Leader of the Opposition (New Zealand)

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The Leader of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition in New Zealand is the politician who, at least in theory, commands the support of the non-government bloc of members in the Parliament of New Zealand. In the debating chamber the Leader of the Opposition sits directly opposite the Prime Minister.[1] The current Leader of the Opposition is David Cunliffe, the Leader of the Labour Party.[2]


By convention, the Leader of the Opposition is the leader of the largest party of the Opposition.[1]

The Leader of the Opposition does not have a large official role, as most of the post's functions are ceremonial. Nevertheless, there are several ways in which the Leader of the Opposition participates directly in affairs of state. Often, these relate to national security matters, which are supposed to transcend party politics - the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, for example, is required to brief the Leader of the Opposition as well as the Prime Minister on certain matters.[3]

The Leader of the Opposition also receives a higher salary than other members of the Opposition, being paid the same amount as a Cabinet Minister.[4]


For much of the country's early history, the role was not a formal one. For most of the 19th century, there was rarely any one person who could be considered Leader of the Opposition — those figures who took leading roles in opposing the government of the day were merely "first among equals", and had no formal office. It was only when the Liberal Party was formed that any unified leadership appeared in Parliament, and the role of Leader of the Opposition is generally traced from this point. John Ballance, leader of the Liberals (and later Premier) is usually considered the first Leader of the Opposition in the modern sense.

When Ballance led the Liberals into government in 1891, they faced no formal opposition in a party sense, though certain MPs were styled Leader of the Opposition. However, their opponents gradually coalesced around a leader, William Massey, who became Opposition leader in 1903, and in 1909 became the first leader of the new Reform Party. After this, the Leader of the Opposition would always be the parliamentary leader of the largest party in the House of Representatives that had not undertaken to support the Government of the day.

During the 1910s and 1920s, the role of Opposition alternated between the Liberal and Reform parties. However, the rise of the Labour Party in the 1920s, together with a gradual weakening in support for the Liberals, led to a three-party situation by the mid-1920s, with the Labour and Liberal parties having a similar number of seats. After the 1925 Election there was no official Leader of the Opposition until Rex Mason of Labour won the seat of Eden in the by-election held on 15 April 1926.

The 1928 General Election put United (formerly the Liberals) in government for the last time. Reform then became the Opposition, however in 1931 Reform entered into coalition with the Liberals, and Labour then became the Opposition, despite being the third party. The unity of the Coalition, culminating in the formation of the National Party in 1936, created a stable two-party system, with National and Labour alternating between Government and Opposition for much of the remainder of the century.

With the introduction of the MMP voting system, first used in 1996, the nature of opposition has changed. Now, though the leader of the largest non-Government party still becomes the Leader of the Opposition, there will usually be several parties who are "in opposition". An example of this arose after the 2002 elections, when the National Party gained only 27 seats, less than half the 58 seats held by opposition parties. This prompted calls from a number of parties, notably New Zealand First and the Greens, for the abolition or reform of the post. It was argued by these parties that the position had become an "anachronism" in the modern multi-party environment, and that the days of a united opposition bloc were gone. However, with the resurrection of the National Party in the recent 2005 general election, a more traditional relationship between Government and Opposition has been restored.

List of Leaders of the Opposition[edit]

A table of Leaders of the Opposition is below. The table begins in 1891, when the first real political party (the Liberals) was founded. Those who also served as Prime Minister, either before or after being Leader of the Opposition, are indicated.

