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The 1980s

Page 6 – 1983 - key events

Anti-nuclear protests

The desirability of nuclear ship visits had become an important question for New Zealanders. Widespread protests greeted the arrival of the nuclear-powered frigate USS Texas in Auckland in August. In Wellington, protesters wore grotesque masks and carried a papier-mâché Statue of Liberty wielding a nuclear-armed missile. Thousands marched in Auckland in support of a Women’s Day for Nuclear Disarmament. The National government saw these visits as expressing New Zealand’s support for ANZUS and the country’s relationship with the United States. Ship visits and the wider anti-nuclear issue would play a prominent role during the 1984 general election campaign.

The New Zealand Party

Read more on Te Ara

When prominent Wellington businessman Robert (Bob) Jones established the New Zealand Party in response to what he saw as National’s betrayal of its principles of individual liberty and free enterprise, Muldoon dismissed it as a publicity stunt. But with its motto of ‘Freedom and Prosperity’, the new party played a spoiling role in the 1984 general election. While the first-past-the-post system meant it won no seats, the New Zealand Party’s 12.5% of the vote was enough to prevent National candidates winning a number of seats they otherwise would have.

Closer Economic Relations with Australia

The Australia–New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement, better known as CER, came into force on 1 January 1983 but was not formally signed until 28 March. Building on the 1966 New Zealand Australia Free Trade Agreement, it was New Zealand’s first comprehensive bilateral trade agreement, and one of the first such agreements in the world. By 1990 there were no tariffs or restrictions on trade between the two countries. Australia became New Zealand’s principal trading partner and by far its leading source of investment. Critics argued that the benefits were not mutual, and by 2012 New Zealand was only Australia’s seventh-largest trading partner.

Death of ‘Kiwi’ Keith

Sir Keith Holyoake

Long-serving prime minister and ex-governor-general Keith Holyoake died in Wellington Hospital on 8 December. Holyoake led National to four consecutive election victories in the 1960s before stepping down in 1972. Nicknamed ‘Kiwi Keith’ (originally to distinguish him from an Australian cousin of the same name), Holyoake’s aim of preserving New Zealand’s economic prosperity and stability was summed up in National’s 1963 election slogan, ‘Steady Does It’. Though he attracted criticism for his conservative outlook and ‘plummy tone’, the longevity of his administration suggests that he had correctly read the mood of most New Zealanders. Holyoake retired from Parliament in 1977 and controversially served as governor-general until 1980.

Other 1983 events

  • Zhao Ziyang became the first Chinese premier to visit New Zealand when he made a state visit in April.
  • Chris Lewis became only the second New Zealander (after Anthony Wilding, who won four times between 1910 and 1913) to reach a Wimbledon singles final, but lost in straight sets to John McEnroe.
  • Aucklander Lorraine Downes was crowned Miss Universe in St Louis, Missouri.
  • The Waverley-trained gelding Kiwi won the 1983 Melbourne Cup with a devastating finish.
  • The disappearance of Napier schoolgirl Kirsa Jensen on 1 September while she was riding a horse at a local beach sparked a murder mystery that remains unsolved.
  • Following Allison Roe’s success in the women’s race in 1981, former Olympic medallist Rod Dixon became the first non-American man to win the prestigious New York City marathon.
  • Patu!, Merata Mita’s ‘startling documentary record of the mass civil disobedience’ during the 1981 Springbok tour, was released to critical acclaim.
  • The Prince and Princess of Wales visited New Zealand for the first time, accompanied by their baby son, Prince William.
  • DD Smash was the big winner at the annual music awards, winning Top Group, Single of the Year (‘Outlook for Thursday’) and Top Male Vocalist (Dave Dobbyn). Country singer Suzanne Prentice was named Top Female Vocalist for the third year in a row.
  • Sharon O’Neill had a top-20 hit on both sides of the Tasman with ‘Maxine’.
  • Howard Morrison was the Television Entertainer of the Year, while the comedy show McPhail and Gadsby took out the Best Entertainment award.
  • Geoff Murphy followed up his hit movie Goodbye pork pie with Utu, a drama about Māori leader Te Wheke’s ‘bloody rebellion against the colonial Government’ that was based in part on the real-life story of Te Kooti.

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1983 - key events, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated