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Anderton: Tribute to David Lange and Rod Donald

Tribute to David Lange and Rod Donald Political
09 November 2005

Jim Anderton's Speeches



Madame Speaker

There is poignancy in the death of David Lange and Rod Donald since this House last met.

I worked closely with each of them at different times.

And I came to part ways with each of them too.

Both had a commitment to social justice.

Both held leadership positions in this House.

Both left things undone that they might have accomplished if fate had chosen differently.

That David Lange was possessed of colossal talents is indisputable.

I was sometimes thrilled by his talent and his wit, as were all who saw what he could do.

But there were times, too, when he frustrated and disappointed, when I felt he squandered the opportunity New Zealand had handed him.

I was President of the Labour Party when David Lange and his supporters attempted to replace Bill Rowling in 1980.

I continue to believe that had that leadership attempt not been made, New Zealand's modern history would have been vastly different.

Rob Muldoon's disastrous period of government probably would have been avoided.

A Rowling government would have begun to repair New Zealand in a caring and humane way.

The deep social damage and economic failure of the eighties need not have occurred.

David Lange would still have become Prime Minister eventually - perhaps not so soon.

And it would have been as a wiser leader who had served with Bill Rowling, who could have shaped a far less divisive government.

I firmly believe he might then have joined Seddon, Savage and Kirk in the first rank of revered leaders.

I was also Labour Party President when David Lange became Prime Minister.

I know David Lange harboured pain for the social scars his government inflicted.

He entered politics in the first place because he was motivated by social justice.

David Lange did care, though his awareness grew only slowly that the economic policies his government followed could not be reconciled with social justice.

Long after he left parliament he seemed to be struggling still to reconcile the two.

Knowing the history of the times as I do, it is incumbent to record the small irony that David Lange's name is now forever linked to New Zealand's nuclear policy.

Although he was a lifelong critic of nuclear weapons, he never felt the same conviction towards visits by nuclear powered ships.

There were dark policy debates within the Labour Party at the time.

I have little doubt that when Mr Lange met the US secretary of state George Shultz immediately after the election, he indicated that in some way a compromise could be worked out.

Bob Hawke certainly thought so.

It might not have been explicit, but it was there and that impression explains much of the difficult birth of the policy.

As the room for compromise disappeared, David Lange became the public champion of the policy.

There is some ironic justice in the fact that the policy remains perhaps the most important achievement of his government.

In my view, however, David Lange should not be remembered primarily for policy, nor for politics.

His gift for oratory was a treasure.

His lashing wit, his formidable intelligence and his sense of humour towered over his contemporaries.

There was one story about him hosting a dinner at Vogel House for the Chinese leader Hu Yao Bang, retold in the Dominion many years ago.

As the current occupant of that fine state house I want to recall the story, even though he despised the drive in from Vogel in the mornings and left to set up home at Premier House in Tinakori Rd.

At the dinner, the lights suddenly went out.

This was back in the days when the Electricity Department ran things and had a higher tolerance for brown-outs.

Mr Lange immediately asked all the guests to raise their hands.

He told them... 'many hands make light work.'

The guests duly put their hands up and the lights immediately came back on.

David Lange's light flashed over New Zealand.

It was unique and brilliant and like a lighthouse lamp it flicked off as well as on.

We can be grateful for the chance we had to experience his shining personality.


As with David Lange, I spent some time as a parliamentary colleague of Rod Donald before we went our separate ways.

I was the Alliance leader when he was first elected to Parliament.

He arrived with a flower pot to put on his desk.

He wanted to wear his braces and no tie in the debating chamber.

He brought his possum fur rug to cover his seat.

In a small way, these represented his enthusiasm for bringing freshness to parliament; a campaign that reached its zenith in his campaign for MMP.

He was a tireless advocate of democracy.

He was a tireless campaigner in everything he did.

Rod always held his temper in the political arena.

He was never a shouter or a whiner.

He was a cheerful, confident advocate.

In recent weeks many remarked that he displayed poise and character in what must have been a difficult time for his political ambition.

Rod fought four elections as a co-leader of the Greens, three of those when the Greens were outside the Alliance.

I always thought he might have made cabinet had the decision to break up the Alliance not been taken.

I suspect he knew that too in his heart, and the opportunity to promote some of his passions was lost.

It's often remarked that small parties pay a high price to enter a coalition.

But it is clear they also pay a high price in keeping open the option to stay on the sidelines.

There were many issues where Rod and I didn't agree in the last few years.

But we shared a belief that New Zealand should be a softer place.

His Green party colleagues and many supporters, who are grieving now, share that vision too.

If his legacy is a renewed commitment to making New Zealand a softer, caring society, a fairer place, then his contribution deserves to be lasting and honoured.

Rod died very young but dedicated himself over decades to thinking about the future New Zealand's children would inherit.

And now he has been taken at a shockingly young age from his own family.

My deepest sympathies go to his partner and his children.

We often overlook the heavy toll parliament and politics takes on families.

His family, as well as Rod himself, gave his many years of toil on behalf of New Zealanders,

For that we owe them our deep gratitude.

I put on the record my respect for his political passion and commitment and my deepest sympathies to his many friends and supporters who have lost a fine battler, a companion and a friend.


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