Page 3: National MP
Muldoon, Robert David
Accountant, politician, prime minister
This biography, written by Barry Gustafson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
Rob Muldoon tried repeatedly throughout the 1950s to become a member of Parliament. In 1951 he unsuccessfully sought National’s candidacy for Mt Albert. In 1954, after unsuccessfully seeking nomination for Waitematā, he stood in Mt Albert but lost to the Labour candidate. In 1957 he was selected for Waitematā but again lost to Labour. Finally, in 1960 he won selection – and the election – in the marginal seat of Tāmaki, which he was to hold for the next 31 years.
Muldoon was widely regarded as a very good constituency MP, always accessible and willing to assist constituents. Social and boundary changes in the electorate helped change it into a National Party stronghold. Muldoon’s strong electorate organisation numbered some 4,000 members at its peak. It was very active and influential in the wider National Party, becoming known as ‘the Tāmaki mafia’, a term disliked by Muldoon, who was seen as ‘the godfather’.
The Young Turks
In the House, Muldoon became friends with other new National MPs, notably Duncan MacIntyre and John Bowie (Peter) Gordon. The three became known as ‘the Young Turks’ because of their criticism of senior National ministers. Muldoon in particular proved to be a well-prepared debater, willing to speak on a range of topics with authority and humour. He developed a deserved reputation as a counterpuncher who saw attack as the best means of defence, and who believed that he should always retaliate if anyone attacked him.
Muldoon was fortunate in 1961 to be appointed to the Public Accounts Committee, which in 1962 became the Public Expenditure Committee, with enhanced powers to investigate and report on the efficiency of government departments and to act as a watchdog on the use of public funds. Its members became well-informed on all aspects of government and able to participate in a wide range of debates in the House.
Decimal currency controversy
After the 1963 election, Prime Minister Keith Holyoake appointed Muldoon as under-secretary to the minister of finance, Harry Lake, who made Muldoon responsible for overseeing the introduction of decimal currency. Muldoon annoyed the public by dismissing widespread criticism of the proposed new coins. Holyoake rebuked him and a nationwide poll allowed the public to choose new coin designs from those originally submitted.