Mel Courtney

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Mel Courtney
Mel Courtney.tif
Courtney in 1966
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Nelson
In office
28 February 1976 – 28 November 1981
Preceded byStanley Whitehead
Succeeded byPhilip Woollaston
Personal details
Born (1943-10-02) 2 October 1943 (age 76)
Christchurch, New Zealand
Political partyLabour

Melvyn Francis Courtney (born 2 October 1943) is a Nelson City Councillor and a former Labour then Independent Member of Parliament for Nelson, in the South Island of New Zealand.

Early life and family[edit]

Courtney was born in Christchurch on 2 October 1943, the son of Clifford Francis and Joyce Elizabeth Courtney.[1] He grew up in the suburb of Spreydon, and was educated at Christchurch Technical College.[1] He studied business administration and trained in the grocery industry before moving to Nelson.[2]

In 1968, Courtney married his wife, Wendy, and the couple went on to have three children.[1]

National politics[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1976–78 38th Nelson Labour
1978–81 39th Nelson Labour
1981 Changed allegiance to: Independent

Courtney represented the Nelson electorate from 1976 to 1981 and was opposition spokesman for horticulture and fisheries for five years. He was a recipient of both the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977 for service to the community and the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal in recognition of services to New Zealand. Courtney is currently in his fifth term on the Nelson City Council.


In March 1981 Courtney announced that he had let his membership of the Labour Party lapse. Soon after, he withdrew from the Labour Party caucus and sat in the New Zealand House of Representatives as an independent.

The Labour Party suffered defeats in the 1975, 1978 and 1981 general elections under the leadership of Bill Rowling. Courtney saw the momentum that had been gained under the Prime Ministership of the charismatic Labour leader Norman Kirk (1972–74) was being eroded and lost by Rowling. Courtney firmly believed that change was needed in the leadership in order to beat Robert Muldoon and the National Party. Rowling was not an effective counter to Muldoon: in Parliament Muldoon had the measure of Rowling and Rowling was perceived as weak in the media. After Courtney's strong performance in the Nelson by-election in 1976 the 1978 Labour Party general election result was a "major disappointment" for Courtney (Henderson, 1981). In the December 1980 leadership vote of confidence Courtney voted against Rowling. Rowling clung onto the Labour leadership by one vote-his own (Bassett, 2008).

Courtney's announcement of his independent candidacy for the 1981 general election was made only a few days before the 35th anniversary of the death of Harry Atmore, MP for Nelson from 1911 to 1946. Atmore had been the last independent MP to be elected to the New Zealand Parliament.

1981 election[edit]

At the 1981 election supporters rallied around Courtney's Independent campaign and, although defeated, it was by the very narrow margin of 698 votes. Courtney took 37.0 per cent of the total vote, 3.4 percentage points behind the Labour candidate, and nearly three times as many votes as the National candidate's share of the vote. This was the best result by an independent candidate in New Zealand elections in nearly 40 years.

1981 general election: Nelson
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Labour Philip Woollaston 8,198 40.41
Independent Mel Courtney 7,500 36.97 -13.49
National Gaire Thompson 2,749 13.55
Social Credit Neville McLean 1,545 7.61
Values Mike Ward 297 1.46
Majority 698 3.44
Turnout 20,289 91.03 +14.47
Registered electors 22,288

Local politics[edit]

Courtney was an elected member of Nelson City Council for six years during the 1970s under Mayor Roy McLennan; for some of that time, he was also a Member of Parliament. He had a three-year gap and then became a member of the city council for another three-year term under Mayor Peter Malone.[3]

Courtney came out of political retirement for the 2016 local elections.[3] Of the 12 successful candidates, Courtney was elected with 6,743 votes.[4] Courtney was re-elected with 8,601 votes in the 2019 local elections.

Outside politics[edit]

Courtney owned and operated supermarkets in Nelson and at its peak, he had five of them. He retired to Australia in about 2000. He returned to live in Nelson in late 2014 or early 2015.[3]

See also[edit]

Courtney was the Vice Chair of Norm Kirk's Campaign Committee for the Sydenham Electorate in 1969.

Mel Courtney's grandfather, H.F. Courtney, was an engine driver on the Nelson Railway from 1915 to 1920 and lived at Glenhope. See Voller, Lois (1991) Rails to Nowhere: The History of the Nelson Railway, Nelson: Nikau Press.

Courtney was a member of the Cawthron Institute Trust Board from 1976 to 1981.

Courtney was a member of the first New Zealand Parliamentary delegation to China in 1977.

Courtney attended the 21st Anniversary of Scott Base in 1978 representing the New Zealand Parliament

For contemporaneous events in Britain between January and June 1981 and the Council for Social Democracy


  1. ^ a b c Taylor, Alister; Coddington, Deborah (1994). Honoured by the Queen – New Zealand. Auckland: New Zealand Who's Who Aotearoa. p. 108. ISBN 0-908578-34-2.
  2. ^ "Courtney, Melvyn Francis, 1943–". The Community Archive. Archives New Zealand. 2009. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Moore, Bill (15 March 2016). "Mel Courtney to run for Nelson City Council after re-entering politics at 72". The Nelson Mail. Retrieved 13 May 2017.
  4. ^ Carson, Jonathan (9 October 2016). "Major shake-up at Nelson City Council with four changes at the table". The Nelson Mail. Retrieved 13 May 2017.


  • Levine, Steven; McRobie, Alan (2002), From Muldoon to Lange: New Zealand Elections in the 1980s, Rangiora: MC Enterprises
  • Rice, Geoffrey, ed. (1992), Oxford History of New Zealand, Auckland: Oxford University Press
  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First published in 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103.
  • Wood, G. Anthony, ed. (1996). Ministers and Members: In the New Zealand Parliament. Dunedin: Otago University Press.

In the media[edit]

External links[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Stanley Whitehead
Member of Parliament for Nelson
Succeeded by
Philip Woollaston