Michael Joseph Savage

(1872—1940) trade unionist and prime minister of New Zealand

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(b. 23 Mar. 1872, d. 27 Mar. 1940).

Prime Minister of New Zealand 1935–40

Early career

Born in Rothesay (Australia) of Irish immigrant parents, he became active in the Australian Labor movement when he worked as a gold miner from 1900. Attracted in part by Seddon's social legislation, he emigrated to New Zealand in 1907 and began work in a brewery. He became active in the trade union movement and in 1916 joined the Labour Party upon its foundation. He became national secretary of the party in 1919, and won the elections to become a Member of Parliament later that year. He was deputy leader of his party from 1923, and leader from 1933, following the death of Holland.

In office

His pragmatic image, underlined by his straightforward character, led the party to a landslide victory in the 1935 elections. As Prime Minister, he also took over the portfolios of external affairs, native affairs, and broadcasting. With increasing expertise in public relations, he became a skilful manipulator of the media, and introduced radio broadcasts into parliament in 1936. He accepted the need for armaments, and firmly supported Britain at the outbreak of World War II. At home, in 1938 he created the welfare state whose structures and principles persisted in New Zealand until the 1980s. It provided medical and hospital benefits, unemployment and sickness benefits, and improved provisions for orphans and the elderly. Education became free and universal, while the provision of low-cost loans enabled vast numbers to become homeowners. He was re-elected in 1938, but in 1939 became too ill to govern effectively. He died in office and was succeeded by Fraser.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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