David Cunliffe

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This article is about the New Zealand politician. For other people named David Cunliffe, see David Cunliffe (disambiguation).
The Honourable
David Cunliffe
David Cunliffe cropped.jpg
34th Leader of the Opposition
In office
15 September 2013 – 27 September 2014
Prime Minister John Key
Deputy David Parker
Preceded by David Shearer
Succeeded by Andrew Little
15th Leader of the Labour Party
In office
15 September 2013 – 27 September 2014
Deputy David Parker
Preceded by David Shearer
Succeeded by Andrew Little
37th Minister of Health
In office
31 October 2007 – 19 November 2008
Prime Minister Helen Clark
Preceded by Pete Hodgson
Succeeded by Tony Ryall
Minister of Communications and Information Technology
In office
15 August 2002 – 19 November 2008
Prime Minister Helen Clark
Preceded by Paul Swain
Succeeded by Steven Joyce
Member of Parliament
for Titirangi
In office
27 November 1999 – 27 July 2002
Preceded by Constituency reestablished
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Member of Parliament
for New Lynn
Assumed office
27 July 2002
Preceded by Constituency established
Personal details
Born David Richard Cunliffe
(1963-04-30) 30 April 1963 (age 53)
Te Aroha, New Zealand
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Karen Price (c.1984–2015)[1]
Relations Richard Seddon (great-great uncle)
Children 2
Alma mater
Religion Anglican

David Richard Cunliffe (born 30 April 1963) is a New Zealand politician and former Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. He is the sitting Member of Parliament (MP) for New Lynn, West Auckland. He served as the Minister of Health, Minister for Communications and Information Technology and Minister of Immigration, as well as a range of associate economic portfolios for the Fifth Labour Government of New Zealand from October 2007 until November 2008.

After the defeat of the Labour Party in the 2008 general election, and the resignation of Helen Clark as the party leader, Cunliffe was appointed the party's finance spokesman and number three on the front bench.[2] After Labour lost the 2011 general election and Phil Goff stood down as party leader, Cunliffe ran for the leadership, but narrowly lost to David Shearer.

On 26 August 2013, Cunliffe announced a second leadership bid after David Shearer's departure from the leadership and was elected on 15 September 2013. Following Labour's defeat at the general election in September 2014, he resigned as leader of the Labour Party.[3]

On 1 November 2016, Labour leader Andrew Little announced that Cunliffe would not seek re-election at the 2017 general election, and would likely step down late in 2017 to avoid triggering a by-election in New Lynn.[4]

Early life[edit]

Cunliffe was born in Te Aroha on 30 April 1963.[5] His family moved to Te Kuiti, then to Pleasant Point. His father, Bill, an Anglican minister, was active in the Labour Party.[6] As a teenager he won a scholarship to study the International Baccalaureate at the United World College of the Atlantic in Wales. Cunliffe studied politics at the University of Otago, where he was a member of the Otago University Debating Society, and gained a BA with first-class honours. He worked as a diplomat from 1987 to 1994 and gained a Diploma in Social Sciences (Distinction) in economics from Massey University in 1993. He was a Fulbright Scholar and Kennedy Memorial Fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, including some courses at Harvard Business and Law School in 1994 and 1995, earning a Master of Public Administration. He worked as a management consultant with The Boston Consulting Group in Auckland from 1995 to 1999.[7]

Member of Parliament[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate List Party
1999–2002 46th Titirangi 53 Labour
2002–2005 47th New Lynn 37 Labour
2005–2008 48th New Lynn 31 Labour
2008–2011 49th New Lynn 8 Labour
2011–2014 50th New Lynn 3 Labour
2014–present 51st New Lynn 1 Labour

Cunliffe was first elected to Parliament in the 1999 election, standing as the Labour candidate for the Titirangi seat. Since the 2002 election he has represented the seat of New Lynn. At the 2005 election, Cunliffe was returned with 18,087 votes (8,000 more than his nearest opponent) or 55% of the electorate vote.[8] He retained his seat in the 2008, 2011 and 2014 general election.

Cabinet minister[edit]

Cunliffe was a member of the Cabinet of New Zealand as the Minister of Health, and Minister for Communications and Information Technology in the Fifth Labour Government until Labour lost the election in 2008.

Cunliffe closing the 2005 Auckland BioBlitz

In the 2002–2005 Parliament he held the ICT portfolios and was Associate Minister of Finance and Revenue, after previously serving as Parliamentary Private Secretary for Finance and Commerce.

During his first term (1999–2002) he served as Chair of the Commerce Select Committee, and sat on the Finance and Expenditure and Regulations Review select committees.

