Rob Talbot RIP

December 24th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Last week saw the funeral of . He was aged 89 but still very active until close to the end.

Rob was a South Canterbury MP for 21 years until 1987, when he was succeeded by Jenny Shipley. He is one of the relatively few surviving members of the Muldoon Cabinet.

He was a great friend of America, and served as Chairman of the NZ American Association. Ambassador Huebner was one of many who paid tribute to Rob. There is an annual Rob Talbot prize for an individual who advances friendship and mutual understanding between New Zealanders and Americans.

A 2008 story on Stuff reported:

As a senior official in Robert Muldoon’s government in the 1980s, Rob Talbot was the man who signed off on New Zealand’s first cellular network.

Fast-forward 25 years and Mr Talbot, now a sprightly 84-year-old, was proud to become one of the first people in the world to own the new generation iPhone.

Eyeing up fellow devotees as he queued for four hours outside a Wellington Vodafone store, Mr Talbot conceded he may have been the oldest person in line. But he said he was “definitely the youngest at heart”.

A former National MP who served as postmaster-general, Mr Talbot said he still got a kick out of new technology and described his latest acquisition as “the greatest piece of technology yet”. …

He travelled to Sweden in 1983 to enter contract negotiations with Ericsson, which was where he encountered the first mobile phone, affectionately known as “the brick”.

I recall the bricks! They used to come with a bag and shoulder strap to carry them around.

I didn’t make the funeral, but hear it was well attended. Rob has many friends and family who will miss him.

18 Responses to “Rob Talbot RIP”

  1. lastmanstanding (1,724 comments) says:

    Ahh brings back memories of the times when Air NZ Hosties would open the locker and lift out my large brief case containing the Mitsubishi Brick before I could warn them and their arm would drop to the floor. Also remember had to install the base of the phone in the car and wire it up each time after using it mobile. First couple of installations where in the boot. After getting soaked in the rain at airports I then insisted the base wires where routed to the floor in front of the passenger seat. Also had to rmove hand set from mobile case and plug into holder installed on dashboard. I had a speaker installed before the days of hands free kits.

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  2. Rex Widerstrom (5,113 comments) says:

    I’m saddened to hear this. Muldoon stuffed his Ministry with many people who couldn’t tie their own shoelaces so that he could control almost every portfolio. Some displayed levels of stupid that, even today, would astound. Many, not seeing this and being toadied to for the first time in their lives, became quite arrogant.

    There were exceptions though, and Rob Talbot was certainly one of them. Unfailingly courteous and sharply intelligent, he was a pleasure to interview and to deal with. I wasn’t aware of the work he’d done to NZ/US relations, but it doesn’t surprise me that his forward thinking attitude and his diplomatic skills found important work after he left politics. My condolences to his family.

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  3. David Garrett (10,975 comments) says:

    I didnt realise you were that old Rex…out of interest, who was the dumbest of the Muldoon cabinets in your view? Ben Couch would have to be a starter…Keith Allen? Air Commodore Frank (Frank f…s fwogs) Gill seemed to attract a lot of ridicule..

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  4. mikenmild (23,597 comments) says:

    What about Colin McLachlan?

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  5. Rex Widerstrom (5,113 comments) says:

    Hello DG…

    I was a precocious lad and got my first job in radio at 14, and have been following politics ever since. Hence I got to interview every PM from Holyoake (albeit when he was GG, and so addled at a function his ADC sort of leaned him against a post so I culd talk to him) to Clark, and most Ministers from Muldoon’s Cabinet on…

    Ben Couch was famous for sleeping in the Chamber of course. I really used to wonder how he kept awake through his selection meeting, but then again perhaps in the Wairarapa that wasn’t a prerequisite.

    Frank Gill! Ah yes, he always seemed to use his military rank in private life, as though he expected people to snap their heels together and salute when he entered the room.

    But the prize for a combustible mixture of stupidity and arrogance has to go to Les Gandar, who for some reason was entrusted with the Education portfolio. I’d arranged an extensive interview on the portfolio and, as one had to in those days, turned up lugging about 10 kg of equipment and accompanied by a sound operator.

    We were shown into the Minister’s office and busied ourselves setting up at one end of his office while he worked at the Then the division bells rang. He strode across the room, shook hands, and indicated that he wouldn’t be coming back and it had been nice meeting us.

    Gobsmacked, I told him I was expecting a half hour interview. “Oh,” he said, looking confused, “I thought you had just wanted to meet me”, left the room and never returned.

    Yes Les, I was planning on never washing the hand you shook… 8-|

    Looking back, I guess it was indicative of how shambolic his office was, that he could think and interview was a meet-and-greet. But who in their right mind would line up to meet Les Gandar, and what did he think the equipment was for… photographs of the handshake?!

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  6. David Garrett (10,975 comments) says:

    Mikey: Yes, I think we are proving Rex’s claim that they were hardly a stellar bunch..

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  7. mikenmild (23,597 comments) says:

    OTOH there were some notably capable people, as there are in every government.

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  8. Rex Widerstrom (5,113 comments) says:


    Colin McLachlan was about Muldoon’s only mate in politics, and it was generally believed that he only ran for office so Muldoon could have one person in Cabinet he could trust completely and have a few drinks with after work. He didn’t do much as a Minister and so was widely held to be stupid, but I tend to think he was a man who knew his limits, and knew his role was primarily that of confidante and conduit (people could approach Muldoon through him), and so avoided getting into trouble by trying anything fancy… like working on his portfolios :-/

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  9. Rex Widerstrom (5,113 comments) says:

    Yes, there were some very capable people also. Talboys, Templeton, Talbot, MacIntyre and McClay certainly were. Thomson and Gair a bit less so IMO, but by no means daft. Just that, like every government since, the really out-of-their-depth ones managed to grab all the attention.

