27 February 2014

What to do when the PM is plastered

Former National Party junior whip Michael Cox, who held the role from 1981 to 1985, discusses the delicate art of ensuring Prime Minister Rob Muldoon was in the right place at the right time, and more specifically sober enough to move important motions in the House. Occasionally this proved impossible, as in this case, and eight months later in 1984 when New Zealanders observed that Muldoon was noticeably drunk on live television when he announced a snap election.

The House was in "urgency", to enable it to pass the Finance Bill through its third reading. This bill contained the Budget. Sixteen days of debate had passed, perusing every item, since Budget Day when Rob Muldoon had moved its first reading. In those times "urgency" meant that the house sat until all the required bills were passed; no knocking off at midnight, but a slog to the end. 
After helping to dispatch the first bottle, Rob decided to see what his caucus members could offer. He was on the prowl. I kept a bottle with only a couple of nips in it for such visitors; not all my colleagues were as cautious. 
As a whip, I was designated to keep an eye on our leader as he would be required to move the third reading in the debating chamber when the time came. 
At 2am Rob rolled into the chamber, obviously high as a kite and took his seat. The Opposition could see the state he was in. "Rob, we're over here!" called out an exuberant and waving David Lange. He knew that things were turning his way and this latest event was only one sign that his opponent was in trouble. 
There was byplay, with Rob returning the waves; his caucus colleagues looked on with concern. The Opposition couldn't believe their luck and the press gallery was full. 
The time came when Rob was required to move the third reading. He stood and was recognised by the Speaker; "The Right Honourable Robert Muldoon," he called thrice, only to be met with a drunken grin. 
It was obvious to us whips that Rob could either stand or he could speak, but he couldn't do both at once. After several attempts we made another senior minister sit with him to distract him in his attempts to put the final touches to a Budget. 
While he was so distracted we made the Associate Minister of Finance, John Falloon, stand and move the third reading. 
- Michael Cox, 'The night Muldoonism got bottled', New Zealand Herald, 27 February 2014

See also:
History: Marilyn Waring, 'A letter to my sisters', Listener, 26 May 1984
History: Simon Walker interviews Rob Muldoon, 1976
Photo: National Party caucus, c.1979
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