In 2006, in his previous role as Immigration Minister, he announced a major review of the Immigration Act 1987.[9] As Minister for Communications and Information Technology he announced extensive pro-competitive reform of the telcommunications sector, including local loop unbundling and operational separation of then Telecom New Zealand.[10]

In May 2006 Cunliffe was referred to the Securities Commission by the NZX for commenting on Telecom's future dividend plans,[11] causing Telecom's stock price to drop. The Securities Commission found that no law had been breached and no action was taken.[12]

On 30 June 2008 Cunliffe was conferred the title of Honorary Fellow of the NZCS (HFNZCS) by the New Zealand Computer Society, the professional body of the ICT profession in recognition of his significant contribution to the ICT sector.[13][14]

District Health Board controversy[edit]

In February 2008, as the Minister of Health, Cunliffe dismissed the Hawke's Bay District Health Board over political, monetary and conflict of interest troubles.[15] Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott and a number of members of the district voiced opposition to Cunliffe's move as many of the board members were democratically elected.[16] Following the release of a Health Ministry-commissioned independent report into the matter, Cunliffe referred to the board as "nasty little nest of self-perpetuating provincial elites".[17]

In Opposition (2008–present)[edit]

After the 2008 general election defeat of the Labour Party, Cunliffe was made Labour's spokesman for Finance, shadowing National's Finance Minister, Bill English. Cunliffe had been touted as a future leader of the party, and party insiders had suggested he seriously considered challenging Phil Goff as leader in the aftermath of the 2008 election. Speculation of a leadership challenge again arose during the June 2010 expenses scandal and again after the "Cartergate" affair.

After Labour lost the 2011 general election and Goff stood down, Cunliffe ran for the party leadership with Nanaia Mahuta on a ticket for deputy leader. Grant Robertson and David Parker also entered the race, but subsequently backed David Shearer, who won the high-profile race. Robertson became Deputy Leader, while Parker took Cunliffe's finance spokesmanship. Shearer retained Cunliffe in a senior role on the front bench, with the Economic Development and Associate Finance roles.[18]

In November 2012 during a Labour Party conference, there was much media speculation Cunliffe would launch a challenge against David Shearer for leadership of the party.[19] On the morning of 19 November, Cunliffe confirmed he was not challenging Shearer, and would indeed back him if a vote was taken.[20] Labour Chief Whip Chris Hipkins publicly refuted that Cunliffe had not been making a bid for the leadership over the conference weekend, and stated that fellow caucus members were frustrated with Cunliffe's behaviour.[21]

On 20 November 2012, Shearer sacked Cunliffe as economic development spokesman, and demoted him to the back bench, citing Cunliffe's inability to express his support for Shearer's leadership at the Labour Party Conference. Cunliffe denied that he had been disloyal. Cunliffe was left with no spokesmanships.[22] In February 2013 Shearer reshuffled his caucus lineup. Cunliffe was given the Revenue portfolio, but was not promoted back into the shadow cabinet.[23]

Labour Party leadership contest[edit]

On 22 August 2013, Shearer announced his resignation as leader of the Labour Party, fuelling speculation that Cunliffe would make another bid for the leadership. Cunliffe did not confirm his candidacy immediately, saying to the press in Parliament that same day: "I am going to be taking the next few days to consult with my family, with colleagues and with party supporters and I won't be making a decision until after I have done that."[24] Victoria University of Wellington's iPredict online predictions market showed the probability of Cunliffe becoming the next leader of the Labour Party at 66%, compared to under 26% support for Shearer's deputy Grant Robertson, social development spokesperson Jacinda Ardern was at 5%, and list MP and former union leader Andrew Little was on 2%.[25]

Cunliffe formally entered the 2013 New Zealand Labour Party leadership election during a press conference in his New Lynn electorate office, saying he had consulted colleagues, supporters, and family and had been "humbled by the response."[26] He also said they had expressed confidence in his ability to "bring together a party and a government that provides a strong, clear voice for fairness, inclusion, and prosperity to be shared by all."[27] His announcement came in the wake of a ONE News Colmar Brunton poll released by the current affair program Q+A which showed Cunliffe winning the support of 29% of the eligible voters asked, and 32% of those polled who support Labour. Challengers Shane Jones and Grant Robertson are on 11% and 10%, respectively.[28] After the first public Labour Party leadership selection process in New Zealand history, Cunliffe was elected leader on 15 September 2013.[29] He won with the support of 32% of the Labour Party caucus, 60% of Labour Party members, and 70% of affiliated unions.[30]

Leader of the Labour Party[edit]

Cunliffe speaking in October 2013

Cunliffe was perceived as widely disliked by his colleagues in the Labour Party caucus. In the leadership contest he won first-preference votes from only one-third of Labour MPs.[31] His leadership of the party was marked by continued infighting and instability.

