The Liberal Agenda – David McPhail and Muldoon’s long ghost


It’s difficult trying to explain to Millennials just how angry. frightened and hating many New Zealanders were of Robert Muldoon.

The malice he was prepared to perpetrate upon the New Zealand public by allowing the South African Springbok Tour showed a dead eyed lust for power at all costs that disgusted and sickened many.

Muldoon had no qualms about violently turning NZers against one another if that division benefitted him politically.

Like a human manifestation of General Woundwort from Watership Down, Muldoon stalked the darkest corridors of power with the constant threat of Rob’s Mob behind him.

In his steps echoed Massey’s cossacks, the looting of Parihaka, the jail cells of Nelson Mandela and the nuclear bomb.

TDB Recommends

That’s why David McPhail’s impersonation of Muldoon mattered so much to so many. He collectively gave the country the space to laugh, mock and stop being frightened of the dark psyche of NZ Muldoon had channelled.

I remember staying up late to watch McPhail play Muldoon, the glee and power in being able to laugh at the monster felt like an anarchic coping technique that bordered on sedition.

McPhail was doing that most dangerous of public broadcasting duties, relevant political satire.

I watched him in 2005 when he toured his one man Muldoon stage show. It was a powerful piece of political theatre where the actor who had benefited from Muldoon’s shadow for so long had come to a peace with the lonely wounded person Muldoon had descended into.

David McPhail helped heal a nation from a terrible nightmare, a public service using art and broadcasting that deserves lasting respect.

Rest in Peace David.


Increasingly having independent opinion in a mainstream media environment which mostly echo one another has become more important than ever, so if you value having an independent voice – please donate here.

If you can’t contribute but want to help, please always feel free to share our blogs on social media


  1. The younger generation do not know what satire is. Tragic woke hipsters with zero humour or depth of understanding on any given issue. The personal may be political but to make the experience relevant you have to work at all levels of society for change. And communicate with those you don’t like or understand.
    Give us more satire!

  2. Haha yep bang on, the memories of that time coming back now, even started to hum a song which always reminds me of that era….There is no depression in NZ …

  3. muldoon’s ghost may have been long but his arse was short.
    Not so much a pig as a Machiavellian wart hog. I’m dismayed by the psychology behind the awful little man which enabled him to walk over almost everybody. How he never got a fucking hiding is beyond me.
    The right wing and the ignorant farmer were stupidly all over the little freak in a suit like flies on stink.
    Then? After the mighty little snorter popped off to Hell there came a cavalcade of national party arseholes with their hooves at the ready for the trough.
    How? Why? It’s truly befuddling.
    You’re right about David McPhail. He was a brave fellow. RIP indeed. ( Or, as is my personal belief about such things, he’s already on his feet in a future, slightly more evolved iteration of himself in the ever on-going, ever up-cycling, ever morphing and tirelessly inquisitive form the spirit of all things living must surely adopt.
    Nothing nor no-one is dead. Just in transit. On the bus, if you like.
    Here’s a fantastic film for you?
    The Bothersome Man

    The Bothersome Man (Norwegian: Den brysomme mannen) is a Norwegian film from 2006. It was directed by Jens Lien after a script by Per H. V. Schreiner. In the main roles were Trond Fausa Aurvåg, Petronella Barker and Per Schaaning. The story is about a man suddenly finding himself in an outwardly perfect, yet essentially soulless dystopia,[2] and his attempt to escape. The film was well received by critics, and was awarded three Amanda Awards in 2006.
    I like these also.
    “Siphonaptera” is a name used[1] to refer to the following rhyme by Augustus De Morgan (Siphonaptera being the biological order to which fleas belong):

    “Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
    And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
    And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
    While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.[2]”

    “The Vermin only teaze and pinch
Their Foes superior by an Inch.
So, Nat’ralists observe, a Flea
Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller yet to bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum:
Thus ev’ry Poet, in his Kind
Is bit by him that comes behind[.][5]”

  4. Indeed, you almost had to be there, in that analogue world that both fostered and deplored Muldoon. Nice piece Martyn. It was fitting that Muldoon was in the end essentially brought down by a Lesbian woman, Nat MP Marilyn Waring.

    • I wouldn’t trust any of the pre neo liberal crowd , there were plenty waiting in the wings to get rid of Muldoon and the Keynesian consensus, – Bob Jones and his NZ party for one. The NZ party was formed specifically to split the National party vote to eject Muldoon and thus destroy the Keynesian consensus that we had had for nearly 60 years. The Keynesian consensus that effectively built our dams, hospitals, schools, roads, rail and airports and forestry – and provided subsidy’s and tariff protections for farmers and industry alike.

      So Marylyn Waring did a way lot more damage than we ever realized to wreck NZ’s society and economy than she is ever credited for.

      And whose to say she was not privately one of the Douglas / Richardson crowd seeing her opportunity to set in motion and instigate the hell this country has been through for the last 36 years?

  5. ” How he never got a fucking hiding is beyond me. ”
    That is because he always got the first punch in and had a persona that instilled fear and a grudging respect and he surrounded himself with the YES men of the time who would never , could never stand up to him and he was at the time all powerful and ruled this country with an iron fist with the protection of not just the state but the criminal gangs who were there to be called on when necessary.
    Mc Phail captured him brilliantly and his 1979 Xmas special with him portraying Muldoon as Santa Claus calling kiwis turkeys for voting for him was a great moment.
    Bomber we were blessed and as we make our way through the current dessert that is satire and politics in this country i know that we produced real great talent that despite everything will live on as a true reflection of how great this country could be.

