The 1980s

Page 12 – 1989 - key events

Tomorrow’s Schools

School choir 1989

The 1988 ‘Picot Report’, Administering for excellence: effective administration in education, described the Department of Education as ‘inefficient and unresponsive’ and a case of ‘good people, bad system’. The government, in which Prime Minister David Lange was also minister of education, accepted many of Picot’s recommendations. In 1989 the resulting Tomorrow’s Schools programme became the basis for reforming primary and secondary education in New Zealand. A leaner Ministry of Education replaced the Department, and the regional Education Boards were abolished. New agencies included an Education Review Office to monitor schools and a New Zealand Qualifications Authority to oversee student assessment. In line with ‘new-right’ theories of consumer choice, the elected boards of trustees which now managed schools were required to write their own charters. Many parents and teachers resisted these sweeping changes, with some success – attempts to introduce the bulk-funding of schools ultimately failed.

Labour implodes

The NewLabour Party

In April Jim Anderton, the Labour MP for Sydenham who was a trenchant critic of ‘Rogernomics’, resigned from the party and created the NewLabour Party to embody what he saw as the true spirit of the original Labour Party. The feud between Prime Minister David Lange and his former Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas, also reached its climax. Lange narrowly won a vote of confidence in caucus in June 1989, but in August caucus re-elected Douglas to Cabinet. This was the last straw for a tired and increasingly isolated Lange, who resigned as leader (and prime minister) on 8 August. He was replaced by his deputy, Geoffrey Palmer, and Helen Clark became the country’s the first female deputy prime minister. Lange gave up the education portfolio and became attorney-general (outside cabinet) in the Palmer ministry.

Maori Fisheries Act

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This act was an interim settlement aimed at recognising Māori customary fishing rights under the Treaty of Waitangi. Rather than take the matter through the courts, the Crown and Māori decided to negotiate a solution. To meet the obligations it now accepted, the Crown agreed to buy back roughly 10% of the quota that had already been allocated to fishing companies (some 60,000 tonnes), as well as shareholdings in these companies, and also to give $10 million to the Waitangi Fisheries Commission that was established by the Act. The Commission would hold the fisheries assets on behalf of Māori until agreement was reached as to their distribution among iwi (tribes). The Act also recognised that some coastal waters were of special significance to iwi or hapū as a source of food and/or for spiritual/cultural reasons. A management committee nominated by local Māori would determine fishing controls in these areas.


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In an almost incredible tale of survival, the four crew of the shipwrecked trimaran Rose–Noelle were found alive after 119 days at sea. The Rose-Noelle had been flipped by a massive wave three days into a voyage to Tonga in June. The signal from their EPIRB locator beacon had not been picked up by the time it stopped working a week later. Search and Rescue officials concluded that something ‘catastrophic’ had happened to the yacht and the four men on board - skipper John Glennie, Rick Hellriegel, Phil Hoffman and Jim Nalepka - were presumed to have drowned. In fact they were living in a small space inside the wreck and had managed to rig up a water catchment system. They caught fish to survive and acquired precious vitamin C from trays of kiwifruit that gradually ripened. Winds and currents pushed the stricken vessel in a wide loop, and it eventually washed up on a remote part of Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf. When the gaunt men reached civilisation, rumours abounded as to what had really happened. An official inquiry confirmed their incredible feat of endurance. Glennie and Nalepka later published differing accounts of their experiences.

Other 1989 events

  • Sunday trading began In time for the Christmas rush.
  • The Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act established the Bank’s role in maintaining price stability through monetary policy.
  • GST was raised to 12.5% on 1 July.
  • In April Swedish tourists Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen disappeared while backpacking in the Coromandel, prompting the largest land-based search undertaken in New Zealand. In December 1990, David Tamihere was convicted of murdering the couple. The discovery of Höglin’s body in 1991 contradicted police evidence given at Tamihere’s trial.
  • TV3 began broadcasting in November.
  • State-owned Air New Zealand was sold to a consortium headed by Brierley Investments Ltd in October 1989 and later listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. A ‘Kiwi share’ kept decision-making in New Zealand hands.
  • The first Holmes show screened.

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'1989 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-Oct-2021

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