Thomas Philip Shand was born at Ngapara, North Otago, on 16 April 1911, the son of Gilbert Esme Tressillian Shand and his wife, Constance Kippenberger. His parents, who were both from prominent Canterbury families, ran a small farm at Ngapara. The family moved to Kaikoura in 1922. Tom was educated at St Andrew’s College and Christ’s College. He then went to Canterbury College in 1929, where he studied for a BCom and boxed for the university.
Because of the depression Tom returned home to work from 1931 to 1933 as a shepherd on his family’s farm, Seaward Valley, near Kaikoura. He worked for the next two years in the freezing and flax industries, where he took an active part in union affairs. He also played rugby for Canterbury sub-unions. In 1935 he returned to manage the farm. In Auckland on 8 February 1937 he married Claudia Lillian Weston, a doctor and the daughter of Claude Weston, the first president of the New Zealand National Party. He finally completed his commerce degree in 1942.
That year Shand volunteered for flight training in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He was gazetted as a pilot in January 1943. In June he was promoted to flying officer and from April 1944 to February 1945 flew Hudson bombers and Catalina flying boats out of Fiji, Funafuti and Emirau in the South Pacific campaign. In 1945 his high-tone deafness saw him placed on the reserve as the Second World War ended.
Shand returned to Seaward Valley and took a farm management course at Canterbury Agricultural College. Then, in the 1946 election, he emerged as National MP for Marlborough. Shand made an immediate mark as a passionate, outspoken debater. Starting with the tearing up of Walter Nash’s 1947 budget (which he had previously cut most of the way through with scissors), his whole career was coloured by a fiery robustness and by his close links with Jack Watts and Ralph Hanan.
In 1954 Prime Minister S. G. Holland appointed Shand postmaster general. His other responsibilities were civil aviation and rehabilitation. In an era marked by the development of aerial top-dressing and work on the key national airport link at Rongotai, civil aviation gave the former airman considerable scope to exert his talents. In rehabilitation his own experience made him strongly supportive of efforts to provide more land for returned servicemen.
In opposition from 1957 to 1960 Shand emerged as a key National critic of the second Labour government. Both as an MP and as a minister, with the assistance of his electorate secretary, Anita Mowat, he was a strong advocate for Marlborough. He campaigned for the establishment of the Cook Strait rail ferries, and in the 1960s for the commencement of forestry in the Marlborough Sounds. He was one of the earliest, in 1959, to raise the significance for New Zealand of the European Economic Community.
After National’s election victory in 1960, Keith Holyoake allocated Shand fifth place in his cabinet and the labour portfolio. With this went immigration, together with mines and publicity. He chaired the Cabinet Committee on Government Administration and played a major role in formulating the State Services Act 1962, which brought a major reorganisation of government administration.
As minister of labour, Shand made it his business to know what went on at the site of a dispute, and he built close relations with the New Zealand Federation of Labour leadership. Despite clamping down on wildcat tactics, his directness and courage earned unionists’ trust and admiration. He developed a keen interest in a range of issues related to the workforce. He constantly emphasised the importance of productivity, and oversaw the introduction of container shipping and industry training. His understanding of the importance of investment made him an early advocate of New Zealand membership of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and of the calling of a national development conference. He carried through the Woodhouse Commission of 1966, with its proposals for a revolutionary no-fault accident compensation system. In 1968 he supported the FOL in its opposition to the nil wage order but was defeated in cabinet. This saw the effective end of the Court of Arbitration’s long-standing role in wage fixing.
As a vigorous minister of mines Shand oversaw extensive licensing for petroleum exploration, the proving up of iron sands for the Glenbrook steel mill, the reorganisation of the coal industry, and the search for useful minerals like bentonite and scheelite. He was also a strong advocate of investment in electricity, a portfolio he took over in 1963. His term of office saw the completion of the massive Benmore (1965) and Manapouri (1969) hydroelectric schemes, and the thermal station at Marsden; the assessment of the hydroelectric potential of the Clutha and upper Waitaki River valleys, which led to the construction of the Clyde dam; and the beginning of controversy over the proposal to raise the level of Lake Manapouri to supply electricity to the Bluff aluminium smelter.
During his ministry the completion of the Cook Strait cable for transmitting Benmore power to the North Island – coupled with the Kapuni gas agreement, the subsequent North Island pipeline and the discovery of the Maui oil field in 1969 – transformed the national energy situation. These immense developments bypassed the preparation Shand had authorised for the introduction of nuclear power.
Shand held a staunch right-wing philosophy, according to which the rights of citizens should be balanced against the responsibility to maintain an effective working democracy. Political leaders had to take a lead in planning and investing for the future of a soundly based economy, while providing strong defences against the threat of communism. He had an early reputation as a red-baiter and was a strong supporter of sending New Zealand troops to South Vietnam in 1965.
Shand was an enquiring but decisive minister and an exacting administrator. He had the gift of getting the best out of a succession of able public servants like Paul Heller, Herbert Bockett, Noel Woods, Allan Atkinson, Bruce McKenzie and Brian Bremner. His drive to get things done, and his courage in tackling any opponent – or any problem – endeared him to Holyoake, even though it caused a serious cabinet rift. In 1966 he accused the prime minister of irresponsible economic management for his refusal to dampen down the economy in the face of high levels of development and declining commodity prices. This brought Shand close to resignation. He was also an excellent communicator, and understood the importance of close links with the press, being the only minister with his own newspaper column in his local paper.
After over 20 years in Parliament, 12 as a highly effective minister, Shand was seen as a potential National Party leader in waiting in 1969 when Holyoake was expected to retire. This possibility ended with the onset of lung cancer. Shand, who was seldom seen without his pipe in his mouth, had been a smoker all his life. He was hospitalised after the 1969 election campaign had begun, and he died on 11 December 1969 in Wellington. He was survived by his wife, three daughters and a son.
Tom Shand was one of the post-war generation of political leaders who did much to shape New Zealand’s rapid development in the 1960s. His early death removed him as a successor to the leadership, and may have delayed Keith Holyoake’s own retirement. Whether or not that is so, Holyoake wept at Tom Shand’s funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral in Wellington. It was a rare sign of public emotion in a stoical profession which Shand graced with energy, skill and courage. His valedictories depicted him as the outstanding minister of labour of the era.