Arnold Nordmeyer

Arnold Nordmeyer
The Reverend The Honourable
Sir Arnold Nordmeyer
Arnold Nordmeyer in ca 1950
18th Leader of the Opposition
In office
1 April 1963 – 16 December 1965
Prime Minister Keith Holyoake
Preceded by Walter Nash
Succeeded by Norman Kirk
5th Leader of the Labour Party
In office
1 April 1963 – 16 December 1965
President Martyn Finlay
Norman Kirk
Preceded by Walter Nash
Succeeded by Norman Kirk
30th Minister of Finance
In office
12 December 1957 – 12 December 1960
Prime Minister Walter Nash
Preceded by Jack Watts
Succeeded by Harry Lake
13th Minister of Health
In office
21 January 1941 – 29 May 1947
Prime Minister Peter Fraser
Preceded by Tim Armstrong
Succeeded by Mabel Howard
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Oamaru
In office
1935 – 1949
Preceded by John Andrew MacPherson
Succeeded by Thomas Hayman
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Brooklyn
In office
1951 – 1954
Preceded by Peter Fraser
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Island Bay
In office
1954 – 1969
Preceded by Robert McKeen
Succeeded by Gerald O'Brien
Personal details
Born 7 February 1901(1901-02-07)
Dunedin, New Zealand
Died 2 February 1989(1989-02-02) (aged 87)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Frances Maria Kernahan (married 28 October 1931)
Children Two
Profession Presbyterian minister
Religion Presbyterian

Sir Arnold Henry Nordmeyer, ONZ, KCMG (7 February 1901 – 2 February 1989), born Heinrich Arnold Nordmeyer, was a New Zealand politician. He was leader of the Labour Party for three years while it was in Opposition.


Early life

Nordmeyer was born on 7 February 1901 in Dunedin, New Zealand. His father was a German immigrant, his mother was from Northern Ireland. He was educated at Waitaki Boys' High School, and at the University of Otago where he completed his BA. After graduating he studied theology, having always been highly religious. At university he became known for his skills in debating which were to serve him well in his later career. Although he did not join the Labour Party until 1933, he became increasingly sympathetic to the party's views. It was at this time that he met Walter Nash who may have been influential in shaping his views in health and social policy. In 1925 Nordmeyer received his ordination as a Presbyterian minister and was appointed to a position in the small town of Kurow.

While in Kurow during the Great Depression, Nordmeyer became interested in the welfare of workers involved in the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Waitaki River. He became increasingly politically active as a result witnessing both the working conditions of the labourers and the poor living conditions of the unemployed men and their families who were attracted to the area by the promise of work. At Kurow, Nordmeyer, along with local doctor and future Labour MP Gervan McMillan and school headmaster Andrew Davidson developed ideas of how to apply Christian ethics to politics to solve the miseries of unemployment, poverty and illness – ideas that were later implemented by the First Labour Government of New Zealand. It was also in Kurow that Nordmeyer met his future wife, Frances Kernahan who he married in 1931.[1]

Member of Parliament

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1935–1938 25th Oamaru Labour
1938–1943 Labour
1943–1946 Labour
1946–1949 Labour
1951 29th Brooklyn Labour
1951–1954 Labour
1954–1957 Labour
1957–1960 Labour
1960–1963 Labour
1963–1966 Labour
1966–1969 Labour

Shortly before the 1935 elections Nordmeyer stepped down from his church position, stating an intent to contest the Oamaru seat for the Labour Party. He was elected. The 1935 election itself was a huge victory for Labour and the party's leader, Michael Joseph Savage, became the country's first Labour Prime Minister.[2]

In Parliament Nordmeyer proved to be a skilled debater but also had a somewhat troubled relationship with his party's leadership. Nordmeyer became part of the faction led by John A. Lee who criticised Savage's policies as too moderate. Gradually, however, Nordmeyer became disillusioned with Lee, alleging that Lee was egotistical and self-important. Nordmeyer later co-operated with more moderate politicians such as Walter Nash in drafting the party's social security policies.

After the 1938 elections that Labour won resoundingly, tensions between the moderate and extreme wings of the party became worse. Nordmeyer attempted to take a position between both groups but was generally closer to Lee's camp than to the other. The year 1940 saw both the death of Savage and the expulsion from the Labour Party of Lee (a move which Nordmeyer opposed, weakly). Nordmeyer nominated Gervan McMillan, an old friend from Kurow and a supporter of Lee, as the party's new leader. McMillan, however, was defeated by Peter Fraser, Savage's chief lieutenant.

