The 1980s

Page 8 – 1985 - key events

USS Buchanan refused entry to NZ

Cartoon about arrival of USS Buchanan

The Labour government elected in mid-1984 had made clear its intention to pursue policies that would make New Zealand nuclear-free, including by banning ships that were nuclear-powered or potentially nuclear-armed. It was put to the test in February when the ageing guided-missile destroyer USS Buchanan was denied entry when the Americans followed their usual policy by neither confirming nor denying that it was nuclear-capable. They hoped that the unlikelihood that the Buchanan was nuclear-armed would allow it to slip into port under the political radar. But for the New Zealand government, ‘near-uncertainty was not enough’. Within days of the ban Washington severed visible intelligence and military ties with New Zealand and downgraded political and diplomatic exchanges. US Secretary of State George Schultz – who felt he had been misled by Lange at a meeting immediately after the election – confirmed that the United States would no longer guarantee New Zealand’s security. The ANZUS treaty structure remained formally in place, however.

Rainbow Warrior bombing

Ship half sunk at dock

The bombing of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior by French Secret Service (DGSE) agents while it was berthed in Waitematā Harbour killed a Portuguese crew member, Fernando Pereira, and seriously harmed relations between New Zealand and France. The ham-fisted DGSE operation was intended to prevent the Rainbow Warrior leading another campaign against French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll. Two of the DGSE officers involved, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, were arrested and charged with murder. Both pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. The United Nations brokered a settlement whereby France would apologise to New Zealand and pay compensation of $13 million. France was also ordered not to interfere with New Zealand’s trade negotiations. In return, Prieur and Mafart would serve the remainder of their sentences on Hao Atoll in French Polynesia. In the event, both were released early. Mafart returned to France because of ‘illness’ in 1987 and a pregnant Prieur followed him in May 1988. Both were honoured, decorated and promoted upon their return home.

Treaty of Waitangi Amendment Act

Whina Cooper

In 1975 the Treaty of Waitangi Act established the Waitangi Tribunal as an ongoing commission of inquiry to hear Māori grievances against the Crown concerning breaches of the Treaty. The legislation limited the scope of inquiry to grievances occurring after 1975. The Tribunal could make findings of fact and recommendations, but not binding determinations. The 1985 amendment enabled the Tribunal to investigate Treaty claims dating back to 1840. It could now commission research and appoint legal counsel for claimants. The hearing and settlement of historical claims became a major focus of Māori energies, and many landmark settlements and decisions were made as a result.

Finnegan v NZRFU

Cartoon about 1985 All Blacks tour injunction

The wounds from the controversial 1981 Springbok tour were still fresh in the minds of many as the All Blacks prepared for a return tour of the republic in the winter of 1985. Public protests and calls for the tour to be cancelled fell on deaf ears at rugby union HQ. In early July, Auckland lawyers and ‘grass roots rugby players’ Patrick Finnegan and Philip Recordon took the sport’s administrators to court. Arguing that the New Zealand Rugby Football Union was in breach of its constitution, which promised to ‘promote, foster and develop the game’, they sought an injunction to stop the tour proceeding. This was not initially granted, but the plaintiffs were granted leave to test an aspect of their case in the High Court. On 13 July Justice Casey stunned the country by granting an interim injunction in favour of the plaintiffs. With the All Blacks due to leave within days, the NZRFU had no option but to cancel the tour. As a result a rebel Cavaliers team toured South Africa in 1986. 

Other 1985 events

  • Lange gave a masterful performance in the widely televised Oxford Union debate, arguing in favour of the proposition that ‘nuclear weapons are morally indefensible’.
  • Labour MP Fran Wilde introduced a private member’s bill, the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, with the aim of decriminalising sexual relations between men aged 16 and over.
  • Keri Hulme won the Booker Prize for her first novel, The bone people.
  • On 20 November Sir Paul Reeves, previously the Anglican Archbishop of New Zealand, was sworn in as the country’s first Māori governor-general.
  • At the Music Awards, Netherworld Dancing Toys won Album of the Year, Single of the Year (‘For today’) and Group of the Year. Andrew Fagan of The Mockers was named Best Male Vocalist and Margaret Urlich Best Female Vocalist.
  • The quiet earth, New Zealand film’s first big screen foray into sci-fi, was released.

Do you remember 1985? Add your memories and comments in the form below.

How to cite this page

'1985 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-Oct-2021

Community contributions

1 comment has been posted about 1985 - key events

What do you know?


Posted: 16 Jun 2022

Amanda Faulkner was beaten almost to death in an attempted murder on the Kawerau Lake Road. The case is currently unsolved.