Jim Bolger

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The Right Honourable
Jim Bolger
ONZ
Jim Bolger at press conference retouched.jpg
Bolger at a foundation of KiwiRail press conference, July 2008
35th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
2 November 1990 – 8 December 1997
Monarch Elizabeth II
Deputy Don McKinnon (1990–96)
Winston Peters (1996–97)
Governor-General Paul Reeves
Catherine Tizard
Michael Hardie Boys
Preceded by Mike Moore
Succeeded by Jenny Shipley
25th Leader of the Opposition
In office
26 March 1986 – 2 November 1990
Deputy George Gair
Preceded by Jim McLay
Succeeded by Mike Moore
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for King Country
Taranaki-King Country (1996–1998)
In office
1972–1998
Succeeded by Shane Ardern
Personal details
Born James Brendan Bolger
(1935-05-31) 31 May 1935 (age 83)
Opunake, Taranaki, New Zealand
Political party National
Spouse(s)
Joan Maureen Riddell (m. 1963)
Children 9
Parents Daniel Bolger
Cecilia Doyle
Profession Politician, businessman

James Brendan Bolger ONZ PC (/ˈbʌlər/ BUL-jər; born 31 May 1935) is a New Zealand politician of the National Party who was the 35th Prime Minister of New Zealand, serving from 1990 to 1997.

Bolger was born to an Irish immigrant family in Opunake, Taranaki. Before entering politics, he farmed in the Waikato and was involved in Federated Farmers, a nationwide agricultural association. Bolger won election to Parliament in 1972, and subsequently served in several portfolios in the Third National Government. Following one unsuccessful bid for the party leadership in 1984, Bolger was elected as National Party leader in 1986. He served as Leader of the Opposition from 1986 to 1990.

Bolger led the National Party to a landslide victory—the largest in its history—in the 1990 election, allowing him to become Prime Minister on 2 November 1990. The Fourth National Government was elected on the promise of delivering a "Decent Society" following the previous Labour government's economic reforms, known as Rogernomics. However, shortly after taking office, his government was forced to bail out the Bank of New Zealand and as a result reneged on a number of promises made during the election campaign. Bolger's government essentially advanced the free-market reforms of the previous government, while implementing drastic cuts in public spending. National retained power in the 1993 election, albeit with a much-reduced majority.

Bolger's second term in office saw the introduction of the MMP electoral system in 1996. In the subsequent 1996 election National emerged as the largest party but it was forced to enter into a coalition with New Zealand First. Bolger continued as Prime Minister, however his critics argued that he gave the inexperienced NZ First too much influence in his Cabinet. On 8 December 1997, Bolger was effectively ousted as leader by his party caucus, and was replaced as Prime Minister by Jenny Shipley.

After resigning as a Member of Parliament in 1998, Bolger became Ambassador to the United States and remained in this post until 2002.

Early life

Bolger was born in 1935 in Opunake in Taranaki. He was born into an Irish Catholic family; Bolger was one of five children[1] born to Daniel and Cecilia (née Doyle) Bolger[2] who emigrated together from Gorey, County Wexford, in 1930. He left Opunake High School at age 15 to work on the family dairy farm.[3]

In 1963 he married Joan Riddell, and they moved to their own sheep and beef farm in Te Kuiti two years later.[1] During this time Bolger became involved in local farmer politics. In the late 1960s he was asked to accompany the then Minister of Finance Robert Muldoon to see for himself the difficulties faced by farmers in the area. As Bolger travelled around the district, he became experienced with Muldoon's adversarial style.[1]

Political career

Member of Parliament

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate List Party
1972–1975 37th King Country National
1975–1978 38th King Country National
1978–1981 39th King Country National
1981–1984 40th King Country National
1984–1987 41st King Country National
1987–1990 42nd King Country National
1990–1993 43rd King Country National
1993–1996 44th King Country National
1996–1998 45th Taranaki-King Country 1 National

Bolger entered politics in 1972 as the New Zealand National Party Member of Parliament for King Country, a newly created electorate in the rural western portion of North Island. This electorate is traditional National territory, and Bolger won easily. He represented this electorate, renamed Taranaki-King Country in 1996, until his retirement in 1998. In 1975 he was made a cabinet minister under Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, first as New Zealand's Minister of Fisheries and Associate Minister of Agriculture (1977), later as Minister of Labour following the 1978 election.[4]

After the defeat of National at the 1984 general elections, Bolger and deputy leader Jim McLay challenged Muldoon for the leadership of the party. McLay succeeded and named Bolger as deputy leader (and hence Deputy Leader of the Opposition). However, in 1986 Bolger successfully challenged McLay's leadership. Initially Bolger pursued a pro law and order approach, with a focus on critiquing Labour's perceived reluctance to combat "lawlessness" and offering a referendum on the reintroduction of capital punishment. [5] Following an unsuccessful election in 1987, National under Bolger capitalised on public anger at the Labour government's neoliberal reforms (Rogernomics) to win National's biggest ever majority in 1990. As a result, Bolger became Prime Minister at the age of 55.[6]

