Obituary: Trevor de Cleene

By Rosaleen Macbrayne

By ROSALEEN MacBRAYNE

Once dubbed "Rumpole," the Rt Hon Trevor de Cleene, OBE, famously hit the headlines for revealing he kept a pump-action shotgun under his bed for protection.

The keen hunter and former professional deer culler's fears back in the 1980s stemmed not only from his years as a high-profile criminal lawyer, but his unpopularity as the Lange Government's "hatchet-man" on taxation during Labour's tumultuous economic reforms.

Colourful raconteur and impressive orator, the affable but outspoken de Cleene served as revenue and customs minister and was Under-Secretary to close ally and firm friend, the then Finance Minister (later Sir) Roger Douglas.

Despite his undoubted ability, de Cleene never made it into the full Cabinet. Nor did he live to attain the rank of Queen's Counsel. Last August he started legal proceedings against Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias after his fifth application for the silk was rejected.

The matter remained unresolved when de Cleene lost his battle with cancer at his Tauranga home.

But he was unconcerned in his last months, preferring instead to do the things he most enjoyed - camping, fishing and shooting with his dogs.

Born on March 24, 1933, into an underprivileged family in Palmerston North during the Depression, Trevor de Cleene grew up in a state house.

He worked eight seasons at the freezing works to pay his way to university where he completed a law degree.

He was to become a millionaire practising criminal and commercial law in Palmerston North.

After an apprenticeship on the local city council, power and catchment boards, and unsuccessful attempts to win the Pahiatua and Manawatu seats for Labour, he became the MP for Palmerston North in 1981.

De Cleene entered Parliament the same year as present Prime Minister Helen Clark and the two remained close friends.

Devoid of stuffiness and pomposity, he was a controversial and entertaining politician but had had enough after three terms and went back to law and his outdoor pursuits.

Alienated from the Labour Party after more than 40 years, de Cleene was a founding member of Act and in 1996 signed up as a National Party member.

He put his change in political affiliation down to National adopting the policies Labour had turned its back on.

Trevor de Cleene is survived by his wife, Raewyn, and three adult children from a previous marriage.

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