David Lange

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David Lange (August 4, 1942 — August 13, 2005) served as Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1984 to 1989. He headed New Zealand's fourth Labour Government, one of the most reforming administrations in his country's history, alongside Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble. Lange was renowned for a cutting wit and eloquence. His government implemented far-reaching free market reforms, some of which he later came to oppose and regret. Perhaps his most lasting legacy is New Zealand's Nuclear Free Legislation, which for many symbolised a moral, independent, powerful identity for New Zealand.

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  • After a very long year we've got a very short knight.
    • Source: Heinemann Dictionary of New Zealand Quotations (1988), p. 397.
    • On the knighthood of the rather short Sir Robert Muldoon in January 1984. Lange repeated the quote on U.S. television as an explanation of Sir Robert's dislike for him.
  • "I agreed with the prevailing opinion in the Labour Party about nuclear weapons; I went on ban-the-bomb marches in the 1960s and I have not changed my mind about nuclear deterrence since. But I found it hard to accept the Labour Party’s policy that required the exclusion of nuclear-powered ships. Given that nuclear energy exists it is the intention behind its use that matters. The weapons are made to destroy and we have to learn to live without them. The rest may be useful if properly managed. The management is an environmental issue and the inevitable exclusion of nuclear-powered vessels was not an appropriate basis for our foreign policy."
    • Source: David Lange, My Life (2005).
    • Debunking the view of the left wing of the 1980s New Zealand Labour Party that the Lange Government's nuclear weapons ban should also extend to nuclear propulsion.
  • If the American global strategy is dependent on the ability of nuclear ships to come to New Zealand, then God defend the world.
    • Source: Heinemann Dictionary of New Zealand Quotations (1988), p. 397.
    • Referring to American nuclear policy, alluding to New Zealand's national anthem, God Defend New Zealand.
  • We are an enemy of the nuclear threat and we are an enemy of testing nuclear weapons in the South Pacific. New Zealand did not buy into this fight. France put agents into New Zealand. France put spies into New Zealand. France lets off bombs in the Pacific. France puts its President in the Pacific to crow about it.
  • ...a sordid act of international state-backed terrorism.
  • Death is very, very terminal.
    • Source: National Business Review, 1 May 1987, p. 10.
    • In a speech raising awareness about the AIDS epidemic.
  • They couldn't, in the National Party, run a bath and if either the deputy leader or the leader tried to, Sir Robert would run away with the plug.
    • Source: Gliding on the Lino: The Wit of David Lange, compiled by David Barber, 1987.
    • Referring to the National Party's problems with internal discipline and Robert Muldoon's reluctance to relinquish power.
  • The statement which has been made by the Leader of the Opposition was that the intelligence has stopped. I don't know whether that was a personal confession or whether it was a statement of position.
    • Source: Gliding on the Lino: The Wit of David Lange, compiled by David Barber, 1987.
    • Referring to Jim McLay's comments on the effect of the nuclear ships ban on the exchange of military intelligence with New Zealand's allies.
  • An itinerant masseur, massaging the politically erogenous zones.
    • Source: Heinemann Dictionary of New Zealand Quotations (1988), p. 399.
    • Of Jim Bolger, Leader of the Opposition during the 1987 election campaign.
  • After that, whenever I drove past Mangakahia, I would empty my ashtray — and I was a heavy smoker in those days — on the road outside the hall.
    • Source: Dominion, 4 October 1993, p. 10.
    • Lange had been invited during the election campaign to speak with local farmers in the Mangakahia hall. The meeting lasted well over three hours, with many questions and vigorous displays of support. However on election day, of the 88 votes cast in Mangakahia, none were for Lange's labour party.
  • Greens are not expected to be anything but nice.
    • Source: Dominion, 30 December 1991, p. 6.
    • Referring to the New Zealand Ecological Movement.
  • I wouldn't call the Prime Minister gutless. That's all that's left of him.
    • Source: NZPD 456, 1984, p. 107.
    • Referring to Sir Robert "Piggy" Muldoon.
  • He had more on his mind than his mind could hold.
    • Source: A New Zealand Dictionary of Political Quotations, p. 94.
    • Referring to an unsuitable applicant for a high-ranking government position.
  • When asked, "Does God help you?": "He's not really in caucus lately."
    • Source: A New Zealand Dictionary of Political Quotations, p. 94.
  • When asked, "So, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?": "I'm going to be a jockey."
    • Source: A New Zealand Dictionary of Political Quotations, p. 97.
    • Lange was notably rotund.
  • And I'm going to give it to you if you hold your breath just for a moment … I can smell the uranium on it as you lean forward.
    • Source: http://publicaddress.net/default,1578.sm#post
    • (Commonly misquoted as "I can smell the uranium on your breath", as in A New Zealand Dictionary of Political Quotations, p. 94.)
    • During the Oxford Union Debate, 1 March 1985.
  • Our military forces are an arm of government, just like the Department of Social Welfare, although probably less able to inflict widespread harm.
    • Source: Defence Quarterly, 1993, p.32.
  • On seeing a machine labelled "media steriliser", Lange quipped: "Have that sent to my office immediately."
    • Source: A New Zealand Dictionary of Political Quotations, p. 98.
  • On Roger Douglas: "He's like rust, he never sleeps."
    • Source: A New Zealand Dictionary of Political Quotations, p. 100.
  • He's gone around the country stirring up apathy.
    • Source: A New Zealand Dictionary of Political Quotations, p. 112.
    • Referring to a national tour by Jim Bolger.
  • ...an economic ignoramus unfit to oversee a fifty-cent raffle.
    • Source: New Zealand Wit & Wisdom (1998), p.155.
    • Referring to Muldoon.
  • What a friend we have in cheeses.
    • Source: New Zealand Wit & Wisdom (1998), p.155.
    • Referring to New Zealand's lucrative dairy export industry.
  • Once while waiting at Auckland airport, Lange insisted on buying himself a newspaper and joined a queue at a newsstand. The woman in front of him turned around and said, "Good God!" Lange replied affably, "No madam, you are mistaken. I have never made that claim."
    • Source: A New Zealand Dictionary of Political Quotations, p. 95.
  • My back is so scar-tissued that you couldn't find a place to slip a knife.
    • Source: A Dictionary of New Zealand Political Quotations (2000), p. 96.
  • ...it all happened so quickly you got a lot of bewilderment; you get a lot of people who are basically meat-and-three-veg quarter-acre New Zealanders who find themselves eating dim sims with chopsticks and they can't cope.
    • Source: New Zealand Wit & Wisdom (1998), p.156.
    • Referring to the reforms of the 1980s.
  • Bassett was a member of parliament and a cousin on my father's side of the family. My father delivered him and it became plain in later days that he must have dropped him.
    • Source: David Lange, My Life (2005), p.98
    • Referring to his former Cabinet colleague Dr Michael Bassett, who was delivered by his Doctor father.
  • He viewed humour as a relaxing introduction to many situations. "It is, of course, completely inappropriate in some... but in the end, you know, if you were serious in this job you'd go mad."
    • Source: Gliding on the Lino - The Wit of David Lange, compiled by David Barber, 1987.
  • To US Ambassador H. Monroe Browne, who owned a racehorse called Lacka Reason: "You are the only ambassador in the world to race a horse named after your country's foreign policy."
    • Source: National Business Review, 17/2/86.
  • Winston Peters: "the only member of Parliament named after a concrete block, and I can understand that." [1]
  • "Will the United States pull the rug on New Zealand? The answer is no. They might polish the lino a bit harder and hope that I execute a rather unseemly glide across it."
    • Source: Gliding on the Lino: The Wit of David Lange", compiled by David Barber, 1987.
  • "I've got two shirts still missing from the Bahamas. I'm sure they are part of a youth camping programme somewhere in Tanzania by now."
    • Source: Herald on Sunday, 7/8/05.
  • "I went in a round of the Domain on Saturday morning in a rally car. At the start of it, I was asked if I felt scared. I said, 'certainly not, I have been working with Roger for years'."
    • Source: Gliding on the Lino: The Wit of David Lange, compiled by David Barber, 1987.


