That Seventies Show


JACINDA ARDERN HAILS her government as the most committed to delivering progressive change since the mid-1970s. In other words, since the Third Labour Government of Norman Kirk and Bill Rowling (1972-1975). Before assessing whether or not the Prime Minister’s claim is true, it is worth considering what on earth possessed her to make it. What would make the leader of this Labour caucus – so very different from the caucus Norman Kirk presided over in the heady days following the 1972 election – so eager to assert her government’s close kinship with the Labour Party of the early 1970s?

Part of the answer must surely lie in the deep political impression which the Third Labour Government left upon those who were there at the time. Among left-leaning Baby Boomers, in particular, Norman Kirk and his government still elicit strong emotions. After twelve long years of National Party rule, its palpable political energy jolted the country awake in a way that was entirely new to a generation which had almost given up on the idea that conventional politics could usher-in genuine change.

It makes sense for Labour’s campaign strategists to associate Ardern with Kirk. The Baby Boomers are conscientious voters. If they can be persuaded to see Jacinda as the re-incarnation of “Big Norm”, then those who remember the tragic fate of his government will want to do everything they can to ensure that hers does not share it. Kirk died in office, and Labour was thrown out after a single three-year term. Over the years, many members of the Baby Boom generation have asked themselves: How might New Zealand have fared if Kirk had lived and Labour had won a second term? Encouraging these voters to hope that, somehow, re-electing Jacinda will show them, isn’t a completely stupid idea.

The other, slightly scarier, explanation is that Jacinda and those around her actually believe they are presiding over a government every bit as progressive as Kirk’s and Rowling’s. With so few of her key advisers and most trusted colleagues being old enough to have experienced the Kirk years (such people would need to have been born around, or before, 1955, making them 60+) it will be difficult for them to grasp just how radical was the political disjuncture between the New Zealand that existed before 1972, and the New Zealand that came after.

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One of the reasons so many powerful forces combined to oust the Third Labour Government was because it was so obviously determined to move beyond progressive rhetoric and embrace progressive action. When assessing the behaviour of Jacinda and her team, it so often appears that they believe progressive rhetoric and progressive action are one and the same. That to say it, is to do it. If only politics were that simple!

If Jacinda’s coalition government really was the progressive equal of Kirk’s, then it would have behaved very differently in the 100 days following its formation. Kirk, like his counterpart across the Tasman, Gough Whitlam, wasted no time in announcing a complete withdrawal of troops from Vietnam; abolishing compulsory military training; and recognising the People’s Republic of China. These were all commitments he had made while in opposition, and he lost no time fulfilling them in government. The equivalent moves by Jacinda would have been to withdraw New Zealand from the Trans-Pacific Partnership; order an immediate halt to all oil and gas exploration; and repatriate immediately all New Zealand military personnel serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Jacinda’s supporters will, of course, object that two out of three ain’t bad. Except, her government’s oil and gas announcement is a post-dated cheque, not a decision with immediate effect. Similarly, with Iraq and Afghanistan. In deference to our “very, very, very good friends” New Zealand’s withdrawal has been staggered over three years. The less said about the TPPA (sorry, the CPTPPA!) the better.

And this, of course, is the fundamental difference between the Kirk/Rowling Government and Jacinda’s. Such decisions as the PM and her colleagues have made all tend toward the tentative, small steps of the preternaturally cautious. Entirely lacking is the bold, unequivocal gestures that distinguished the Third Labour Government. Kirk’s decision to send a frigate to the French nuclear testing ground at Mururoa. His cancellation of the 1973 Springbok Tour. Labour’s bold steps in public broadcasting. It’s economy-transforming superannuation scheme. Bill Rowling’s green-lighting of Matt Rata’s revolutionary Waitangi Tribunal. Kirk’s Government didn’t have to call itself “transformational” – it simply got on with the job of transforming New Zealand.

