Jenny Shipley

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The Right Honourable
Dame Jenny Shipley
Jenny Shipley.jpg
36th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
8 December 1997 – 10 December 1999
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor-General Michael Hardie Boys
Deputy Winston Peters
Wyatt Creech
Preceded by Jim Bolger
Succeeded by Helen Clark
28th Leader of the Opposition
In office
10 December 1999 – 8 October 2001
Prime Minister Helen Clark
Preceded by Helen Clark
Succeeded by Bill English
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Rakaia
In office
27 October 1990 – 27 July 2002
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Brian Connell
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Ashburton
In office
15 August 1987 – 27 October 1990
Preceded by Rob Talbot
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Born (1952-02-04) 4 February 1952 (age 65)
Gore, Southland, New Zealand
Political party National Party
Spouse(s) Burton Shipley (1972–present)
Children 2
Religion Presbyterianism

Dame Jennifer Mary "Jenny" Shipley DNZM (née Robson, born 4 February 1952) was the 36th Prime Minister of New Zealand from December 1997 to December 1999, the first woman to hold this office and to date the only female leader of the New Zealand National Party.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in Gore, New Zealand, Shipley was one of four sisters.[2] After attending Marlborough Girls' College, she qualified in 1971 as a teacher and taught in New Zealand primary schools until 1976. In 1973 she married Burton Shipley and settled in Ashburton.[2] She assisted in a number of educational and child-care organisations, such as the Plunket Society.

Member of Parliament[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate List Party
1987–1990 42nd Ashburton National
1990–1993 43rd Ashburton National
1993–1996 44th Rakaia National
1996–1999 45th Rakaia 4 National
1999–2002 46th Rakaia 1 National

Having joined the National Party in 1975, Shipley successfully stood in Ashburton, a safe National seat in the country areas surrounding Christchurch, in the 1987 election. Entering parliament at age 35, she was one of parliament's youngest members.[2] She represented this electorate until her retirement from politics in 2002, though it was renamed Rakaia in 1990.

Cabinet Minister[edit]

Shipley rose quickly in the National caucus. While still in her second term, party leader Jim Bolger named her the party's spokeswoman on social welfare. When Bolger led the National Party to victory in the general election of 1990, Shipley became Minister of Social Welfare, and also served as Minister for Women's Affairs (1990–1996).[3]

In her role as Minister of Social Welfare, Shipley presided over sharp cutbacks to state benefits. Later, when she became Minister of Health in 1993, she caused further controversy by attempting to reform the public health service, introducing an internal market. When National gained re-election in 1996, Shipley left the Women's Affairs portfolio and took on several others, including responsibility for state-owned enterprises and transport.

Prime Minister[edit]

Shipley (centre) with United States President Bill Clinton, 15 September 1999.

Shipley grew increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with the cautious pace of National's leader, Jim Bolger, and with what she saw as the disproportionate influence of coalition partner New Zealand First. She began gathering support to replace Bolger in mid-1997. Later that year, while Bolger attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Shipley convinced a majority of her National Party colleagues to back her bid for the leadership. Bolger, seeing that he no longer had the support of his party, resigned, and Shipley replaced him. As leader of the governing party, she became Prime Minister on 8 December 1997.

Despite continued economic growth, the Shipley government became increasingly politically unstable. In particular, the relationship between National and New Zealand First deteriorated. While Bolger had been able to maintain good relations with New Zealand First and with its leader, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, the alliance became strained after Shipley rose to power. Finally, on 14 August 1998, Shipley sacked Peters from Cabinet.

Peters immediately withdrew support for Shipley's government. However, several New Zealand First MPs wanted to continue the coalition, and led by NZF deputy leader Tau Henare they tried to oust Peters as leader. When they failed, they left their party, either becoming independents or trying to form their own parties. Shipley gained sufficient support from these MPs to keep National in power. On the same day Shipley unexpectedly backed Cultural Affairs Minister Marie Hasler's call for a change in the New Zealand flag.

Shipley, along with the New Zealand Tourism Board, backed the quasi-national emblem of the silver fern on a black background as a possible alternative flag, along the lines of the Canadian flag, but she took pains to publicly disassociate herself from Bolger's support for republicanism. As the debate continued in 1999, the Princess Royal visited New Zealand, and Shipley stated, "I am an unashamed royal supporter, along with many New Zealanders." However, the debate was muted by the controversy surrounding Tourism Board contracts going to the public-relations firm Saatchi & Saatchi, whose World CEO Kevin Roberts, also an advocate of the silver fern flag, was a good friend of Shipley.[4]

She was the first Prime Minister to attend the gay and lesbian Hero Parade, being the first National Party leader to seek to make electoral overtures to the gay and lesbian voting public. She advocated lowering the alcohol purchase age from 20 to 18 and achieved this in 1999. This was part of her expressed desire to expand the traditional National Party voting base.