Cunliffe breached electoral law by sending a tweet urging voters to vote for the Labour candidate in the Christchurch East by-election in November 2013.[32]

Labour performed poorly in the public opinion polls throughout Cunliffe's tenure as leader. Political commentator John Armstrong criticised "the lack of 'fresh policy' coming out of Labour" and lamented there was "a lack of urgency, which is failing to provide the momentum to keep Labour in the headlines".[33]

2014 general election[edit]

Labour launched its campaign for 2014 New Zealand general election in Auckland on 21 July. Cunliffe announced several flagship election policies, including a promise of free GP visits and prescriptions to pregnant women and those aged under 13 and over 65.[34] In a speech he stated, "We are basing our policies on a very old idea. That your healthcare is based on your health need, not on the size of your wallet."[34]

Cunliffe's performance in the leadership debates was viewed as mixed. Cunliffe was judged to have performed poorly in the 2 September The Press leaders' debate. Key claimed a win after Cunliffe could not answer whether family homes held in a trust would be exempt under Labour's capital gains tax policy.[35]

In August, the Labour Party's position in the opinion polls dropped to 22.4%, with Cunliffe registered 11% support as preferred Prime Minister.[36]

During the election campaign, Cunliffe met the alleged offender in the Queenstown suppressed indecency case. He said he had arranged for the person to meet a Labour candidate but that he had no idea about the person's controversial background and that had he known, no such meeting would have taken place.[37]

Cunliffe led the party to its worst general election result since 1922.[38] The National Party returned to power with 48.1% of the vote (its best result since 1951) while Labour claimed just 24.7%.[38] Cunliffe initially vowed to remain as the party leadership, despite the poor election result. On 27 September Cunliffe formally resigned as leader but announced he was re-contesting in the 2014 leadership election.[36] Later on 13 October, following widespread criticism, he announced he was pulling out of the leadership race.[36]

Political views[edit]

Cunliffe is generally liberal when it comes to conscience issues. He voted in favour of the decriminalisation of prostitution, the establishment of civil unions, and the criminalisation of parental corporal punishment. He voted against defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage. In 2006, he voted in favour of raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 20, but voted against it in 2012.[39]

Cunliffe is a supporter of a New Zealand republic. During the Address-In-Reply debate on 4 September 2002, Cunliffe said: "A New Zealand where we journey together towards maturity as a nation, and to the Commonwealth republic I personally believe we will become before the Treaty turns 200".[40]

Personal life[edit]

Cunliffe married prominent Auckland lawyer Karen Price when he was 21 and she was 19. They had two sons, and lived in the Auckland suburb of Herne Bay.[6] They separated in 2015.[1] Cunliffe's father Bill was born in Ngahere in 1915 and worked at the railways. His great-grandfather, William Cunliffe, married Phoebe Seddon, the elder sister of Richard Seddon, who would later become known as 'King Dick'. Seddon, New Zealand's longest serving prime minister, was thus Cunliffe's great-(great-)uncle.[41]

Religious views[edit]

Cunliffe is the son of an Anglican minister, and was raised in the Church of England. He has described himself as a "liberal Anglican," and an "infrequent attender of church, but it's a big part of my life."[42] He attends St Matthew's Anglican Church in Auckland, and is a supporter of the Auckland City Mission.


