LANGE David Russell
The Right Honourable
Order of New Zealand (ONZ) Awarded in 1990 New Year Honours David Russell Lange, ONZ, CH 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, but one which did not always conform to traditional expectations of a social democrat party. He had a reputation for cutting wit and eloquence. His government implemented far-reaching free-market reforms. Helen Clark has described New Zealand's nuclear-free legislation as his legacy. Lange entered the New Zealand Parliament as the Labour MP for Mangere, a working-class Auckland electorate with a large Māori population, in 1977 in the Mangere by-election. On becoming an MP, Lange quickly made an impression in the House as a debater, a wit, and the scourge of Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. He succeeded Bill Rowling as leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party and as Leader of the Opposition on 3 February
Lange made his name on the international stage with a long-running campaign against nuclear weapons. His government refused to allow nuclear armed ships into New Zealand waters, a policy that New Zealand continues to this day. The policy, developing in 1985, had the effect of prohibiting United States Navy ships from visiting New Zealand. This displeased the United States and Australia: they regarded the policy as a breach of treaty obligations under ANZUS and as an abrogation of responsibility in the context of the Cold War against the Soviet bloc. After consultations with Australia and after negotiations with New Zealand broke down, the United States announced that it would suspend its treaty obligations to New Zealand until the re-admission of United States Navy ships to New Zealand ports, characterising New Zealand as "a friend, but not an ally". The perceived "crisis" made front-page headlines for weeks in many American newspapers, and media quoted many United States Cabinet members as expressing a deep sense of "betrayal".
Erroneous claims sometimes suggest that David Lange withdrew New Zealand from ANZUS. His government's policy may have prompted the US's decision to suspend its ANZUS Treaty obligations to New Zealand, but that decision rested with the U.S. government, not with the New Zealand government.
Relations with France became strained when French agents of the DGSE bombed and sank the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior on 10 July 1985 while it lay moored in Auckland Harbour, killing one person. In one of the highlights of this period, a widely-televised Oxford Union debate in 1985 showcased Lange, a skilled orator, arguing for the proposition that "nuclear weapons are morally indefensible", in opposition to U.S. televangelist Jerry Falwell. (TVNZ has made available an audio of Lange's speech.) Many regard this debate as Lange's finest hour on the world stage. It included his memorable statement "I can smell the uranium on it [your breath]...!".
In June 1986 Lange obtained a political deal with France over the Rainbow Warrior affair, presided over by United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar. France agreed to pay compensation of NZ$13 million (US$6.5 million) to New Zealand and also to apologise. In return, Lange agreed that French authorities could detain the convicted French agents Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur at the French military base on Hao Atoll for three years. However, the two spies both walked free by May 1988, after less than two years had elapsed.
In 1996 Lange sued the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation) over an alleged defamation that it broadcast about him. The ABC used the defence that there exists in the Australian Constitution an implied right to freedom of speech on political matters, and the High Court of Australia concurred.
In a key New Zealand defamation case (Lange v Atkinson  3 NZLR 385), Lange sued political scientist Joe Atkinson for representing him in the magazine North & South as a lazy prime minister. In a 1998 judgment, and on appeal in 2000, the courts affirmed a new qualified privilege for the media to discuss politicians when expressing the criticisms as the "honest opinion" of the author.
Lange received the Right Livelihood Award 2003 for his strong fight against nuclear weapons.
In January 2006 Archives New Zealand released to The Sunday Star-Times newspaper a box of David Lange's previously-classified documents. They revealed New Zealand's ongoing involvement in Western alliance espionage, and a threat by the United States to spy on New Zealand if it did not back down from its ban on nuclear ships.
Order of New Zealand (ONZ)
Companion of Honour (CH)
Born 4 August 1942 Otahuhu, Auckland, New Zealand
Died 13 August 2005, Middlemore Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand
Buried at Waikaraka Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand