Norman Eric Kirk

(1923—1974) prime minister of New Zealand

Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

(b. 6 Jan. 1923, d. 31 Aug. 1974).

Prime Minister of New Zealand 1972–4Born in Waimate (Canterbury) as the son of a cabinet‐maker, he worked on the New Zealand railways, joined the Labour Party, and took part in local government, becoming Mayor of Kaiapoi (1953–7). He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1957, and in 1965 successfully challenged A. H. Nordmeyer to the leadership of the parliamentary party. He became leader of the Labour Party the following year and, after two defeats, led it to a landslide victory in December 1972. He lifted wage and price controls, which triggered inflation. The encouragement of immigration, which led to an influx of 100,000 people (1973–5) led to large demands for state social spending on schools and social‐security payouts. At the same time, state income was constrained through promises not to increase charges for state services such as the railways and the post office. This resulted in serious economic dislocations, which were aggravated further by the world recession which set in with the 1973 oil‐price shock. Kirk won strong applause for his condemnation of French nuclear tests in its Pacific territory of Mururoa, but became very unpopular when he banned the New Zealand rugby team from going to South Africa in opposition to apartheid. In foreign policy, he changed the course of previous governments by withdrawing from the Vietnam War and from SEATO, as well as recognizing the People's Republic of China. He died after a brief illness, and was succeeded by Wallace Rowling, who was defeated in the 1975 election.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.