prime ministers

Events In History

Articles

Premiers and Prime Ministers

  • Premiers and Prime Ministers

    From Henry Sewell in 1856 to Bill English in 2016, New Zealand has had 39 prime ministers and premiers. Read biographies of the men and women who have held the top job, discover more about the role's political origins, and explore fascinating prime ministerial facts and trivia.

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  • Page 2 – Political origins

    Overview of the influence of the British political system in New Zealand and our move toward self-government in the 19th century.

  • Page 3 – Biographies

    A list of New Zealand Premiers and Prime Ministers from 1856 to the present

  • Page 4 – Prime ministerial trivia

    Trivia about New Zealand's premiers and prime ministers.

  • Page 5 – Further information

    This web feature was written by Gavin McLean and produced by the NZHistory.net.nz team.LinksDepartment of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) - the government department that

Housing the Prime Minister

  • Housing the Prime Minister

    Almost 150 years after the government purchased the first official premier's residence on Tinakori Road, Wellington, the address of Premier House remains the same. But in the intervening years the building has been extended, renamed, abandoned and refurbished.

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  • Page 2 – The first premier house

    Our first premiers had to find their own digs. That changed in 1865, when the government bought the premier a simple 22-year-old wooden cottage in Thorndon’s Tinakori Road.

  • Page 3 – Unofficial prime ministerial houses

    From 1935 to 1975 our prime ministers lived in a series of 'unofficial' houses

  • Page 4 – Vogel House and Premier House

    Since 1975 the official prime minister's residence has been at Vogel House and, since 1990, Premier House

Biographies

  • Coates, Joseph Gordon

    Gordon Coates seemed unbeatable. Tall and handsome, this affable war hero embodied modernity – he was the ‘jazz premier’. In 1925’s presidential-style election voters elected to take their ‘Coats off with Coates’.

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  • Fraser, Peter

    Peter Fraser, New Zealand’s wartime PM, led the nation for nine years. Respected rather than loved like Savage, many experts rate him our finest PM.

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  • Kirk, Norman Eric

    In 1972 Norman Kirk broke National’s 12-year-long grip on the Treasury benches and became Labour’s first New Zealand-born PM.

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  • Nash, Walter

    At almost 76, Walter Nash was New Zealand’s oldest incoming PM and the last foreign-born one. He had two wives, Lotty, and Parliament. He was still an MP when he died aged 86.

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  • Savage, Michael Joseph

    Michael Joseph Savage, New Zealand’s first Labour PM, was probably also it's best-loved. His avuncular image hung in the homes of the Labour faithful for decades.

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  • Lange, David Russell

    Seven years and one stomach-stapling operation after entering Parliament in 1977, David Lange became PM at the age of 41.

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  • Holland, Sidney George

    Holland became PM in 1949. A year later he abolished the Legislative Council, and in 1951, after winning the Waterfront Dispute, he increased his majority in a snap election.

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  • Hall-Jones, William

    Although William Hall-Jones merely warmed the seat while Richard Seddon’s designated successor, Sir Joseph Ward, returned from Europe, he was the first leader to enter office as prime minister, not premier.

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  • Ward, Joseph George

    Sir Joseph Ward, New Zealand’s political Lazarus, led governments nearly a quarter of a century apart.

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  • Mackenzie, Thomas Noble

    The Liberals were already yesterday’s men when they made Thomas Mackenzie Sir Joseph Ward’s successor after needing the speaker’s casting vote to win a confidence vote.

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  • Massey, William Ferguson

    William Massey is our second-longest serving leader. Although he was reviled by the left for crushing workers in 1913 with his ‘Massey’s Cossacks’ (strike-breakers), his legacy is being re-evaluated.

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  • Bell, Francis Henry Dillon

    Sir Francis Bell was PM for only 16 days, but he held several distinctions – the second oldest (74), the first New Zealand-born, and the last from the Legislative Council.

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  • Forbes, George William

    George William Forbes term as prime minister (1930-1935) coincided with the harsh economic and social climate of the 1930s Great Depression.

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  • Holyoake, Keith Jacka

    ‘Kiwi Keith’ Holyoake, the first officially designated deputy PM (1954) was our third-longest serving leader.Although criticised for sending troops to the Vietnam War, he is now seen as ‘the most dovish of the hawks’, doing the bare minimum to keep America happy.

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  • Marshall, John ('Jack') Ross

    ‘Gentleman Jack’ Marshall, for long – too long, he felt towards the end – Keith Holyoake’s deputy, spent mere months as PM, but served Cabinet well for two decades.

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  • Rowling, Wallace Edward

    Norman Kirk’s death in office brought Bill Rowling to the prime ministership unexpectedly in August 1974. A member of an old Tasman Bay farming family, and a teacher by training, he had been finance minister since 1972.

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  • Muldoon, Robert David

    Rob Muldoon was one of our most polarising PMs, the voice of ‘the ordinary bloke’ to supporters and a dictatorial bully to critics.

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  • Palmer, Geoffrey Winston

    Geoffrey Palmer, the hardworking, loyal deputy who became PM when David Lange resigned dramatically in August 1989, knew that Labour was doomed. ‘What I got from Lange was a hospital pass.’

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  • Moore, Michael Kenneth

    In September 1990, just weeks from an election Labour seemed certain to lose, the caucus made Mike Moore New Zealand’s third PM in 13 months.

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  • Bolger, James Brendan

    New Zealand’s most openly republican PM, Jim Bolger presided over major electoral reform and Treaty of Waitangi settlements and outflanked Cabinet opposition to funding the new national museum.

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  • Shipley, Jennifer Mary

    ‘This ain’t a damn beauty contest. If you come into politics to be popular, then you’ve picked the wrong sport’, Jenny Shipley declared. New Zealand’s first woman PM came to power in 1997 after staging a carefully planned coup against Jim Bolger.

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  • Clark, Helen Elizabeth

    Jenny Shipley may have been our first female PM, but Helen Clark was the first elected one. In 2008 she became our fifth longest-serving PM and Labour’s first to win three consecutive elections.

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  • Key, John Philip

    John Key’s prime ministerial parliamentary apprenticeship is the shortest since David Lange’s. Like Lange, he is one of the few recent PMs without prior Cabinet experience.

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