Prime Minister

Bolger in 1992

Three days after being sworn in as Prime Minister, Bolger's government needed to bail out the Bank of New Zealand, then the largest bank in the country. The cost of the bail out was $380 million, but after rewriting its budget, the government needed to borrow $740 million.[7] This had an immediate impact on Bolger's direction in government, with the first budget of his premiership being dubbed the "Mother of All Budgets".[8] Bolger's Finance Minister, Ruth Richardson, implemented drastic cuts in public spending, particularly in health and welfare. The first budget specifically reversed National's election promise to remove the tax surcharge on superannuation.[8]

The economic reforms, dubbed "Ruthanasia", proved massively unpopular with National's traditional voter base. As a result, the government came extremely close to losing the 1993 general election. Following the close of the election Bolger demoted Richardson to the back benches and appointed Bill Birch, who was seen as more moderate. During Birch's tenure, spending on core areas such as health[9] and education increased. His government passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act 1994. His government also introduced the Building Act 1991, which is seen by some as the most crucial factor leading to the leaky homes crisis in the decade following its introduction.[10] Bolger's government passed the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act 1992. In 1993, Bolger was awarded the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal.[11] During the 1994 Address-in-Reply debate, Bolger argued in favour of a New Zealand republic. Bolger denied that his views related to his Irish heritage.[12]

Proposals to end the status of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the country's highest court of appeal failed to gain parliamentary sanction during Bolger's premiership (however Helen Clark's Fifth Labour Government would replace the right of appeal in 2003 when it set up the Supreme Court of New Zealand). Bolger's government ended the awarding of British honours in 1996, introducing a New Zealand Honours System. At a conference on the "Bolger years" in 2007, Bolger recalled speaking to the Queen about the issue of New Zealand becoming a republic: "I have more than once spoken with Her Majesty about my view that New Zealand would at some point elect its own Head of State, we discussed the matter in a most sensible way and she was in no way surprised or alarmed and neither did she cut my head off."[13]

Electoral reform and MMP politics

Bolger opposed electoral reform,[6] but despite his party's opposition held a referendum on whether or not New Zealand should change from the British-style electoral system of 'first past the post' to one of proportional representation. In 1992, New Zealanders voted to change to the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. This was confirmed in a binding referendum held at the same time as the 1993 general election, which National won. Bolger had originally proposed a return to a bicameral system, with a Senate elected by Single Transferable Vote,[6] but this proposal was dropped in the face of support for electoral reform.[citation needed]

In 1996 New Zealand had its first election under MMP. Bolger's government stayed in office in a caretaker role while negotiations began for a coalition government. Although National remained the largest single party, neither Bolger nor Labour leader Helen Clark could form a government on their own. The balance of power in the new House rested with New Zealand First, a party that had only been formed three years earlier. Its leader, Winston Peters, had left the National Party to form his own party, and opposed many of the free-market reforms implemented by National, and Labour before it.

Ultimately, in December, Peters decided to go into coalition with National. Bolger had to pay a very high price in order to stay in power, however. As part of a detailed coalition agreement, Peters became Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer (senior to the existing post of Finance Minister, which was retained by Birch). Although Bolger had previously sacked Peters from a National cabinet, the two initially seemed to work well together.

Resignation

Jenny Shipley mounted a coup against Bolger in December 1997

Growing opposition to Bolger's slow pace led Transport Minister Jenny Shipley to stage a caucus room coup in 1997. Bolger was out of the country at the time, and when he returned he found that he did not have enough support in his caucus to remain as party leader and prime minister. Rather than face being voted out, he resigned on 8 December, and Shipley became New Zealand's first woman prime minister. As a concession, Bolger was made a junior minister in Shipley's government.[14]

Bolger remains National's second-longest-serving leader. Retiring politician journalist Peter Luke said that Bolger was "[t]he most under-estimated prime minister I have come across. He made up for his lack of education by having an innate ability to relate to the aspirations of ordinary Kiwis. And, as many civil servants discovered to their cost, his image of being a simple King Country farmer did not mean that he would not understand their reports and unfailingly point to the flaws in them."[15]

Life after politics

Bolger presides over a student's graduation at the University of Waikato, 2008

Bolger retired as MP for Taranaki-King Country in 1998, prompting the 1998 by-election and subsequently became New Zealand's Ambassador to the United States.[14] On his return to New Zealand in 2001, he was appointed[by whom?] Chairman of the state-owned New Zealand Post and of its subsidiary Kiwibank. He also chairs Express Couriers Ltd, Trustees Executors Ltd, the Gas Industry Company Ltd, the Advisory Board of the World Agricultural Forum, St. Louis, USA, the New Zealand United States Council, and the Board of Directors of the Ian Axford Fellowships in Public Policy.[14]

