Bill Birch

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The Right Honourable
Sir William Birch
GNZM
38th Minister of Finance
In office
November 1993 – January 1999
Prime Minister Jim Bolger (1993–1997)
Jenny Shipley (1997–1999)
Preceded by Ruth Richardson
Succeeded by Bill English
In office
June 1999 – 5 December 1999
Prime Minister Jenny Shipley
Preceded by Bill English
Succeeded by Michael Cullen
2nd Treasurer of New Zealand
In office
14 August 1998 – June 1999
Prime Minister Jenny Shipley
Preceded by Winston Peters
Succeeded by Bill English
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Franklin
In office
1972 – 1978
In office
1984 – 1987
In office
1993 – 1996
Preceded by Alfred E. Allen
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Rangiriri
In office
1978 – 1984
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Maramarua
In office
1987 – 1993
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Port Waikato
In office
1996 – 1999
Succeeded by Paul Hutchison
Personal details
Born (1934-04-09) 9 April 1934 (age 80)
Hastings
Nationality  New Zealand
Political party National
Profession surveyor

Sir William Francis Birch GNZM JP (born 9 April 1934), usually known as Bill Birch, is a former New Zealand politician. He served as Minister of Finance for several years in the fourth National government.

Early life[edit]

Birch was born in Hastings, although he gained his qualifications in Hamilton. He was trained as a surveyor, and established a business in Pukekohe (a small town south of Auckland). Birch quickly became involved in various Pukekohe community organizations. He served on Pukehohe's borough council from 1965 to 1974, and was deputy mayor from 1968 to 1974.

Member of Parliament[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate List Party
1972–1975 37th Franklin National
1975–1978 38th Franklin National
1978–1981 39th Rangiriri National
1981–1984 40th Rangiriri National
1984–1987 41st Franklin National
1987–1990 42nd Maramarua National
1990–1993 43rd Maramarua National
1993–1996 44th Franklin National
1996–1999 45th Port Waikato 3 National

Birch first entered parliament in the 1972 election, as the National Party's candidate for the Franklin electorate (which included Pukekohe). National won the 1975 election, and formed the third National Government. He held the seat through several renamings to 1996; it was called Rangiriri from 1978 to 1984 and Maramarua from 1987 to 1993, but reverted to Franklin in 1984 and 1993. In 1996 with MMP he won the new Port Waikato seat, and he retired in 1999.

Cabinet minister[edit]

1978–1984[edit]

After holding a number of internal National Party positions, Birch was made Minister of National Development, Minister of Energy, and Minister of Science and Technology in 1978. In 1981, he swapped the Science and Technology role for the Regional Development portfolio.

As Minister for National Development, Birch was closely involved in the Think Big project, a series of high-cost programmes designed to reduce New Zealand's dependence on imported fuel.

When National lost the 1984 election, Birch's ministerial career was interrupted, but he remained in parliament.

1990–1996[edit]

After National regained power in the 1990 election, Birch re-entered cabinet as part of the fourth National government. Over the next three years, he was to hold a number of ministerial roles, including Minister of Labour, Minister of Immigration, Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, Minister of Employment, Minister of Health, Minister of State Services, and Minister responsible for the ACC. As Minister of Labour, Birch introduced the Employment Contracts Act, which radically liberalised the labour market, most noticeably by reducing the power of trade unions.

In 1992, Birch was made a member of the British Privy Council, an honour reserved for senior New Zealand politicians.

During this period, Birch clashed a number of times with the controversial Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson. The Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, had never been a supporter of Richardson's strong laissez-faire policies, and preferred the more conservative Birch for the Finance portfolio. At the 1993 election, which National nearly lost, Richardson was removed from her Finance role, and Birch was elevated in her place.

Birch's appointment to the Finance portfolio raised eyebrows, given Birch's association with the Think Big projects. However, he soon developed a reputation for a frugal finance minister, delivering a succession of balanced budgets. He also privatised a number of state assets.

1996–1999[edit]

After the 1996 election, National needed to form a coalition with the New Zealand First party in order to govern. New Zealand First's leader, Winston Peters, insisted on control of the Finance role as part of the coalition agreement, and National eventually agreed. The Minister of Finance role was split into two separate offices, one given the title "Treasurer" and the other still called "Minister of Finance". Treasurer, the senior title, was given to Winston Peters, while Birch retained the (lessened) role of Minister of Finance. Some, however, have voiced the opinion that whatever the official arrangement may have been, Birch still performed most of the job's key functions. Mike Moore of the Labour Party commented that "we are always impressed when Winston Peters answers questions, because Bill Birch's lips do not move."

When the coalition with New Zealand First broke down, Birch took over the role of Treasurer. He was both Treasurer and Minister of Finance for several months before Bill English was promoted to Minister of Finance, leaving Birch with the senior role. In the middle of 1999, however, Birch and English were swapped, with Birch becoming Minister of Finance again.

Retirement[edit]

Birch was made a Knight Grand Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit in the 1999 Queen's Birthday Honours.

Birch retired from Parliament at that year's general election.

External links[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Alfred E. Allen
Member of Parliament for Franklin
1972–1978
1984–1987
1993–1996
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Rangiriri
1978–1984
Member of Parliament for Maramarua
1987–1993
Member of Parliament for Port Waikato
1996–1999
Succeeded by
Dr Paul Hutchison
Political offices
Preceded by
Simon Upton
Minister of Health
1993
Succeeded by
Jenny Shipley
Preceded by
Ruth Richardson
Minister of Finance
1993–1999
1999
Succeeded by
Bill English
Preceded by
Bill English
Succeeded by
Dr Michael Cullen
Preceded by
Winston Peters
Treasurer of New Zealand
1998–1999
Succeeded by
Bill English