Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 3 18 March 1970
Mr Prime Minister, do you think that the Honours system is worthwhile?
Oh yes, indeed. It allows the Government of the day to fulfil its obligations to faithful Party members and to a few others who may have done some worthy charitable work—like being President of the SPCA for 49 years, or President of the Save the Children Fund and having organised 342 kitchen teas which have raised a total of $299. That sort of thing. Very valuable and important in our type of community where there is so much community service.
How have you gone about giving out honours?
Well it's not me of course. Hah, Hah. Not directly, that is to say. I'd rather put it this way. The Government of the day, that is the National Government usually these days, consults the people, so to speak. We put our cars to the ground and see what people think; we're in touch with the sounds. Our politicians, after all, have had a long experience in politics, and that's essentially what politics is, keeping your ear to the ground. Well, when we've done all that the boys give their suggestions to me—once or twice a year, because we have two distributions of Honours. Well at that stage I look at the list then put all my names to the top. Of course we've all discussed them before. The friends of the Party, the men (and the occasional woman I might say too) who've helped us to victory, and have given the occasional piece of advice. So you'll see, looking through the lists, the men who have helped the Party in one way or another: Sir Henry Kelliher, Sir Robert Kerridge, Sir Jack Butland, Sir Leonard Wright, Sir John Allum, Sir James Hay and Sir Woolf Fisher—to name but a few—have helped. Then of course there are the men who have helped us with advice—my 'inner Cabinet,' at least that's what it was called light-heartedly in the early days, when they were trying to give me advice. You'll sec it mentioned in Austin Mitchell's new book.
Who are these men?
Oh, very well-known names. Sir Clifford Plimmer, Sir John Ormond, Sir Hamilton Mitchell, Sir Andrew Linton, Sir Jack Acland, Sir James Doig. Those are a few names. Very important men. They used to come out to the airport to meet me every time I'd been away. And I was away quite a lot of course. Hah, hah.
I'd always thought you gave honours to men who'd been helpful to you in the media too?
Well, I wouldn't say that all the press and TV have been good to me. There was a time you know when there was one paper, the Grey River something I think it was called, which didn't support the party. But now things are better. Danny boy's got Truth and the Sunday News as well as the Sunday Times and the Dominion, and that's a help, especially when we need to show visiting politicans how faithful we are to the American flag. That's one of the reasons why I made him Minister of Justice—to keep my tabs on him. He'd been mucking round a lot as Chairman of the Statutes Revision Committee, organising all sorts of little tricks. You'd never think it of old Dan, but sometimes he can move. The old eyes flicker beneath those closed eyelids, you know. What I am worried about is this new TV consortium up in Auckland, the thing with Sir Robert Kerridge, Sir James Doig, Sir James Wattie and Sir Clifford Plimmer in it. They're organising it, and they've got some chap called Dredden in running it for them. I must say that I am a little concerned at this whole business. After all, we did set up the Broadcasting Authority to give our boys a bit of the cake, and now these Big Four try and horn in. It's not really fair. Private enterprise means giving the other chap a chance, and I've given Bob and Jim and Jim and Cliff all knighthoods, so what do they want to do in television? They've got this chap Dredden saying things about the NZBC coverage of Vietnam—saying that it's not been good. Well I see television quite a lot, especially when I'm on, and I would say, without the word of a lie, that the New Zealand Broadcasting coverage of Vietnam and our boys' wonderful part in it has been dealt with magnificently. There were one or two slight hindrances but these people have been removed. I don't see that there is any need whatsoever, I say that emphatically, no need whatsoever to improve our television and its coverage of Vietnam. We may be there for some time, especially if young Thomson and Muldoon have their way, but there's no need to improve the standards. I go along with what Gilbert Stringer says, that it's a medium for the people, and—this is between you and me—the people have very low tastes, very unsophisticated. Just look what happened in the Marlborough by-election.
But to die original point, sir, what about the men in die media?
I must say that I thought I'd been covering that very point. One thing I don't like is being interrupted. That fellow Austin Mitchell had that very annoying habit, and I put him in his place. Well, as I was saying, we have been treated very well by the press in New Zealand and that's something I would expect because we have been returned, for how many years now, well three times since 1960. And that is something I'm very proud of. To have led four administrations—Holyoake Governments they're now being called, I believe. That is something of which I'm very proud. And Sir John Illot has helped us a lot. They do all our advertising of course, and then there's Denis Blundelt. Sir Denis now of course, now High Commissioner in London. That's where Honours come in very useful you see because we can pension blokes off. Send them to Canada like old one-eye Gotz, Sir Leon, and when they've finished being embarrassing they come back here and are too old to do much, so they just retire. It was just lucky that when Gotz had to retire his place was vacant for my old friend. Dean Eyre. And since he's been there I've seen only one cable from him, and I sec all the cables which pass through because I am, as you will remember. Minister for Foreign Affairs. Very good place Canada, I like my friend Pierre very much and we're expecting him here very shortly. Luckily we haven't got a big French population and we haven't arranged a trip at Akaroa, so it will be a very quiet visit. No demonstrations.
Why do you hand out so many knighthoods and important jobs to retired generals and admirals and air marshals?
This has a very long tradition, and I don't like breaking with tradition. I suppose you could call me a Conservative, the same as our old friend Tom Shand. And then too I'm a Liberal the same as our dear colleague recently departed, Ralph Hanan. The two are very much the same, that's why I've succeeded, by being adaptable. Well, to answer your point the 'Services,' as they're called, have a very long tradition. And the tradition is that these men get many more Honours, knighthoods, CMC's, OBE's and that sort of thing, than any other section of the community. Why, they even get more than politicans. I reckon I could name at least twenty military men who've received knighthoods to ten politicians. Of course they have a very difficult job, especially with this rowdy section of the community. So the tradition is that they get a knighthood when they reach a certain level, and there was only one exception to that. When Walker McKinnon retired as Chief of General Staff we didn't give him a knighthood; we let him potter around his garden for a while then gave him the chairmanship of the NZBC. That's another form of Honour, of course, for we've got quite a few jobs like that which really are-Honours and can be dispensed much more freely. No need to get a signature from the Queen, that sort of nonsense. And no one realises that these jobs are political appointments—just look, we've got the Broadcasting Authority, simply dozens of Chairmanships, all the Governor-General's appointments to University Councils all round the country, the NZBC Board, the Directors of the Tariff and Development Board (sweet thing that, nearly $7,000 a year for doing damn all.—Wish I could retire to that and take Kevin O'Brien's place). Some smart aleck political scientist worked it all out once and figured we had over 400 political appointments, well I'd say that was a very conservative estimate.
What about your own Knighthood?
Well, that would be too much to tell you at this stage, but the Queen and I had a talk when I was last at Buckingham Palace, and I have arranged an investiture in the Wellington Town Hall when she's here. Very similar to the occasion when she visited here and Sidney Holland . . . well I'd better not go into that at this stage.