Perhaps the greatest contrast between these two governments, however, lies in the field of housing. The Third Labour Government’s record here is outstanding. In just three years many thousands of houses were constructed and/or financed by the state. The housing shortage, which loomed as the 70s began, was answered by Kirk and his ministers as emphatically as Michael Joseph Savage and John A. Lee responded to the housing crisis of the 1930s. The Kirk’s Government built houses for Kiwis. Jacinda’s has given them KiwiBuild – which is not quite the same thing.

In one respect, however, Jacinda’s government is comparable to Kirks. Not in the policy sense, but in terms of its heterogenous political composition. The Labour Party of the 1970s was a very broad church, encompassing everyone from rabid anti-communists, to American-style liberals, to avowed socialists. Jacinda’s coalition encompasses a very similar political assortment. From the social conservatives and economic radicals in NZ First, to the social liberals in Labour and the Greens. (Direct descendants of the ground-breaking Values Party which was also an artefact of 1972.)

And yet, even here, the comparison falters. Norman Kirk bestrode his party like a colossus. He kept a copy of Labour’s manifesto at his elbow in Cabinet meetings – and woe betide the minister who attempted to deviate from it. Jacinda does not command her government in anything like the same way. What she does is front it. Spectacularly well, it must be said, but only in the way that a ‘method’ actor is spectacularly good. She has the same instinct for the camera; the same ability to deliver her lines with gut-wrenching conviction.

Norman Kirk wrote his own.



  1. Apart from the personnel difference we were sovereign country in those days. We are no more.
    In a world where commerce is a global operation our government does not have the authority to usher in genuine change.
    The western nations have passed on their responsibility to manage the welfare of their people to the global government. But there is no global government. So governance responsibility resolves to those who run global commerce.
    Social justice is not a part of the objectives of commerce.
    Jacinda has a much more comprehensive revolution to implement than Kirk had.And she has given no indication that she understands what has to be done.
    D J S

    • I don’t think so. I think a government could easily tax and spend rather than borrow and spend. We know what borrow and spend does, it inflates every speculative instrument since Muldoon.

      • The western world is saturated with debt. Some countries it’s more public (government debt) , but all have huge private debt. NZ has one of the largest private debt per capita in the world.
        Taxing the rich is fine, they should pay more tax,(income tax not CGT), but if this is done without controlling the banking system (the control of which is not in government hands) so as to limit or reduce govt debt, private debt will increase instead. It’s like whipping a dead horse.
        D J S

        • @ DJS.
          “(the control of which is not in government hands) ”
          Then it fucking should be! Because we, the people, ARE the government and if we’re allowing a cadre of swine like foreign owned money retailers loose on us without constraint then fuck that!
          We, the people, WHO’S GOVERNMENT IT IS!, should run the banksters over with a big, hairy arsed, bi-turbo V8 state owned bank of our own. See how the foreign owned, polite mafioso banksters compete with a country by the people, for the people then we can watch as the Big Four wither and die. Now? Wouldn’t that be something?

          • Bashar al Assad has taken banking into his countries’ hands; and Muammar Gaddaffi had a try. Saddam Husain tied to sell his countries’ oil in Euros.
            Running your own banking system comes at a cost.
            D J S

            • The first labour govt made great progress in state banking including loan creating state owned institutions.

              Kirk proposed and implemented a superannuation scheme where your contributions were invested with the state was a bold move.

              The Bankers panicked and “communism” which is utter bullshit.

              The USA agency CIA took part in the next NZ election to ensure Muldoon got rid of the scheme.

        • Yeah but eventually the horse realizes that the energy it is expending won’t reach the destination because the destination never comes.

          This is where society is at the moment. Politicians since Ruthenasia have been claiming that tightening the belt will eventually trickle down into some sort of benefit to society. 40 years later we are still waiting on that delivery.

          This is where we are globally with the polarization between left and right. It doesn’t matter what it is, it could be a movie or a game or some hate speech violation, there’s always some left / right group that’s at that point of giving up, they just don’t give a fuck.

