David Lange

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Person.png David Lange   C-SPAN IMDB NNDBRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
David Lange.jpg
Born4 August 1942
Died13 August 2005 (Age 63)
NationalityNew Zealand
Alma materOtahuhu College, Auckland University
Introduced New Zealand's nuclear-free policy

Employment.png Prime Minister of New Zealand Wikipedia-icon.png

In office
26 July 1984 - 8 August 1989

Employment.png New Zealand/Leader of the Opposition

In office
3 February 1983 - 26 July 1984

Employment.png New Zealand/Attorney-General

In office
8 August 1989 - 2 November 1990

David Russell Lange ONZ CH PC was 32nd Prime Minister of New Zealand.


A lawyer by profession, Lange was first elected to the New Zealand Parliament in 1977. He soon gained a reputation for cutting wit (sometimes directed against himself) and eloquence. Lange became the Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition in 1983, succeeding Bill Rowling.

When Prime Minister Robert Muldoon called an election for July 1984 Lange led his party to a landslide victory, becoming, at the age of 41, New Zealand's youngest prime minister of the 20th century. Lange took various measures to deal with the economic problems he had inherited from the previous government. Some of the measures he took were controversial; the free-market ethos of the Fourth Labour Government did not always conform to traditional expectations of a social-democratic party. He also fulfilled a campaign promise to deny New Zealand's port facilities to nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered vessels, making New Zealand a nuclear-free zone. Lange and his party were re-elected in August 1987; he resigned two years later and was succeeded by his deputy, Geoffrey Palmer. He retired from Parliament in 1996. Prime Minister Helen Clark described New Zealand's nuclear-free legislation as his legacy.[1]

International affairs and nuclear-free policy

Lange's stand against nuclear weapons attracted international attention

Lange made his name on the international stage with his steadfast leadership in the anti-nuclear weapons movement.[2] His government refused to allow nuclear-capable ships into New Zealand's territorial waters, a policy the country continues to this day. In February 1985, Lange famously rejected the arrival of the USS Buchanan, supported by a recommendation from the acting prime minister Geoffrey Palmer.[3] The ship was not armed with nuclear weapons but was capable of carrying them. This displeased the United States; in response, all intelligence flow to New Zealand was stopped and joint military exercises were cancelled. In 1985, there were 22 programmed exercises canceled or restructured, resulting in approximately 6,000 man-days of training being taken away.[4]

During a televised Oxford Union debate in March 1985, Lange gained an extraordinary international reputation. Lange argued for the proposition that "Nuclear weapons are morally indefensible",[5] in opposition to the American televangelist Jerry Falwell.[6] Lange regarded his appearance at the Oxford Union as the high point of his career in politics. His speech included the memorable statement:

“"There is no humanity in the logic which holds that my country must be obliged to play host to nuclear weapons because others in the West are playing host to nuclear weapons. That is the logic which refuses to admit that there is any alternative to nuclear weapons, when plainly there is. It is self defeating logic, just as the weapons themselves are self defeating, to compel an ally to accept nuclear weapons against the wishes of that ally is to take the moral position of totalitarianism which allows for no self determination."”
David Lange (1985)  [7]
Lange was New Zealand PM at the time

His speech also included an often-quoted statement made in response to a question posed by another debater:

 "...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 towards me!"

In 1987, Lange's government passed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987.[8] This Act effectively declared New Zealand a nuclear-free zone and banned all nuclear-capable ships from entering New Zealand waters. The United States regarded this legislation as a breach of treaty obligations under ANZUS and announced that it would suspend its treaty obligations to New Zealand until the re-admission of U.S. Navy ships to New Zealand ports, characterising New Zealand as "a friend, but not an ally".[9]


Lange wrote a foreword to Nicky Hager's Secret Power.