Bill Rowling

Sir Wallace Edward Rowling KCMG PC (/ˈrlɪŋ/; 15 November 1927 – 31 October 1995), commonly known as Bill Rowling, was a New Zealand politician who was the 30th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1974 to 1975. He held office as the parliamentary leader of the Labour Party.

Sir Wallace Rowling

Bill Rowling, 1962.jpg
Rowling in 1962
30th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
6 September 1974 – 12 December 1975
MonarchElizabeth II
Governor-GeneralDenis Blundell
DeputyBob Tizard
Preceded byNorman Kirk
Succeeded byRobert Muldoon
33rd Minister of Finance
In office
8 December 1972 – 6 September 1974
Prime MinisterNorman Kirk
Preceded byRobert Muldoon
Succeeded byBob Tizard
22nd Leader of the Opposition
In office
12 December 1975 – 3 February 1983
Preceded byRobert Muldoon
Succeeded byDavid Lange
8th Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party
In office
6 September 1974 – 3 February 1983
DeputyBob Tizard
Preceded byNorman Kirk
Succeeded byDavid Lange
22nd President of the Labour Party
In office
5 May 1970 – 8 May 1973
Preceded byNorman Douglas
Succeeded byCharles Bennett
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Buller
In office
7 July 1962 – 25 November 1972
Preceded byJerry Skinner
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Tasman
In office
25 November 1972 – 14 July 1984
Succeeded byKen Shirley
Personal details
Born(1927-11-15)15 November 1927
Motueka, Tasman District, New Zealand
Died31 October 1995(1995-10-31) (aged 67)
Nelson, New Zealand
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)Glen Elna Reeves (m. 1951)
Alma materUniversity of Canterbury
Military service
AllegianceNew Zealand Army
RankUK Army OF2.png Captain
Battles/warsMalayan Emergency

Rowling was a lecturer in economics when he entered politics; he became a Member of Parliament in the 1962 Buller by-election. He was serving as Minister of Finance (1972–1974) when he was appointed Prime Minister following the death of the highly popular Norman Kirk. His Labour government's effort to retrieve the economy ended with an upset victory by the National Party in November 1975. Rowling continued to lead the Labour Party but lost two more general elections. Upon retiring from the party's leadership in 1983, he was knighted. He served as Ambassador to the United States from 1985 to 1988.

Early lifeEdit

Rowling was born in a country suburb of Mariri neighbouring the town of Motueka, near Nelson. He was a member of a long-established farming family. He was educated at Nelson College and the University of Canterbury, gaining a degree in economics. He also attended the Christchurch College of Education (currently, University of Canterbury), qualifying as a teacher. After completing his education, Rowling taught at several schools around the country, including at Motueka, Christchurch, Waverley and in Northland. In 1958, Rowling left teaching and joined the New Zealand Army, becoming Assistant Director of Army Education. He spent a short amount of time serving abroad in Malaysia and Singapore, a deployment connected with the Malayan Emergency.[1]

Member of ParliamentEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1962–1963 33rd Buller Labour
1963–1966 34th Buller Labour
1966–1969 35th Buller Labour
1969–1972 36th Buller Labour
1972–1975 37th Tasman Labour
1975–1978 38th Tasman Labour
1978–1981 39th Tasman Labour
1981–1984 40th Tasman Labour

In the 1960 election, Rowling was selected as the Labour Party's candidate for the Fendalton electorate in Christchurch. Fendalton was regarded as a safe National seat, and Rowling was defeated by the National Party's Harry Lake (who was appointed Minister of Finance in the new National government). Two years later, however, Rowling successfully contested the by-election for Buller, which had been caused by the death of prominent Labour MP Jerry Skinner. Rowling was to hold this seat until the election of 1972, when the seat was dissolved – Rowling then contested successfully the new seat of Tasman, which he did travelling up and down the electorate by Commer campervan, which he lived in for the time.[citation needed]

In the lead up to the 1972 election Labour leader Norman Kirk tried to persuade Rowling to transfer from the more marginal Tasman seat to the safe Christchurch seat of Avon. Kirk feared Rowling (by then party president) might lose his seat and did not want to lose his economics expertise. Rowling refused on the grounds that such a self interested move would not be befitting of a party president.[2]

Minister of FinanceEdit

When the Labour Party won power under Norman Kirk in the 1972 election, Rowling was appointed Minister of Finance. This could be seen as a considerable promotion for someone without prior ministerial experience. Rowling's term as Minister of Finance was somewhat turbulent; from late in 1973, a series of externally generated crises, of which the 'oil shocks' were the most serious, destabilised the New Zealand economy. These added to other problems, such as growing overseas debt and falling export prices. A major financial policy during Rowling's tenure was a comprehensive superannuation scheme.[3]

Prime MinisterEdit

Rowling with US President Gerald Ford in 1975.

