labour had preferred Watt. [6] Many in the parliamentary party, however, felt at 61 he was too old and that Labour needed a younger leader. [7] In the Rowling ministry, Watt retained the Works and Development portfolio, and was additionally appointed to the Executive Council without portfolio. [8]

Watt was appointed New Zealand's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom effective from 22 March 1975 for three years. Controversially, he stayed on as a member of Parliament and Cabinet minister. [9] In June 1975, Watt was asked if he was about to resign as an MP. He stated that:

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." [10]

Watt resigned at the 1975 general election in favour of Frank Rogers. [3]


He died in 1980 in Auckland's Greenlane Hospital. [11]

He had married twice, and was survived by his two wives, two sons and two daughters.


  1. "Hugh Watt — politician of the people". New Zealand Herald. 6 February 1980. p. 14.
  2. Norton 1988, pp. 314, 331.
  3. 1 2 Wilson 1985, p. 244.
  4. Wilson 1985, p. 88.
  5. Wilson 1985, p. 92.
  6. Auckland Star 5 September 1974 p11
  7. Henderson 1981, p. 104-5.
  8. Wilson 1985, p. 93.
  9. Hay, John (22 February 1975). "New Zealand: Island unties apron strings". The Montreal Gazette . Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  10. The Evening Post 13 June 1975
  11. "Mr Rowling pays tribute to 'gentleman Hugh Watt'". New Zealand Herald. 6 February 1980. p. 3.


New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Arthur Osborne
Member of Parliament for Onehunga
Succeeded by
Frank Rogers
Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Muldoon
Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Bob Tizard
Party political offices
Preceded by
Fred Hackett
Deputy-Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Bob Tizard
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Terry McCombs
High Commissioner of New Zealand to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
Douglas Carter