Shipley became a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers with the mission of mobilising the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.

Privy Council[edit]

On 21 May 1998 Shipley was appointed to the Privy Council and became The Right Honourable Jenny Shipley.[5]

Defeat and resignation[edit]

Shipley led the National Party into the 1999 election, hoping to become the first woman to be elected prime minister in her own right. However, she was defeated by the Labour Party, also led by a woman, Helen Clark. It was the first (and to date, only) New Zealand election in which the leaders of both major parties were women. Shipley led the National Party until October 2001, when Bill English took over as Leader of the Opposition, and she retired from Parliament in 2002.[citation needed]


Jenny Shipley suffered a heart attack in 2000.[6]

Life after politics[edit]

Since leaving politics, Shipley has involved herself with various business and charitable interests. In 2007, she joined the financial services firm Source Sentinel, and in 2009, she was appointed chair of the Genesis Energy Limited board.[7] As of 2012, she was on the board of the China Construction Bank.[8] In December 2012, Shipley resigned from the board of directors of Mainzeal Property & Construction (MPCL), which went into receivership on 6 February 2013. At mid-day on 5 February 2013 she was one of four independent directors who resigned from the board of Mainzeal Group Ltd.[9] MPCL and Mainzeal Group Limited are part of the Richina group, controlled and majority owned by Yan Ci Lang (also known as Richard Yan).[10][11][12][13] In May 2015, the receiver of Mainzeal, BDO, filed a civil lawsuit against the former Mainzeal directors, including Shipley, for an alleged breach of directors' duties.[14]

Shipley accepted a damehood on 14 August 2009. This came after the Fifth National Government reinstated knighthoods.[15] Also in 2009, Shipley appeared on an episode of the television reality/travel show Intrepid Journeys, where she visited Namibia.[16] She later started a charity to help a school she came across on that trip called the Namibian Educational Trust.[17] Shipley chairs Global Women NZ, and is Patron of the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre and the New Zealand National Heart Foundation's campaign "Go Red for Women".[citation needed]


  1. ^ Skard, Torild (2014) "Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark" in Women of Power – Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide. Bristol: Policy Press, ISBN 978-1-44731-578-0
  2. ^ a b c Wolfe, Richard. Battlers Bluffers & Bully Boys. Random House New Zealand. ISBN 1-86941-715-1. 
  3. ^ "Minister of Women's Affairs". Ministry of Women's Affairs. Retrieved 27 January 2011. 
  4. ^ "Standfornz – when social media goes bad « The Standard". Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  5. ^ Appointments to the Privy Council (28 May 1998) 74 New Zealand 1613 at 1644.
  6. ^ Fraser, Fiona (8 September 2009). "Jenny's change of heart". New Zealand Woman's Weekly. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  7. ^ "Shipley, Withers take senior SOE roles". New Zealand Herald. 20 October 2009. 
  8. ^ "Board of Directors – China Construction Bank". Retrieved 19 June 2012. 
  9. ^ "Mainzeal in receivership; Jenny Shipley and Paul Collins resign from the board". Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  10. ^ "Failed Mainzeal faces $93.5m in claims". 16 March 2013. 
  11. ^ "Mainzeal collapse hits subcontractors". Dominion Post. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  12. ^ "Richina accused of polluting Shanghai". Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  13. ^ "Meet Mainzeal's man at the top, the enigmatic migrant made good – until now". New Zealand Herald. 9 February 2013. 
  14. ^ Harris, Catherine (30 May 2015). "Jenny Shipley among Mainzeal directors facing legal action". p. C24. Retrieved 30 May 2015. 
  15. ^ "Prime Minister congratulates knights and dames". Television New Zealand. 1 August 2009. 
  16. ^ "Jenny Shipley: Namibia". Intrepid Journeys. Television New Zealand. Retrieved 26 June 2009. 
  17. ^ "The lights are on at Ehomba School in Africa!". Namibian Educational Trust. Retrieved 26 June 2009. 

External links[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Rob Talbot
Member of Parliament
for Ashburton

Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament
for Rakaia

Succeeded by
Brian Connell
Political offices
Preceded by
Margaret Shields
Minister of Women's Affairs
Succeeded by
Christine Fletcher
Preceded by
Bill Birch
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Bill English
Preceded by
Jim Bolger
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Helen Clark
Preceded by
Helen Clark
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Bill English
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jim Bolger
Leader of the National Party
Succeeded by
Bill English
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Mahathir Mohamad
Chairperson of APEC
Succeeded by
Hassanal Bolkiah