          So clearly the wealthy establishment requires saving from themselves. And again this is an argument for tax and spend. It’s the only way.

      • Sam, please read up about MMT. Spending is not dependent on taxation, and never was. But then, this is just one more failing of this neoliberal Government of St. Jacinda of the Photoshoot.

        • There are certain things a government can borrow to fund. Operational spending isn’t one. That you would tax and spend.

  2. It is good to see you acknowledge Norman Kirk. I was living overseas when he was PM, and only read his biography a couple of years ago.

    Housing of course was an issue he would have been acutely aware of, having built his own home at Kiapoi. He made the concrete bricks himself, and sunk his own well to get water for the mix. I think he was working in ChCh at the time, and biking back and forth from Kiapoi, a very long bike ride.

    In contrast I have just read David Lange’s autobiography, and, however clever he was in front of the cameras – and he analyses this and its requirements – it was a disappointing read, from an acutely self-aware man. Lange makes a retrospective dig at a minor scenario with his first wife earlier in their relationship, and in my book, a gentleman doesn’t do this, especially when he has dumped her.

    Ardern may not have the depth of a Kirk, but she is the only Labour politician with the ability to lead the party, and she seems to have solid party support, whereas National have no-one similar, and it looks as if
    they may be looking at shipping in a mate of John Key, and any mate of Key is not necessarily a mate of the people of New Zealand – and people is what government should be about. Kirk comes across as a friend of the people, which is what we need.

    • Precisely. The people of NZ will see Luxon as nothing more than a mate of JK’s, a corporate fat cat who is only in it for the money. Jacinda lives in a very modest house in a middle-of-the-road suburb of Auckland – not in Hernia Bay, Parasite Drive or McMansion Rd and isn’t a corporate in any sense of the word.

  3. I recently watched one of the television appearances of Norman Kirk on NZonScreen, being interviewed by David Frost a few months after his election as Prime Minister.

    Very worth the watch. Particularly given the notable lack of political media training, and the gravitas and thought he gives to answering questions, as well as his clear distinction towards not answering questions when appropriate and forgoing any glibness or redirection. Also, no … wait and see what we have planned…

  4. honestly any number of The Daily Blog readers could do a better job that the conservative risk averse Labour Caucus members–bring Minto and Treen in, and get Auckland Action Against Poverty to oversee the retirement of WINZ/MSD I say!

    but at least Labour have committed to repealing the State Sector Act, so if they get a second term, the pressure should be put on them to be more “Kirk like” and make some needed brisk decisions

    • “Diary of the Kirk years” by his Private Secretary Margaret Hayward sheds some light on Big Norm’s death. It was a rather lonely one at the Home of Compassion Hospital, Island Bay in Wellington.

      He was a very sick man, but no doubt modern medicine could have done more for him. Hayward is in no doubt that he was neglected and not given the best possible treatment or advice.

      Whether that was influenced by the likes of the CIA is hard to prove, and will likely never be known. Labour stalwart Bob Harvey always felt there was 5 Eyes type involvement in Kirk’s early death like the Gough Whitlam sacking in Australia.

  5. Onviously not true but PR illusion.

    1. No CGT with real teeth to be brought in.
    2. No addressing the huge wealth inequality in NZ
    3. Still borrowing from foreign banksters instead of issuing our own credit to fix state housing permanently.
    4. Bennies still having a tough soul destroying time with WINZ
    5.Continues the same old neoliberal PIG economics with lipstick on.
    5. Gets huggy with war criminal Hilary Clinton and mixes with bankster boy macron plus wants to curtail internet freedom. Rather than addressing the war crimes of the U$ which have caused all the turmoil of the last years since 1991.
    6. Her government is wagged by the FIRE sector which in turn is wagged by the property speculators for capital gain.

    JACINDA ARDERN HAILS her government as the most committed to delivering progressive change since the mid-1970s. In other words, since the Third Labour Government of Norman Kirk and Bill Rowling (1972-1975). Obviously simply FALSE.