When Norman Kirk died unexpectedly in 1974, Hugh Watt, his deputy, served as acting prime minister for several days while the Labour Party caucus chose a new leader. Rowling was the front-runner to replace Kirk. However, the party's National Executive and the Federation of Labour preferred Watt.[4]

Rowling was officially confirmed as party leader and 30th Prime Minister on 6 September 1974.[5] In the cabinet reshuffle following Kirk's death, Rowling took the foreign affairs portfolio.[6] He was appointed to the Privy Council.[7] Rowling had the option of replacing Kirk in the safe Labour seat of Sydenham but chose to remain in his (more marginal) home electorate of Tasman.[8]

Unlike the pro-life Kirk, Rowling was pro-choice. In 1974, he set up a commission to inquire into contraception, sterilisation and abortion. It issued a report in 1977, with recommendations that were incorporated into the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977.[9]

Although Rowling also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Labour Government concentrated primarily on domestic affairs. While Rowling's deputy Bob Tizard had replaced him as Minister of Finance, the seriousness of the economic downturn required the Prime Minister's attention. The Government defended heavy overseas borrowing as necessary to protect jobs. In August 1975, the New Zealand dollar was devalued by 15%.[10]

1975 general electionEdit

Rowling opening a new Fire Station on 11 October 1975

During the 1975 election campaign, Rowling was attacked by the Opposition led by Robert Muldoon, and was generally characterised as being weak and ineffective. Rowling supporters responded with a "Citizens for Rowling" campaign which enlisted high-profile New Zealanders such as Sir Edmund Hillary to praise Rowling's low-key consultative approach. The campaign was labelled as being elitist, and was generally regarded as having backfired on Rowling.[11][page needed] The November election was a major defeat for the Labour Party, and Rowling was unable to retain the premiership.

Leader of the OppositionEdit

During the late 1970s, Rowling alienated Māori by removing Matiu Rata, the party's effective and well-regarded Māori Affairs spokesman, from the Opposition front bench. Earlier, Rowling had replaced Rata with himself as convenor of Labour's Māori Affairs Committee. Rata complained about the insensitivity of Labour's Māori policy and went on to form his own Māori rights party, Mana Motuhake.[11]

His approach to the Moyle and O'Brien 'affairs' was regarded as heavy-handed and unnecessary in many circles. In regards to the 'Moyle affair', in which Labour MP Colin Moyle was accused of having a homosexual affair, "it was Rowling who insisted that his close friend, Colin Moyle, must resign".[11] Large numbers protested at the 1977 Labour Party Conference; many in the LGBT community never forgave him.[12]

Rowling, however, managed to retain the party leadership, and gradually managed to improve public perceptions of him. In the 1978 and 1981 elections, Labour actually secured more votes than the National Party but failed to gain a majority of seats.[13]

While Rowling had largely managed to undo his negative image, many people in the Labour Party nevertheless believed that it was time for a change. In 1983 Rowling was replaced as leader by the charismatic David Lange, who went on to defeat Muldoon in the 1984 election. Rowling retired from parliament at the same election.

Later life and deathEdit

After leaving politics, Rowling was appointed Ambassador to the United States, serving from 1985 to 1988. He held that position when the issue of nuclear weapons and ANZUS flared up between the United States and New Zealand, and he travelled extensively across the country explaining the policy.[14]

Later, after returning to New Zealand, Rowling became highly involved in a number of community organisations and trusts. He also played a prominent role at the Museum of New Zealand, and is considered to have been the "driving force" behind the eventual establishment of Te Papa.[1]

Rowling died of cancer in Nelson on 31 October 1995.[14]

Personal lifeEdit

Rowling married Glen Reeves in 1951. The couple lost their second child when she was five months old in 1957; another daughter, Kim, committed suicide at the age of 18.[14] Rowling was a practising Anglican.[1]


Honours that Rowling received include being made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the 1983 Queen's Birthday Honours,[15] an honorary law doctorate from the University of Canterbury in 1987,[16] and being made a Commander in the Orde van Oranje – Nassau (Netherlands).[14]


  1. ^ a b c Henderson, John. "Rowling, Wallace Edward". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  2. ^ Grant 2014, pp. 196.
  3. ^ Henderson, John (2010). "Rowling, Wallace Edward – Finance minister". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  4. ^ Auckland Star 5 September 1974 p11
  5. ^ "Prime Minister Appointed" (6 September 1974) 87 New Zealand Gazette 1899.
  6. ^ "Ministers Appointed" (10 September 1974) 88 New Zealand Gazette 1901.
  7. ^ "Special Honours List" (26 September 1974) 93 New Zealand Gazette 2047.
  8. ^ Grant 2014, pp. 420.
  9. ^ Bryder, Linda (2014). The Rise and Fall of National Women's Hospital: A History. Auckland University Press. p. 159. ISBN 978-1-77558-723-1.
  10. ^ Henderson, John (2010). "Rowling, Wallace Edward – Prime minister". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  11. ^ a b c Rowling: The man and the myth by John Henderson, Australia New Zealand Press, 1980.
  12. ^ see Henderson, p. 167 for more on Gerald O'Brien and the O'Brien 'affair'
  13. ^ Henderson, John (2010). "Rowling, Wallace Edward – Opposition and after". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d OBITUARY: Sir Wallace Rowling, The Independent, 1 November 1995.
  15. ^ "No. 49376". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 1983. p. 33.
  16. ^ "Honorary Graduates" (PDF). University of Canterbury. p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2015. Retrieved 20 June 2015.


New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Jerry Skinner
Member of Parliament for Buller
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Tasman
Succeeded by
Ken Shirley
Political offices
Preceded by
Norman Kirk
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Robert Muldoon
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Brian Talboys
Preceded by
Robert Muldoon
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Bob Tizard
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
David Lange
Party political offices
Preceded by
Norman Douglas
President of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Charles Bennett
Preceded by
Norman Kirk
Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
David Lange
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Lance Adams-Schneider
Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
Tim Francis