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Friday, 6 March 2015

Re-writing Rob Muldoon

I've recently been re-writing the Wikipedia article on Rob Muldoon. It had been in bad shape for some time, with gradual and random additions being made, so I thought it was time to give Muldoon a fair hearing, an article written from a "Neutral Point of View" in Wikispeak. It became even more relevant with the recent passing of Dame Thea Muldoon, the former Prime Minister's late wife, the other week.

Muldoon was a complex character to say the least. I think the most accurate description of him came from his biographer Barry Gustafson who said he was an "enigma", and remains either the most hated or loved Prime Minister in New Zealand history. No-one else seems to have been as polarising or manipulative. To me, Muldoon was genuine in his intentions to make sure New Zealand was "no worse off than when I found it", in the 1960s. That explains his attitudes to a lot of things, he was essentially stuck in the 1960s and carried forward policy from there into the mid-1980s.

A number of things though were re-emphasised to me during the re-writing process:
  • The wage and price freeze, which caused so much damage to New Zealand's economy, was a last ditch attempt by Muldoon to flight rapid inflation. His original plan was an accord with the trade unions for tax cuts for workers in exchange for lower wage demands (essentially what Bob Hawke did in Australia from 1983, which worked very well). However, the plan faltered on Muldoon's poor relationship with Jim Knox, who took over from Tom Skinner (who Muldoon clashed with, but had been able to work with). Had Muldoon got on with Knox, or Skinner stayed on past 1979, New Zealand would be a very different place.
  • There was an acknowledgement by Muldoon of the need to deregulate the economy as early as 1978, and plans to do so. In my view had this happened much of New Zealand would've been spared the pain that reform from 1984 inevitably wrought. However, a recession and the 1979 oil crisis put paid to that.
  • Muldoon's style of leadership - to dominate the key portfolios - was very reminiscent of Richard Seddon. However by holding both the premiership and Minister of Finance portfolios, Muldoon clearly had far too much power and control, that combined with his bullying personality created a major currency crisis, that could have been averted had he acted sooner.
 And now's there's a dispute over the name of the article... sigh.