  6. The changes needed are going to take some time we can moan as much as we like but we need to come up with solutions.

  7. Excellent article , Chris Trotter.

    It had to be said.

    And thank you for all those reminders of Kirk’s govt and what they just got on and did.

    It confirms all the suspicions that many have since 1984 and even earlier… the Third Labour govt and the neo liberal sham we’ve since those days.

    Thank you.

    No wonder John Clarke and the smarter ones flew the ditch.

  8. Yes. Great Post @ CT.
    Adern and Swarbrick should prise/lure the farmer away from National then open up the Books. Our rapid progression as a rich country full of happy people would blow winston peters’ toupee off.
    ( 1972. That was the last good year we had as farmers. We bought two new cars. One was a Holden HQ Ute and the other was an HQ V8 sedan. My mother, my father, myself and my mothers sister ran a 3000 acre farm carrying 5000 sheep and 300 beef cattle. Several years later, my Aunt used to laugh as she darned the holes in her bloomers which reminded her of depression era times in Southland of walking bare foot with my mother and their brothers and sisters to school with bread and dripping sandwiches.)
    Those big, shiny bankster buildings along Auckland’s waterfront? They were built by the likes of my mother, father, me and my aunt. I bet you didn’t know that. )

  9. Cindy is a hopeless child.
    The sooner she is deposed the better.
    Trouble is, who else does Labour have? They are as bereft of leaders as National is.

    • I can only presume you are looking at the country through cyan tinted spectacles because Aunty Jacinda has more than proved her ability as a leader and has this country in better shape than it’s been for a long time. About 9 years long to be exact.

      • Oh ffs!
        Take off your red rose tinted glasses and see this stupid woman for what she is.
        She is big on rhetoric and non existent on change.
        KiwiBuild = fail.
        Billion trees = fail.
        Capital gains = fail.
        Precisely what has she achieved?
        The answer is fuck all.
        Helen Clark may not have been young and popular but she was at least a very effective politician.
        As for suggesting that the country is in better shape. What drivel.

          • I’ll help out

            Massive increase in beneficiary numbers = FAIL
            Poverty worsening = FAIL
            Hardship grants at record levels = FAIL
            Emissions increasing = FAIL
            Economy slowing and about to tank = FAIL
            Oil and gas ban will increase emissions = FAIL
            Elective surgery numbers falling = FAIL
            Pharmac budget cut in real terms = FAIL
            Wellbeing under this coalition is worsening in all but a few key indicators = FAIL
            Neoliberalism is still here and wont be moved = FAIL

            Jay’s correct, you need to wake up and recognize the charlatan that Ardern is. This is not transformational or the politics of kindness, this isn’t even progressive or left wing. It’s a con and a bloody disgrace of a government. Slogans, smiles, and fake concerned faces may please the naive and sycophantic, but the realities show that this inept lot are no better and in some cases significantly worse than National. Scary.

            • Ok, so that’s your starting point. Show me what Key achieved in the first 3 years he was supposedly running the show.

              • Yeah who cares about this current inept government, let’s look at the last inept government because that somehow matters right?. What a Wally you are!

  10. Neoliberal policies doth not a progressive government make.

    Yes, it is a major plus not having the corrupt, gutless, two-faced lying cabal known as the National Party anywhere near the levers of power.
    With a Key clone being flown in thanks to AirNZ, these bank-serving smirking arsewipes must never be allowed to inflict their hostile policies on NZ workers again.

    But come on Jacinda & Winston, it’s time to walk the progressive talk in a real and meaningful way. How about getting serious with our crooked banking friends for a start? ANZ just spat in our collective faces & carried on business as usual with impunity.
    How about giving these parasites the equivalent of a good anthelmintic!
    Now THAT would be progressive………

  11. Good indictment. Hopefully educative to the New Zealander we most like as a person. About where that isn’t enough. If she isn’t reading this she’s turned to the wall.