In 1941 Nordmeyer became Minister of Health. In this role he was responsible (along with Walter Nash) for introducing state subsidies for doctor's visits. In 1947 Nordmeyer became Minister of Industries and Commerce and came to be regarded as one of the most senior members of the government.[2]

In the 1949 elections, however, Labour was defeated by the National Party under Sidney Holland. Nordmeyer himself lost his seat of Oamaru. In 1950 Peter Fraser died and Nordmeyer was elected in the 1951 by-election as his replacement in the seat of Brooklyn. In 1954 he won the Island Bay seat, which he held until he retired in 1969.[2]

In the short period between Fraser's death and Nordmeyer's return to Parliament Walter Nash had been hastily elected leader of the Labour Party. The speed of Nash's ascent is sometimes seen as evidence that his supporters considered Nordmeyer a threat. Nordmeyer, although he had worked with Nash before, opposed Nash's appointment as he objected to Nash's leadership style and considered Nash to be both autocratic and uninspiring. In 1954 Nordmeyer began a challenge for the leadership. Although Nordmeyer gained considerable backing from certain sectors of the party, Nash enjoyed strong union support and defeated the challenge in caucus on 23 June 1954.

Minister of Finance

When Labour won the 1957 elections Nordmeyer was made Minister of Finance and was ranked third within the government. A short time after taking office Nordmeyer concluded that the country was on the brink of a balance of payments crisis and decided to take strong measures in response. His first Budget (generally known as "the Black Budget") introduced a number of unpopular changes, including significant tax increases. The particularly large tax increases for alcohol and tobacco, coupled with Nordmeyer's strong religious background, created the impression that he was attempting to impose puritan-like reforms. Labour was voted out of office in the 1960 elections, something that many historians blame on Nordmeyer's "Black Budget".

Leader of the Opposition

Despite attracting considerable blame for Labour's loss of support Nordmeyer was elected to lead the Labour Party when Nash retired in 1963. Future Deputy Prime Minister, and acting Prime Minister, Hugh Watt became Nordmeyer's deputy leader.[3] The memory of the "Black Budget" still haunted Nordmeyer's profile, however, and many within the party believed that it was time for "a new generation" to take control. In 1965 a group of Labour MP's formed a group known as the 'Mafia' who were dedicated to replacing Nordmeyer with Norman Kirk. This was due to some within the Labour caucus thinking Nordmeyer "out of touch" with his Members and vice-versa, some condidering him an autocratic loner, despite his considerable debating abilities.[3] Norman Kirk eventually emerged as the favourite candidate to succeed Nordmeyer and in a vote on 9 December 1965, Nordmeyer was defeated by 25 votes to 10.

Retirement from politics

Nordmeyer remained in Parliament for another four years, retiring at the 1969 elections.[2] He later held a number of government appointments, including the position of director of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. In 1987 he was made a founding member of the Order of New Zealand.

Nordmeyer was one of the staunchest opponents of capital punishment and was also staunchly opposed to abortion, being a patron of New Zealand's main pro-life group SPUC.

Nordmeyer died in Wellington on 2 February 1989. He was survived by his wife, Frances Maria Kernahan, whom he had married in Oamaru on 28 October 1931. The couple had two children.


  1. ^ Logan, Mary (2008) [First ed. published 2008]. Nordy, Arnold Nordmeyer a political biography (1 ed.). Wellington: Steele Roberts Publishers. pp. 488. ISBN 978 1 877448 33 1. 
  2. ^ a b c d Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand parliamentary record, 1840–1984 (4 ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103. 
  3. ^ a b Hayward, Margaret (1981) [First ed. published 1981]. Diary of the Kirk Years (1 ed.). Wellington: A.H. and A.W. Reed Limited. p. 13. ISBN 0 589 01350 5. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Tim Armstrong
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Mabel Howard
Preceded by
Jack Watts
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Harry Lake
Preceded by
Walter Nash
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Norman Kirk
Parliament of New Zealand
Preceded by
John MacPherson
Member of Parliament for Oamaru
Succeeded by
Thomas Hayman
Preceded by
Peter Fraser
Member of Parliament for Brooklyn
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Robert McKeen
Member of Parliament for Island Bay
Succeeded by
Gerald O'Brien

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