Frank Moloney is not a big man. But don't be fooled – he has the courage of his convictions and a heart of iron. Horowhenua Chronicle spoke with the 91-year-old this week and found him in his garden.
Moloney doesn't shy away from a fight. But it has to be the right sort of fight. He has to be on the side of the underdog. It takes the undoing of an injustice to stir his blood.
Moloney some years ago applied for a firearms licence. He was rejected. It's not that he wanted to go shooting. It was to highlight the absence of a formal identification card for those disabled with eyesight problems and the elderly without and outside of a passport, driver's licence and firearms licence, which as primary identification are the only ID cards legally accepted.
It was this strong sense of social justice that saw Moloney in the thick of the Grey Power movement when he moved to Levin in the early 1980s. Preferring action over reaction, before long he was taking on the New Zealand Government on Grey Power's behalf.
Last month Moloney received a Life Membership award from the New Zealand Grey Power Federation "in recognition of his invaluable and exemplary contributions" to the organisation.
Rewind to 1985. Finance Minister at the time, Sir Roger Douglas, introduced a taxation surcharge on superannuitants' income. Although the legislation affected less than 30 per cent of superannuitants, there was a huge outcry as it was seen as a tax on the elderly.
The seeds were sown. Moloney said it led directly to the establishment of what is known today as Grey Power.
"… if Douglas had dropped the term surtax and introduced a method of means testing alike to that of other countries like Australia, the resentment and anger … would have abated and Grey Power as a group never established", he said.
Initially, a campaign was launched to combat the surcharge and the movement grew. Meetings were held in jam-packed halls of more than 600 people either retired or nearing retirement.
At the time the region had an organisation called Kapiti and Horowhenua Superannuitants, but it was not aligned with other similar groups across New Zealand.
Moloney - incensed by the new surtax - went about creating an association of the newly established groupings of Levin, Foxton and Shannon, with affiliation to the national Grey Power organisation.
He contacted the NZ superannuitants president in Auckland, Neville McLindon, requesting a visit to Levin, and it was agreed that Moloney should work to establish a Grey Power Association within Horowhenua and assist in forming a Kapiti branch.
"We were on our journey. The crusade had begun," he said.
The Horowhenua association originally began with 56 members but soon flourished, holding meetings in the Levin Memorial Hall to capacity crowds.
Moloney said it media came up with the name Grey Power. Their sheer numbers were grabbing the media attention and the number of grey-haired people at rallies led to the name. The Grey Power name stuck.
So, with growing numbers, the fight to get rid of the surtax was on, and Moloney and Horowhenua Grey Power were in the thick of it. It became a major political issue.
Realising there was little knowledge within Grey Power of the way superannuation was actually structured, Moloney took it upon himself to study superannuation legislation and then shared the knowledge with the Grey Power executives.
He contacted Statistics NZ asking for both the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Quarterly Employment Survey (QES) used by Government to regulate yearly NZ superannuation adjustments.
Armed with the knowledge and statistical data, he was confident mixing with other prominent people debating matters relating to superannuation. He also became known within the news media, and was sought out for his opinions related to superannuation.
Moloney put his name forward for the NZ Grey Power Federation board in 1997 and was elected and given the portfolio as superannuation spokesman.
"Grey Power was founded due to atrocious Government legislation, therefore it was obvious it needed its own written policies, " he said, and went about writing Grey Power's first superannuation policies, distributing them to Members of Parliament and the press.
There was no doubt the resulting public outcry saw the surtax abolished in 1998. The National-led Government set up a taskforce to develop long-term pension policy.
But worse was to come. The Dame Jenny Shipley-led Government wanted to lower the wage band test of NZ superannuation from the base wage level of 65 per cent to 60 per cent, which Moloney said would drastically lower the living standard of both married and single superannuants.
Yearly superannuation adjustments were to be linked to the CPI alone and not relative to the wage test base.
The initial loss of weekly income was about $25 paid to a married couple and $16 paid to a single superannuitant. He said that figure would increase in future years.
To voice Grey Power opposition to dropping pension payments, Moloney was invited to speak at many Grey Power rallies throughout New Zealand.
"If ever there was a threatening time to the wellbeing of our senior citizens' standard of living it was then," he said.
To challenge the intention of lowering pensions, Moloney arranged the printing of 35,000 prepaid postcards, all addressed to Prime Minister Jenny Shipley. The cards were distributed to Grey Power associations throughout New Zealand to be signed and sent off.
Headed "Dear Mrs Shipley " on the back, the card featured words like "abhorrence", "shameful"," inadequate", "abandonment" and "inhumanity" in calling for a halt to the plans to cut superannuation.
Moloney recognised the role of the media in a campaign and he employed the services of former NZ Press Association journalists Don Polly and Allison Webber as press secretaries, both being Grey Power members. Grey Power had always had a voice. Now it would be heard.
"The press releases made a huge impact and were accepted and printed by both regional and national papers throughout New Zealand," he said
The speeches, the rallies, the postcard campaign and the press releases meant Grey Power played a major role in changing the Government and restoring the important component of wage linkage to the pension.
But in 2001 the fight was on again, with what Moloney said was a breach of section 16 of the NZ Superannuation and Retirement Act 2001.
Moloney found that clause 16 of the act noted that superannuation for a married couple must ensure be not less than 65 per cent or more than 72.5 per cent of the net average ordinary time weekly earnings, determined by Quarterly Employment Survey ending in December.
Yearly superannuation adjustments are determined to commence each year at April 1. Moloney had found that percentage had dropped to about 63 per cent during the year after the April 1 adjustment.
His appeals to the Government to rectify this "unethical deceit" of seniors in receipt of NZ superannuation were denied by the then ministry, which he said preferred to interpret ambiguous legislation to the disadvantage of retired New Zealanders.
Moloney started a petition calling for reimbursement of the amount they had missed out, demanding superannuation payments be paid above 65 per cent of the average wages during the full year.
He took the petition with 3840 signatures to the steps of Parliament. With journalists and television cameras waiting, he made his prepared speech and presented each journalist present with a copied press statement.
The petition was a success and resulted in the adoption of the upper figure of 66 per cent in the April yearly adjustment. In today's terms a married couple are better off by $6.50 a week and a single person living alone is better off by $4.25.
"Thankfully the 66 per cent base is currently both Labour and National policy," he said.
Moloney was born and raised in Wairoa, later taking up a cadetship and progressing to a position in the Post Office Savings Bank Wellington.
Later he moved to the Telecom Computer Centre Wellington and oversaw the introduction of computers that replaced the old addressograph machines which had sent out the labour-intensive phone account bills. When Moloney retired he had the position of administration manager of the Telecom Computer Division, controlling a staff of 138.
Frank and Cath Moloney moved to Levin from Miramar to retire – "whatever that means".
Moloney also served on the Horowhenua District Council's Health and Transport Committee, helping establish the health shuttle to and from Palmerston North Hospital. He also served time as publicity officer and as a committee member for the Horowhenua Rugby Union.
His latest campaign is to create a NZ Citizen's Primary Identification Card and he has forwarded letters to the Ministry of Internal Affairs requesting this introduction.
Grey Power numbers have waned in recent times, although they are now on the rise again. In its early days Grey Power had almost 89,000 members.
Moloney said it was important that the organisation stayed strong.
"Like many others within the Grey Power movement who have devoted their time and energy ... I wish Grey Power a beneficial future in the years ahead, maintaining a sustainable living income for all New Zealand superannuitants and for those reaching retirement.
"Whatever that is," he said.