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James Brendan Bolger

(b. 1935) New Zealand National Party statesman, Prime Minister 1990–7


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(b. 31 May 1935).

Prime Minister of New Zealand, 1990–7

Early career

Born in Taranaki as the son of Irish immigrants, he became a farmer. In 1972 Bolger became a Member of Parliament for the National Party, rising quickly to become parliamentary under‐secretary in 1975, and Minister of Fisheries and Associate Minister of Agriculture in 1977. In 1978, he held the portfolios of Labour and Immigration, in which position he liberalized the country's relatively rigid labour laws. After the National Party's election defeat in 1984, he became a prominent spokesperson for his party, and in 1986 he became chairman of the National Party and leader of the opposition. Following another election defeat against Lange's Labour Party, he shifted the party from its previous interventionist stance to one which endorsed the radical liberalization of the economy. Fostering an image of solid reliability (as against the charismatic Lange), he led his party to a landslide victory in the 1990 general elections, ruthlessly exploiting Labour's internal divisions.

In office

Arguing that the country could no longer afford its comprehensive welfare system, Bolger revolutionized social policy from universal to means‐tested assistance designed to benefit only the very poorest sections of society. Pensions were no longer automatically guaranteed, rents in state‐owned accommodation were raised to market levels, and expenditure on university education was drastically cut. He was re‐elected in 1993, albeit with a small majority, which enabled him to continue his reforms. At the same time, he tried very hard to come to an agreement with the Maoris about their land claims resulting from the Treaty of Waitangi. He struck a more populist note in his outspoken condemnation of the French resumption of nuclear testing at Mururoa in 1995. He was succeeded by Jenny Shipley, and in 1998 was appointed ambassador to Washington.

Subjects: Politics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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