Bolger became a member of the Order of New Zealand in December 1997.[16] Bolger was elected Chancellor of the University of Waikato on 14 February 2007, succeeding John Jackman.[17]

On 1 July 2008, almost 15 years after his National government sold New Zealand Rail Ltd, the Labour-led government repurchased its successor Toll NZ Ltd (less its Tranz Link trucking and distribution arm), having repurchased the track network in 2003. Bolger became chair of the company, renamed KiwiRail, a position he held until 1 July 2010. Some people,[quantify] including Winston Peters, view this as hypocritical. In response, Bolger acknowledged his involvement in privatising New Zealand Rail, remarking that "my life is full of ironies."[18]

On 5 June 2018 Bolger was announced as the head of a government employment working group, tasked with reporting back with a review on the design of Fair Pay Agreements by the end of the year.[19]

Personal life

Bolger and his wife Joan are Roman Catholics. The couple has nine children. Bolger voted pro-life whenever the issue came up in a parliamentary conscience vote. He is a member of Collegium International.[20]

Some have made reference to Jim Bolger – ironically or affectionately – as the "Great Helmsman".[21][22]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Richard Wolfe, Battlers Bluffers & Bully Boys, Random House New Zealand, ISBN 1-86941-715-1
  2. ^ Enniscorthy Guardian (April 2006). "Craanford native, Cecilia (104) passes away in New Zealand".
  3. ^ Michael Bassett (December 1997). "Jim Bolger biography". Archived from the original on 22 April 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2007.
  4. ^ "Rt Hon Jim Bolger". New Zealand Government. Archived from the original on 22 April 2012. Retrieved 6 October 2009.
  5. ^ Pratt, John; Treacher, Phillip (December 1988). "Law and Order and the 1987 New Zealand Election". Aust & NZ Journal of Criminology. 21 (4): 253–254. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  6. ^ a b c "NZ History online: Biographies – Jim Bolger". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 22 August 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  7. ^ Reuters (6 November 1990). "New Zealand Bank Bailout". New York Times. Retrieved 22 December 2008.
  8. ^ a b "A Summary Of Some Major Budgets From The Past". NZPA. 24 May 2009.
  9. ^ "Health Expenditure Trends in New Zealand 1990–2001" (PDF). 2001. [permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Rudman, Brian (18 September 2009). "Brian Rudman: Government must plug those leaks". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  11. ^ "The New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal 1993 – register of recipients". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 26 July 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  12. ^ Jim Bolger (1998). Bolger: A view from the top – my seven years as Prime Minister. Viking. ISBN 0-670-88369-7.
  13. ^ Maggie Tait (27 April 2007). "Bolger told Queen monarchy's time numbered". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 27 April 2007.
  14. ^ a b c "Rt Hon. James Bolger Bio". New Zealand Council. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  15. ^ Peter Luke (14 September 2011). "Finding truth in shades of grey". The Press. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
  16. ^ "Current Members of the Order of New Zealand". The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  17. ^ "The University of Waikato Annual Report 2007" (PDF). University of Waikato.
  18. ^ Young, Audrey (2 July 2008). "Govt: We paid top dollar for rail". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  19. ^ Watkins, Tracey; Kirk, Stacey (5 June 2018). "Workplace shake up in Government's sights - Jim Bolger to lead pay working group". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  20. ^ "Members". Collegium International. Archived from the original on 22 September 2008. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  21. ^ Boston, Jonathan; Levine, Stephen; McLeay, Elizabeth; Roberts, Nigel S., eds. (1996). "4: The changing party system". New Zealand Under MMP: A New Politics?. Auckland: Auckland University Press. p. 56. ISBN 9781869401382. Retrieved 2016-12-28. Just as Norway's Prime minister is a popular and respected figure, widely seen as a fit leader for her country, so can Jim Bolger lay claim to a similar role. The Prime Minister has relished the challenge of the transition to PR in New Zealand, basking in his role as the 'Great Helmsman'.
  22. ^ Harper, D. L.; Malcolm, Gerard (1991). Surviving the Change: How Firms Adjusted to the New Environment. Research monograph. 56. New Zealand Institute of Economic Research. p. 316. Retrieved 2016-12-28. The key [...] was a steady hand on the tiller with 'the great helmsman' Jim Bolger [...].

External links

  • Prime Minister’s Office Biography
Government offices
Preceded by
Mike Moore
Prime Minister of New Zealand
1990–1997
Succeeded by
Jenny Shipley
Political offices
Preceded by
Jim McLay
Leader of the Opposition
1986–1990
Succeeded by
Mike Moore
New Zealand Parliament
New constituency Member of Parliament for King Country
1972–1996
Constituency abolished
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jim McLay
Leader of the National Party
1986–1997
Succeeded by
Jenny Shipley
Deputy Leader of the National Party
1984–1986
Succeeded by
George Gair
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
John Wood
Ambassador to the United States
1998–2002
Succeeded by
John Wood
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