  • Lange was hosting a reception at Vogel House for the Chinese politician Hu Yao Bang when the lights went out. Lange immediately asked all the guests to raise their hands because "many hands make light work." The audience complied, and to their amazement the lights immediately came back on. Lange was invited to visit China.
    • Source: Dominion, 23 March 1992, p. 6.
  • On a trip to Germany, Lange and his entourage were climbing the tower of an ancient castle when they stopped to catch their breath. "How old is this ruin?" someone asked a guide. "Forty-two years," said Lange.
    • Source: A New Zealand Dictionary of Political Quotations, p. 94.


  • Of his political colleagues: "If you took the glasses off some of them they'd be rendered dumb."
  • Of Michael Bassett: "A man who could eat a banana sideways".
  • Sir Robert Muldoon: "At last there is a member with a larger stomach than my own."

David Lange: "Yes, but mine is further from the ground."

  • Asked about the Security Intelligence Service by an opposition MP, he responded: "I can understand the member's desire to have a passing connection with intelligence which seems to have by-passed him all his life. He has kept his secret for years."
  • Commenting on the abilities of former National Party leader Jim McLay: "The performance of the leader of the opposition is now frantically, furiously, skitterishly, hopelessly, nervously, disastrously pathetic."
  • While at a Cabinet retreat in Fiji the menu for the day was explained, "You can get Chinese food all day, however if you want anything else you'll have to make a specific order." Lange quipped, "So it's Wok around the clock?"

Extracts from Press conferences quoted in Gliding on the Lino:

  • To a journalist who asked: "Prime Minister, can we go back to Ruatoria for a moment?": "Certainly, goodbye."
Lange: "Well I think that is a question which I would deem simply so stupid as not to be worth answering,"
Journalist: "Well I can't quite understand..."
Lange: "Well that confirms my assessment of the question."
  • When asked: "Prime Minister, I wonder if we might have a brief word about Australia" by a journalist, Lange replied: "Wombat"
  • Reacting to news that he had retained his Mangere seat in the 1990 election with a provisional majority of 3366: "Well, my majority might be of some interest to students of the Book of Revelation. It's thirty-three sixty-six."
  • Enquiring about his youngest daughter, a journalist asked "Do you worry about being an old dad?" Lange replied: "No, I worry about being a dead dad."
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