    Good vista of the third Labour Govt I didn’t see face to face. NZ after 12 years of conservatism, Oz after 2 decades with Gough Whitlam. Why NZers number Labour Govts, or used to. About change (but never the 4th’s sort Sir Geoffrey, you idiot, ‘Reform’ my arse).

    • It was indeed an excellent yet all too brief vista of the third Labour government.

      Chris Trotter needs to do far more articles revealing historical facts such as this one, – whereby a former era is contrasted with the present ,or at least contrasted with neo liberalism.

      There were two articles Chris has posted that hit like a truck , – one was about ‘whoever controls the center of the world, controls the world’ ( a 19th century theory that has become the basis for western antagonism and containment of Russia ), – and the article about how it was the Public Trade Unions, – not the private Unions who vetoed the mass rolling strikes against the Employment Contracts Act 1991. That particular one was not only revealing but disheartening in exposing the ‘ moles’ within the Trade Union movement that were the sell outs for the neo liberals in govt at the time ie Bolger and Richardson et al.

      So yes, an excellent article and we need more of them.

      Because if it wasn’t for guys like Chris Trotter we would be none the wiser on many of the reasons behind events. Important events that were never explained to the general public and to which if they had known, would have been outraged.

      * I will always remember Trotter being interviewed on TV after either the 4th Labour govt or Bolger’s govt ( possibly Bolgers ) was elected , – it was at night time, there were people milling around , and I thought ‘ Listen to this guy , – he’s the only one making sense!’… and he was describing what basically came to be known later on as ‘ neo liberalism’ and its negative effects on thousands upon thousands of New Zealanders. And he was right on the money back then.

      • Chris Trotter was magnificent keeping the torch burning for social democracy. Made my blood sing on a regular basis. Like all the great democratic talkers during that dark period who lost money hand over foot for their belief in … us.

  12. Honest, open, organisations are needed.
    The “professions” lawyers, accountants, doctors, surgeons are all self governing for their own behaviour.

    They need to be accountable to an outside independent agency for their behaviour.

    Why? Because they have huge ideological and monetary value to political parties.

    Kirk blew them away.

    Now our party pollies are too scared of scaring an imaginary “middle class”.

    We have (illogically) a neo liberal economy which has brought huge wealth to a minuscule number of people and made thousands homeless.

    What is Simon Bridges et al going to do about that?

  13. Gee perhaps its just me but I can’t see any similarity whatsoever and that’s from someone who grew up in the 70’s. For example I can’t imagine the Kirk government embaracing the CP-TPPA or allowing the state of healthcare, homelessness, etc to continue as it is.

  14. Agreed that transformation requires utter commitment, perhaps to the point of political self sacrifice (kamikaze socialism/high risk-high return; if it means serving only one term so be it). I reckon Jacindas three big moves in first 100 could have been 1. Pulling our troops out of all these phony wars on terror then placing a full page ad in the Herald stating that the world has been conned by the military industrial complex, 2. Make education free again (MEFA). Get the military industrial complex, big business, the one percenters, bankers, the royals, and the wealthy with more than two homes to pay for it (CGT mofos). 3. Recognise the likes of the Palestinian state and illegal occupation/theft of their lands. Ridicule then monitor any nutjobs who suggest that support for Palestinian human and legal rights is antisemitic. Occasionally post on social media two photos side by side of Nazi razor wire fences and Israeli razor wire fences; repeat until Israel pulls their head in.

  15. Pre roger douglas et al NZer’s owned NZ.
    NZ is now just an INTERNATIONAL trade slut, much to the joy of Wall Street traders owned by any one the tax payers union.

  16. The equivalent moves by Jacinda would have been to withdraw New Zealand from the Trans-Pacific Partnership; order an immediate halt to all oil and gas exploration; and repatriate immediately all New Zealand military personnel serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

    Add to that nationalising the electricity industry, reintroducing the equivalent of the state advance scheme and raising benefit levels based on a reversal of the 1991 cuts.

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