29 Jan 2016

Long-time Labour MP Bob Tizard dies

9:42 am on 29 January 2016

Former Labour deputy prime minister Bob Tizard has died. He was 91.

Bob Tizard in 1974.

Bob Tizard in 1974. Photo: teara.govt.nz

Mr Tizard was a Member of Parliament for 31 years and served under six Labour prime ministers. He held several cabinet portfolios and was deputy prime minister to Bill Rowling. He was one of Labour's most effective MPs, aggressive, well-briefed, with a superb memory and a first-class debater.

Robert James Tizard was born in Auckland in 1924 and educated at Auckland Grammar School. He served with the Royal New Zealand Air Force in World War II before studying at Auckland University, where he gained an MA Honours in History.

He taught at the university and at secondary schools until he won the Tamaki seat for Labour in 1957. He lost the seat only three years later, to Robert Muldoon.

Mr Tizard returned to Parliament in a by-election in Otahuhu in early 1963 and remained MP for the area through a number of boundary and name changes until he retired in 1990. His daughter, Judith, succeeded him in what was then the seat of Panmure.

When Labour swept to power under Norman Kirk in 1972, Bob Tizard became minister of health and state services. On Kirk's death in 1974, he organised the election of Bill Rowling as successor and became his deputy as well as finance minister.

It was the post he had always wanted but he came to it at a difficult time. The oil shocks of the 1970s had hit New Zealand and the portfolio was a struggle.

Labour lost the 1975 election and Mr Tizard spent the next nine years in opposition. The party then swept back in the 1984 snap election and he became minister of energy.

In the government's second term, he was given defence and pushed through the controversial decision to buy two Anzac frigates.

Mr Tizard had been made a Privy Councillor in 1986 but publicly expressed opposition to some aspects of Labour's economic policy. He was dropped from the Palmer cabinet in January 1990 after deciding to retire at that year's election.

Compassionate man

Mr Tizard was seen as a compassionate man who hid his concern beneath an abrasive exterior, and he was notoriously frank. He once described the Treasury as "economists gone berserk" and gave the government a foreign policy headache when he said - after the death of Japan's Emperor Hirohito - that the emperor should have been chopped to pieces for his role in the war.

He was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his public services in 2000.

In 2007, at the age of 83, he stood in the local body elections for the Auckland District Health Board. Still fit and feisty, he won a place on the board.

Labour leader Andrew Little said Mr Tizard was great company and had a mind like a steel trap.

The Labour Party sent its sincerest thoughts and condolences to his family and loved ones, he said.

Mr Tizard is survived by his five children, four children from his first marriage to the former Governor General Dame Cath Tizard, and a fifth child from his second marriage. All five of his children were with him when he died.