Obituary: Arthur Kinsella

By Arnold Pickmere

By ARNOLD PICKMERE

Politician. Died aged 86.

Arthur Ellis Kinsella was a pillar of the 1960s Holyoake National Cabinet which ruled New Zealand through an era of prosperity and full employment.

They were also years when the supervision of the country by government departments was at its height - times when a Post-Master General, a Minister of Education or a Minister of Broadcasting had great influence.

The studious Kinsella had over that time control of all three. That meant not only arguing with educators and battling large waiting lists for household telephones but also supervising the introduction of television.

The latter was treated with great suspicion by politicians, until 1963 when the notion of free party-political election campaign broadcasts on television attracted instant enthusiasm.

Kinsella, a well-qualified teacher with an MA, was a trusted Holyoake lieutenant from the National stronghold electorate of Hauraki.

He was a politician able to look after himself, a man not inclined to let a memorable utterance or a witty riposte get in the way of a reasoned response.

As some measure of the influence of the state in those days the new Minister of Broadcasting announced in 1960 that from January 1, 1961, the Auckland television channel (then known only as Channel 2 and later AKTV-2) would begin telecasting seven nights a week.

Kinsella said that would take the weekly broadcasting hours from 12.5 to 16, so the yearly licence fee would rise from £4 to £6 10.shillings.

And in proposing control of television by a commission he added: "We will give the greatest measure of freedom possible - while maintaining standards and guarding against the evils which have crept into television overseas."

The minister, who did not own a television set, soon came to Auckland to help decide where to put a new television transmission mast.

He declared the following month that he would be soon shopping for a television set but would put it in his Khandallah home in Wellington and not in his office where "it could be a distraction from state affairs".

The minister himself dealt with complaints about the first television commercials aired on a Saturday night in April 1961. The limit was set at an average of six minutes an hour but even on that first night complainants said they were as long as nine minutes.

The minister had a say on programmes, once declaring there were no plans for further repeat programmes, which had brought protests. But he did add that high-quality programmes were not plentiful and that the Broadcasting Service had decided to repeat children's programmes of good class such as Lassie and Fury - rather than "resort to inferior items".

Manufacturing television sets also provided the minister with a dilemma. People outside the main cities were clamouring to get television coverage. Several who tried to set up their own apparatus to widen the coverage were officially jumped on as interfering with other communications.

But when Kinsella opened a new PYE television set factory at Waihi in 1962 (his own electorate) he said the Government was limiting the number of sets produced in New Zealand aimed at "stabilising the industry".

It was worried about the possibility of a boom in television, so that saturation was reached throughout the country in three or four years and the demand for sets then flattened off.

But Kinsella was not afraid of progress. He appreciated, for example, the future of satellites in communications. The Government also introduced the Broadcasting Corporation amendment bill which would take over control of radio and television from direct state stewardship and allow for private stations.

As the Postmaster-General Kinsella had to contend with everything from a chronic shortage of telephones to a momentous announcement concerning parcels post. In 1961 he lifted restrictions on using adhesive tape.

In the early sixties there were as many as 19,000 people waiting for telephones and plans to increase the Auckland metropolitan telephone system capacity by 50 per cent in five years.

In education the minister had an influence in everything, from catering courses at technical institutes, to building more classrooms, fielding pressure to establish a medical school in Auckland, lengthening teacher training from two years to three years and trying to reduce class sizes.

About 40 years ago Kinsella was predicting a future need for employees to be adaptable, to maybe change jobs four or five times in their lifetimes. And that the future would hold no place for the unskilled person.

Arthur Kinsella was born in Waikino, Ohinemuri County and educated in Waihi before going farming for a time. He gained a BA at Victoria University, trained as a teacher and completed his MA in Auckland.

In World War II he served overseas with the NZ Engineers until he was wounded and invalided home.

Elected to Parliament in 1954 he stepped down in 1969 after a bad car accident. He had three marriages to Thelma, Jocelyn and, since 1990, Eve. He had three sons and one daughter.

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