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Queen’s Birthday Honours 2015: Sir Jim McLay

Jim McLay's citation specifically mentions his role in getting New Zealand a seat on the UN Security Council.

Rob Hosking
Mon, 01 Jun 2015

New Zealand’s outgoing permanent representative to the United Nations, and former deputy Prime Minister Jim McLay has been made a knight companion to the Order of New Zealand.

The honour is for “services to business and to the state” and the citation specifically mentions his role in getting New Zealand a seat on the UN Security Council. He formally stood down from the UN role at the end of May.

He was also executive chairman of Macquarie Group Holdings New Zealand was founder chairman of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development from 2005 to 2006, and patron until 2009.

While his formal political career ended in 1987, after leading the National Party for 18 months in which the party was in turmoil following its defeat in the 1984 snap election, his political influence has continued outside Parliament.

In particular, Prime Minister John Key has identified Sir Jim as a political mentor: the two met when their sons went to the same Auckland school and Mr McLay was one of several National Party old hands who smoothed Mr Key’s way into Parliament.

Sir Jim served in Parliament as MP for Birkenhead, taking the formerly safe Labour seat in the National landside of 1975 and holding it until standing down in 1987. He was attorney-general and minister of justice and in that role helped pass the Official Information Act as well as make the decision to pardon Arthur Allan Thomas.

A lawyer and member of a small number of economic and social liberals who were often out of sorts with the leader of the time, Sir Robert Muldoon, Sir Jim’s presence helped keep at least some of this group from bolting from National in the latter years of Sir Robert’s increasingly erratic government between 1982 and 1984.

In particular, a well thought and articulated speech in defence of classical liberal values and and economic freedom at the 1983 party conference helped him become deputy leader at the start of the 1984 election year. 

In the post-election tumult, he beat Jim Bolger, Bill Birch and Sir Robert Muldoon in a four-way contest for National Party leadership at the end of 1984 but facing David Lange at the top of the wave of his popularity, and with a bitterly divided and resentful National Party behind him, it was no time to be a leader of the opposition. He was felled in a coup in March 1986.

His work with the Whaling Commission from 1993 to 2002 was one reason for a previous honour, the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (for services to conservation) and his time in Parliament was recognised with a Queen’s Service Order for public services, in 1987.

Rob Hosking
Mon, 01 Jun 2015
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Queen’s Birthday Honours 2015: Sir Jim McLay
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