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  10. DJP6-25 (1,781 comments) says:

    Rex Widerstrom 2:46pm What about Derek Qiugley?


    David Prosser

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  11. Rex Widerstrom (5,113 comments) says:

    @David Prosser

    Yes, Quigley certainly. I’d forgotten him, which is inexcusable because he was a man of great principle. He admired Muldoon despite having very different economic views right up to the point at which Muldoon made an appalling personal attack on Colin Moyle, fed by illegal and unconscionable leaks from the NZ Police.

    Quigley didn’t believe Parliament should be dragged into the dirt. I wonder what he’d make of the glee over “Zip it sweetie” and other inanities?

    It’s always struck me as a great pity he didn’t remain longer in ACT. It might then have become a Right wing liberal vehicle as was originally intended rather than the conservative rump it withered to when the SST and other influences took control.

    Mike Minogue (though not a Minister) always struck me as intelligent, and certainly principled, as was Quigley.

    I’ve found Quigley’s resignation speech here. Worth a look. He stands up to Muldoon to the very last, saying “As requested by you, I have resigned…” He wasn’t going to let Muldoon get away with pretending he (Quigley) had walked away from fighting for his principles.

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  12. Azeraph (626 comments) says:

    84 and waiting in line for an iphone, one can only tip their hat at that.

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  13. DJP6-25 (1,781 comments) says:

    Rex Widerstrom 3:32 pm. Thanks for the reply Rex. Derek was good value as you said. Mike Minogue played an important role in causing Muldooon to call the snap election. One can’t forget Marilyn Waring in that respect too. That’s it for me. Off home for some macaroni cheese. Merry Christmas and a happy new year.



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  14. mikenmild (23,597 comments) says:

    Quigley’s finest hour was yet to come – when commissioned by the 1999 Labour government to review the F-16 deal he found, against all expectations, that it was excellent value for money, which, needless to say, was not what those commissioning his report expected.

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  15. Rodders (1,790 comments) says:

    More about Rob Talbot

    Indeed, there are still some surviving Ministers from the Muldoon years: Hugh Templeton, George Gair, Aussie Malcolm, Jim McLay, Jim Bolger, Bill Birch, Warren Cooper, Tony Friedlander, Derek Quigley & Ian Shearer.

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  16. David Garrett (10,975 comments) says:

    Rex: Off topic a bit (and since it’s Christmas I will be nice) but it is certainly news to the Sensible Sentencing Trust that they “took control” of ACT…3S was ACT policy long before I came along, and after my sudden departure they appeared to lose all interest in the SST/Laura Norder vote…I was approached for some policy ideas that SST would be prepared to endorse prior to the 2011 election…I provided same, but NONE of them ever saw the light of day as ACT policy…And their justice spokesmen at that election was a 23 year old twerp who had formerly opined that ACT had no business chasing the Laura Norder vote at all…which they clearly didn’t..

    And merry Christmas to your and yours sir…

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  17. Rex Widerstrom (5,113 comments) says:


    I did say “and other influences”, I didn’t mean to imply it was a wholesale takeover by the SST. In fact it seemed to me to have become a repository of all sorts of points of view which wouldn’t normally sit comfortably under the one umbrella but which were shackled together as a convenient route to power. I’m not surprised it quickly fell apart.

    When ACT was first formed it was quite puristin that its sole focus was economics and related issues and one certainly didn’t hear Roger Douglas or Quigley or Ken Shirley wading into isues as “off topic” and sentencing policy – though of course economics gave them a broad range of subjects, from environment to health, to range across.

    I became involved, briefly, as a consultant when Prebble was leader. Even then 3S would not have been a natural fit because the party still seemend pretty much in the control of classic liberals. Prebble even managed to author “Liberal Thinking”, though his being a bit of a populist meant I got the impression there was quite a bit ghost writing went on… IIRC it even had as it’s slogan at one point “the liberal party”.

    I wouldn’t begin to go beyond that point and opine on how it went from a promising newcomer driven by principled people like Quigley to a populist mishmash, as that’s been endlessly debated by those who were there when it happened.

    The reason I respect you, David, is that you’ve clearly thought about and researched the issues and arrived at a logical conclusion. I’ve done the same and arrived at a different but equally logical conclusion – it’s all about how you interpret the facts. So I’m not accusing you personally of unthinking populism.

    I reserve my disrespect for those in politics who leap on solutions without putting in the thought simply because they think the policy will be popular, as I believe many in ACT did with 3S. The problem with such people, as you’ve noted above, is that they have no commitment to anything, and when the person with the ideas leaves, they just drift along looking for the next thing that pops with a focus group.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours too, from where it’s well over 30 degrees (supposedly 39 tomorrow) so I could put a turkey on one of the sun loungers by the pool and it’d cook itself…

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  18. Frederick (54 comments) says:

    I was a young Nat in Quigleys Rangiora electorate and he was always very friendly – we used to have our meetings at his house. Remember a great election party when he won in 1975. I was too young to vote but definitely not too young to drink in the rural style of the day. Friends used to sneer at me saying he was just a Muldoon yes man – history as they say was to prove them wrong.

    Saw Rob Talbot in the Wellington Koru lounge chrsitmas day two years ago , like me having some early morning bubbly. He was in good shape and I went and had a friendly chat with him – a very genial man.

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