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New Zealand Labour Party leadership election, 1974

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Title: New Zealand Labour Party leadership election, 1974  
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Subject: New Zealand Labour Party, Leadership elections in New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party leadership election, 1933, New Zealand Labour Party leadership election, 1919, New Zealand Labour Party leadership election, 1965
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New Zealand Labour Party leadership election, 1974

New Zealand Labour Party leadership election, 1974

6 September 1974

Candidate Bill Rowling Hugh Watt
Popular vote 44 9
Percentage 83% 17%

Leader before election

Norman Kirk

Leader after election

Bill Rowling

The New Zealand Labour Party leadership election, 1974 was held on 6 September 1974 to determine the 7th leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. The election was won by Tasman MP Bill Rowling.


  • Background 1
  • Candidates 2
    • Bill Rowling 2.1
    • Hugh Watt 2.2
  • Result 3
  • Aftermath 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6


Prime Minister and incumbent Labour party leader Norman Kirk died unexpectedly on 31 August 1974. Kirk's deputy Hugh Watt served as the Acting Prime Minister and leader for several days on an interim basis until a new leader could be elected. Finance Minister Bill Rowling quickly found himself the front-runner in caucus, whilst both Labour's National Executive and the Federation of Labour preferred Hugh Watt.[1]


Bill Rowling

Rowling was serving as Minister of Finance in Kirk's cabinet. He was officially nominated by Southern Maori MP Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan.[2] President of the New Zealand Federation of Labour, and good friend of Hugh Watt, Tom Skinner attempted to talk Rowling into standing down as a candidate, however the attempt backfired and helped Rowling make up his mind that he would accept a nomination, though he stopped actively lobbying for further support.[3]

Hugh Watt

Watt was the Deputy Prime Minister under Kirk, and had served as the party's deputy leader since 1963 first under Arnold Nordmeyer (1963–65) and then under Kirk (1965–74). Watt was favoured by the party executive as well as having the backing of the trade unions. He was officially nominated by Island Bay MP Gerald O'Brien.[2] Many in the parliamentary party, however, felt at 61 he was too old and that Labour needed a younger leader.[4]


A caucus vote was held on 6 September 1974 where Rowling received an overwhelming majority. Hugh Watt had only 9 votes, with the rest of the caucus voting for Rowling.[2]


Rowling age 46, became the youngest New Zealand Prime Minister since 1887.[5] He served as Prime Minister until being defeated in the 1975 election. He remained the Labour Party's leader until 1983. Watt had expected to succeed Kirk and was of the opinion that the role was his of right as Kirk's deputy.[2] Though disappointed, Watt was gracious in defeat also resigning as deputy leader.[6] He remained in Rowling's cabinet, carrying the Works and Development portfolio and was also appointed to the Executive Council without portfolio.[7] Later, Watt was appointed New Zealand's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 22 March 1975 for three years.

Bob Tizard was elected deputy leader, defeating Arthur Faulkner 28 votes to 26.[8]


  1. ^ Auckland Star 5 September 1974 p11
  2. ^ a b c d Henderson 1981, p. 105.
  3. ^ Henderson 1981, p. 104.
  4. ^ Henderson 1981, p. 104-5.
  5. ^ Henderson, John. "Rowling, Wallace Edward".  
  6. ^ Henderson 1981, p. 106.
  7. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 93.
  8. ^ Henderson 1981, p. 107.


  • Henderson, John (1981). Rowling: The Man and the Myth. Auckland: Fraser Books.  
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