    This from RNZ.

    McPhail said he did not get a good response from his superiors when he pitched an idea for a satirical comedy in New Zealand in 1977.

    “I was told there was no place for satire, New Zealanders didn’t really have a sense of humour, and besides we had no right to make fun of public figures.

    • Muldoon derided here for engaging with gangs? Only seeing the negative that he possibly wanted to use gangs as an extension of his political arm but ignoring the fact that he was one of the first Nats to step back from just constantly Maori-bashing & actually give some respect to Maori and engage in constructive dialogue & laid groundwork for beginning of movement on treaty issues?

  6. so Rob Muldoon was a dictatorial little bastard – who maintained the welfare state – introduced the Domestic Purposes Benefit – used state intervention to help struggling industries – Universal Superannuation and negotiated with Trade Unions.
    Was Rob as Dictator then worse than Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, Ruth Richardson, Jenny Shipley who succeeded him?
    Take a look at New Zealand history and you will see most of the things said about Rob Muldoon were also said about Dick Seddon. This man who was bigoted, ruthless, deceitful and cunning introduced some of the most progressive social welfare legislation in history. He and his party established the framework of today’s welfare state.
    Reporter to Prime Minister Seddon; ” Mr Seddon you give important jobs to your friends.”
    Seddon to Reporter; ‘ Do you expect me to give them to my enemies?’

    • Yeah a lot of overblown hatred towards Muldoon …but I’d go with him & his legacy carried forward by Winnie his protege any day of the week rather than with the Douglas-Prebble crowd & all the Labour sell-outs & the Bolger, Richardson, Shipley coterie & the National Party that followed after. Muldoon was not a Nazi. He was a social conservative economic leftist/Left Nationalist. He was the “right side” version of “left side” Jim Anderton. With the caveat that Muldoon was not that super rightist & Anderton was not that super leftist.

      • I find myself pretty on yours and Stevie’s opinion. Sure Muldoon was the guy everyone loved to hate if they were not National,…and sure he had his share of faults and was a dictatorial type,…but as someone has said on TDB before he was the last of the social democratic Keynesian PM’s.

        But he sure took to heart his grandmothers socialist opinions and never left the idea of the welfare state , tariffs and subsidy’s. It was a sad day for NZ when he was ousted and replaced by the neo liberals.

        Literally out of the pan and into the fire.

  7. Yes John i have reflected.
    1 The Erebus disaster
    2 Colin Moyle
    3 Spring bok tour and the subsequent police state
    4 Political patronage
    5 Ignoring convention and refusing an incoming governments instructions during the currency crisis.

  8. Thanks for some balance Stevie.
    Ironically he was a great fan of McPhail and adding to the irony very popular with electorate at the time.Hence he won elections.
    At the end of his career there is enough evidence to suggest he was taking us down the wrong path particularly his economic stance.The currency crisis.
    Thanks you reflection Mosa some of which I agree with.

    • Thanks’ John and i do appreciate your critique on what i post here. All of us who contribute should be prepared to back our argument.
      Just don’t make it personal.
      Looking back and to be fair to Muldoon despite his many failings he did care about the people who were struggling and to his credit he would not introduce policies that he knew would disadvantage those who looked to the government to assist.
      He was in the end the closest we had to Norm Kirk in 1972 who he vowed to displace at the 1975 general election but instead got Bill Rowling and the rest is history.

    • “Hence he won elections” – ah, no, First Past the Post won them – in one election he gained less of the total vote than Labour and still came to power, which kicked off a sequence of events that led to MMP. Even where he got the most votes, it was in the 30s.

  9. Thanks for some balance Stevie.
    Ironically he was a great fan of McPhail and adding to the irony very popular with electorate at the time.Hence he won elections.
    At the end of his career there is enough evidence to suggest he was taking us down the wrong path particularly his economic stance.The currency crisis.
    Thanks you reflection Mosa some of which I agree with.

  10. I met Muldoon once, when he visited my Intermediate School in 1975 as a newly elected PM of NZ. I was 13 & Muldoon rocked up to me, all 5 ft 5 inches of badly suited, middle aged spread & uttered the words I remember to this day?? “Sonny, where’s the Staff room “? I pointed the way & he said “Thanks my boy” & I’ll never forget his crooked cheeked grin as he headed to meet the Principal prior to giving a Speech at my School! Every time I saw McPhail’s hilarious impersonation of Muldoon it always reminded of the day I met Muldoon.

  11. I directed a TV current affairs interview with Muldoon at his home in Auckland way back in the early 80s. It was quite an experience! Incredibly (think Olaf Palme), he was alone in the house and had boxes of Cabinet papers lined up on the table in the dining room. He plonked himself down in a chair and announced “I’m sitting here.” It was an awful spot – right on a corner leading into a corridor. “Okay Prime Minister,” I replied – and lit him so that his shadow extended eerily along the wall. I like to think I might have inspired his later career in Rocky Horror and other shows 🙂


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.