No. Leader Portrait Term of Office Party Prime Minister
1 John Ballance John Ballance.jpg 2 July 1889 23 January 1891 Liberal Harry Atkinson
2 John Bryce JohnBryce.jpg 23 January 1891 31 August 1891 None John Ballance
3 William Rolleston William Rolleston in retirement.jpg 31 August 1891 8 November 1893 None
Richard Seddon
4 William Russell Coat of arms of New Zealand.svg 26 June 1894 3 July 1901 None
5 William Massey William Ferguson Massey 1919.jpg 11 September 1903 February 1909 None
William Hall-Jones
Joseph Ward
(5) February 1909 10 July 1912 Reform
Thomas Mackenzie
6 Joseph Ward[1] Joseph George Ward.jpg 11 September 1913 27 November 1919 Liberal William Massey
7 William MacDonald Coat of arms of New Zealand.svg 21 January 1920 31 August 1920 Liberal
8 Thomas Wilford Thomas Wilford, 1928.jpg 8 September 1920 13 August 1925 Liberal
Francis Bell
Gordon Coates
9 George Forbes George William Forbes.jpg 13 August 1925 4 November 1925 Liberal
from 1925 election until after
1926 Eden by-election
4 November 1925 16 June 1926
10 Harry Holland Harry Holland (1925).jpg 16 June 1926 18 October 1928 Labour
(6) Joseph Ward Joseph George Ward.jpg 4 December 1928 10 December 1928 United
11 Gordon Coates Joseph Gordon Coates.jpg 10 December 1928 22 September 1931 Reform Joseph Ward
George Forbes
(10) Harry Holland Harry Holland (1925).jpg 22 September 1931 8 October 1933 Labour
12 Michael Joseph Savage Michael Joseph Savage.jpg 12 October 1933 6 December 1935 Labour
(9) George Forbes George William Forbes.jpg 6 December 1935 2 November 1936 United/Reform
Michael Joseph Savage
13 Adam Hamilton Adam Hamilton (1926).jpg 2 November 1936 26 November 1940 National
14 Sidney Holland Sidney George Holland (1953).jpg 26 November 1940 13 December 1949 National Peter Fraser
15 Peter Fraser Peter Fraser.jpg 13 December 1949 12 December 1950 Labour Sidney Holland
16 Walter Nash Walter Nash (ca 1940s).jpg 17 January 1951 12 December 1957 Labour
Keith Holyoake
17 Keith Holyoake Keith Holyoake (1960).jpg 12 December 1957 12 December 1960 National Walter Nash
(16) Walter Nash Walter Nash (ca 1940s).jpg 12 December 1960 31 March 1963 Labour Keith Holyoake
18 Arnold Nordmeyer Arnold Nordmeyer (1950).jpg 1 April 1963 16 December 1965 Labour
19 Norman Kirk Norman Kirk.jpg 16 December 1965 8 December 1972 Labour
Jack Marshall
20 Jack Marshall Jack Marshall Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F011973-0020 cropped.jpg 8 December 1972 4 July 1974 National Norman Kirk
21 Robert Muldoon Muldoon 26 June 1969.jpg 4 July 1974 12 December 1975 National
Bill Rowling
22 Bill Rowling Bill Rowling Shannon School.jpg 12 December 1975 3 February 1983 Labour Robert Muldoon
23 David Lange David Lange Posts a Letter.jpg 3 February 1983 26 July 1984 Labour
(21) Robert Muldoon Muldoon 26 June 1969.jpg 26 July 1984 29 November 1984 National David Lange
24 Jim McLay Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT - Flickr - The Official CTBTO Photostream (18).jpg 29 November 1984 26 March 1986 National
25 Jim Bolger Jim Bolger at press conference cropped.jpg 26 March 1986 2 November 1990 National
Geoffrey Palmer
Mike Moore
26 Mike Moore Mike Moore.jpg 2 November 1990 1 December 1993 Labour Jim Bolger
27 Helen Clark Helen Clark UNDP 2010.jpg 1 December 1993 5 December 1999 Labour
Jenny Shipley
28 Jenny Shipley Jenny Shipley.jpg 5 December 1999 8 October 2001 National Helen Clark
29 Bill English Bill English.jpg 8 October 2001 28 October 2003 National
30 Don Brash Don.Brash.jpg 28 October 2003 27 November 2006 National
31 John Key John Key headshot.jpg 27 November 2006 19 November 2008 National
32 Phil Goff Labour Leader Phil Goff in Hamilton.JPG 19 November 2008 13 December 2011 Labour John Key
33 David Shearer David Shearer.jpg 13 December 2011 15 September 2013 Labour
34 David Cunliffe David Cunliffe cropped.jpg 15 September 2013 Incumbent Labour

1 From 4 August 1915 to 21 August 1919, the Reform Party and the Liberal Party formed a joint wartime coalition. Joseph Ward of the Liberals officially remained "Leader of the Opposition", even though he was actually part of the government.


  1. ^ a b "People in Parliament". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  2. ^ "Cunliffe wins Labour leadership". Stuff.co.nz. 15 September 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  3. ^ "Overview". NZSIS. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  4. ^ "Bill English admits pay rise 'a bit embarrassing'". New Zealand Herald. 21 November 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-21.