The Values Party, considered the world's first national-level environmentalist party that pre-dated any fashionable Green terminology, was established in May 1972 at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, one of its initial leaders being Tony Brunt. Several party manifestos sketched a progressive, semi-utopian blueprint for New Zealand's future as an egalitarian, ecologically sustainable society. The party appealed especially to those elements of the New Left who felt alienated both by the small Marxist-Leninist parties of the day, as well as by the bread-and-butter centre-left politics of the New Zealand Labour Party. The party is widely regarded as the first national political party promoting social renewal that incorporated restoring a respectful relationship to nature. From its beginning, the Values Party was very concerned with proposing alternative policies, rather than taking only an oppositionist stance to the ruling parties.
The Values Party contested five elections (1972, 1975, 1978, 1981 and 1984) despite strong showings in 1975 and 1978 it did not gain seats under the first past the post electoral system in use at that time. It did however manage to get some candidates elected to local government. The first was Helen Smith of Titahi Bay, who joined the Porirua City Council in 1973.
Values Party policies included campaigns against nuclear power and armaments, advocating zero population and economic growth, abortion, drug and homosexual law reform. Although the Values Party was never in parliament, it drew considerable attention to these topics. Many political scientists credit the Values Party with making the environment a political issue, and with prompting other parties to formulate their own environmental policies.
Under the mature leadership of polytech economics lecturer Tony Kunowski, the Values Party contested the 1978 general election with a considerable following, but again failed to win seats in parliament. Most probably this was mainly because voters at that time were more concerned about rapidly rising unemployment than anything else. The idea of an ecological "zero-growth" society envisaged by Values Party members had met with the economic reality of near-zero GDP growth, high price inflation, and an investment strike by business. Thus, a critical majority of voters preferred Robert Muldoon's National Party of New Zealand, who promised to create many more jobs by borrowing foreign funds to build large infrastructural projects (the so-called "Think Big" strategy developing oil, gas, coal and electricity resources).
Subsequent to the demoralising election result, the Values Party faced internal conflict between the "red" greens and the "fundamentalist" Greens, and it fragmented, amidst quarrels about organisational principles. Kunowski resigned as party leader, in order to pursue a successful career as a banker.
In May 1990, however, remnants of Values Party merged with a number of other environmentalist organizations to form the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand which eventually did gain a number of parliamentary seats. Many former members of the Values Party became active in the Green Party - notably Jeanette Fitzsimons, Rod Donald and Mike Ward.
Electoral results (1972-1984)
- Rosalie Steward. Politics in New Zealand from Beginning to Breakthrough, Synthesis/Regeneration 13 (Spring 1997).
- The development of the first two Green parties in New Zealand and Tasmania.
- The history of the NZ greens beginning with the Values Party
- 1975 Values Party manifesto