  1. ^ a b Young, Audrey (24 March 2015). "David Cunliffe confirms he and wife Karen Price have separated". The New Zealand Herald. 
  2. ^ Audrey Young (12 November 2008). "Goff plans radical shake-up at the top". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 12 November 2008. 
  3. ^ Howie, Cherie (27 September 2014). "David Cunliffe resigns as leader". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 27 September 2014. 
  4. ^ "David Cunliffe to retire from politics". NZ Herald. 1 November 2016. Retrieved 1 November 2016. 
  5. ^ Taylor, Phil (5 July 2014). "Unauthorised biography of David Cunliffe: The man who would be PM". The New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 5 July 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Taylor, Phil (24 November 2012). "The other David". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 24 November 2012. 
  7. ^ "Hon David Cunliffe". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  8. ^ Elections NZ: Official Count Results – New Lynn
  9. ^ "Immigration Act to drop 'Zaoui' law". NZPA. 8 August 2007. Retrieved 22 March 2008. 
  10. ^ "Cunliffe: Vision 2011 – Roadmap to the Top" (Press release). New Zealand Government. 28 June 2006. Retrieved 22 March 2008. 
  11. ^ Dickens, David (17 May 2006). "NZX reports Cunliffe to Securities Commission". techday. Retrieved 6 September 2011. 
  12. ^ http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10382932
  13. ^ "Cunliffe to be honorary NZCS Fellow". Computerworld.
  14. ^ NZCS Honorary Fellowship Conferment Notice
  15. ^ Martin Kay (27 February 2008). "Health Minister fires Hawke's Bay DHB". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 22 March 2008. 
  16. ^ "Locals back sacked Health Board". TVNZ. 29 February 2008. 
  17. ^ David Cunliffe (18 March 2008). Hawke’s Bay District Health Board—Conflicts of Interest Report (Speech). Debating Chamber of the New Zealand House of Representatives.  Speech video on nzherald.co.nz
  18. ^ "David Cunliffe". New Zealand Labour Party. 
  19. ^ "Labour's Shearer still under pressure". 3 News NZ. 18 November 2012. 
  20. ^ "Cunliffe: I'm backing Shearer". 3 News NZ. 19 November 2012. 
  21. ^ Garner, Duncan (19 November 2012). "D-Day Looms for David Cunliffe". TV3. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  22. ^ Clare, Trevett (21 November 2012). "Cunliffe denies disloyalty". NZ Herald. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  23. ^ Satherley, Dan (26 February 2013). "Shearer's reshuffle "clever"". TV3. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  24. ^ Stuff.co.nz "David Shearer quits as Labour leader." (22/08/13, retrieved 23/08/13)
  25. ^ MSN NZ.co.nz "Cunliffe leading iPredict stakes." (23/08/13, retrieved 23/08/13).
  26. ^ Cunliffe announces Labour bid. Stuff.co.nz (26/08/13, retrieved 26/08/13).
  27. ^ 'I am ready' to be Labour leader – David Cunliffe One News, 26/08/13, (retrieved 26/08/13)
  28. ^ Grant Robertson confirms bid for Labour leadership. One News, (26/08/13)
  29. ^ Tracy Watkins, Michael Fox and Andrea Vance. "Cunliffe wins Labour leadership". Stuff.co.nz. Fairfax NZ. Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  30. ^ Farrar, David (15 September 2013). "Cunliffe wins". Kiwiblog. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  31. ^ Solutions, EIU Digital (17 September 2013). "New Labour leader chosen". country.eiu.com. Retrieved 4 September 2016. 
  32. ^ "Cunliffe referred to police over election day tweet – National – NZ Herald News". The New Zealand Herald. 4 December 2013. 
  33. ^ Armstrong, John (22 February 2014). "John Armstrong: It's past time for Cunliffe to get Labour moving". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 4 September 2016. 
  34. ^ a b "Labour promises free GP visits". 3 News. 10 August 2014. Retrieved 4 September 2016. 
  35. ^ "Key lands hit on Cunliffe over capital gains tax". Television New Zealand. 2 September 2014. Retrieved 4 September 2016. 
  36. ^ a b c "Labour leadership's turbulent ride". The New Zealand Herald. 13 October 2014. Retrieved 4 September 2016. 
  37. ^ 'Labour chief meets sex offender but says he didn’t know background on The New Zealand Herald website, dated 2014-07-21, viewed 2014-12-01
  38. ^ a b Peters, Tom (22 September 2014). "New Zealand election: Labour's worst defeat in 92 years - World Socialist Web Site". www.wsws.org. Retrieved 4 September 2016. 
  39. ^ "Parliamentary Conscience Votes Database – David Cunliffe". Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  40. ^ "David Cunliffe: Address-In-Reply speech". Archived from the original on 9 October 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2006. 
  41. ^ "Cunliffe's great-uncle Dick". Grey Star. Retrieved 14 January 2015. 
  42. ^ David Cunliffe interview, "Vote Chat 2011." (26/08/11)

Further reading[edit]

  • "ICT leaders election forum 2005 [videorecording: DVD]". Wellington, [N.Z.]: InternetNZ. c. 2005. . This was a discussion forum about information technology policy – the National Party's Maurice Williamson was also a participant.

External links[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
New constituency Member of Parliament
for Titirangi

Constituency abolished
Member of Parliament
for New Lynn

Political offices
Preceded by
Pete Hodgson
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Tony Ryall
Preceded by
Bill English
Shadow Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
David Parker
Preceded by
David Shearer
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Andrew Little
Party political offices
Preceded by
David Shearer
Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Andrew Little