Jenny Shipley

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Jenny Shipley
Shipley in 2018
36th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
8 December 1997 – 10 December 1999
MonarchElizabeth II
Governor-GeneralMichael Hardie Boys
DeputyWinston Peters
Wyatt Creech
Preceded byJim Bolger
Succeeded byHelen Clark
28th Leader of the Opposition
In office
10 December 1999 – 8 October 2001
Prime MinisterHelen Clark
DeputyWyatt Creech
Bill English
Preceded byHelen Clark
Succeeded byBill English
8th Minister for State Owned Enterprises
In office
16 December 1996 – 8 December 1997
Prime MinisterJim Bolger
Preceded byPhilip Burdon
Succeeded byTony Ryall
32nd Minister of Health
In office
29 November 1993 – 16 December 1996
Prime MinisterJim Bolger
Preceded byBill Birch
Succeeded byBill English
19th Minister for Social Welfare
In office
2 November 1990 – 29 November 1993
Prime MinisterJim Bolger
Preceded byMichael Cullen
Succeeded byPeter Gresham
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Rakaia
Ashburton (1987–1990)
In office
15 August 1987 – 27 July 2002
Preceded byRob Talbot
Succeeded byBrian Connell
Personal details
Jennifer Mary Robson

(1952-02-04) 4 February 1952 (age 71)
Gore, New Zealand
Political partyNational
Burton Shipley
(m. 1972)

Dame Jennifer Mary Shipley DNZM PC (née Robson; born 4 February 1952)[1] is a New Zealand former politician who served as the 36th prime minister of New Zealand from 1997 to 1999. She was the first female prime minister of New Zealand, and the first woman to have led the National Party.[2][3]

Shipley was born in Gore, Southland. She grew up in rural Canterbury, and attended Marlborough Girls' College and the Christchurch College of Education. Before entering politics, she worked as a schoolteacher and was involved with various community organisations. Shipley was elected to Parliament at the 1987 election, winning the Ashburton electorate (later renamed Rakaia). When the National Party returned to power in 1990, she was appointed to Cabinet under Jim Bolger. Shipley subsequently served as Minister of Social Welfare (1990–1996), Minister for Women's Affairs (1990–1996), Minister of Health (1993–1996), and Minister of Transport (1996–1997).

Shipley chafed at the government's slow pace, and in December 1997 convinced her National colleagues to support her as leader. Bolger resigned as Prime Minister rather than face being voted out, and Shipley was elected as his replacement unopposed. She inherited an uneasy coalition with New Zealand First, led by Winston Peters. The coalition was dissolved in August 1998, but Shipley was able to remain in power with the aid of Mauri Pacific, an NZ First splinter group. At the 1999 election, her government was defeated by the Labour Party, led by Helen Clark. Shipley continued as Leader of the Opposition until October 2001. Shipley has involved herself with business and charitable interests since leaving politics, and is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders.

Early life[edit]

Born in Gore, New Zealand, Shipley was one of four sisters.[4] After attending Marlborough Girls' College, she qualified in 1971 as a teacher through the Christchurch College of Education and taught in New Zealand primary schools until 1976. In 1973 she married Burton Shipley and settled in Ashburton.[4]

Member of Parliament[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
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.[4]

Cabinet Minister[edit]

Shipley rose quickly in the National caucus. In February 1990, while still in her first term, party leader Jim Bolger named her the party's spokeswoman on social welfare.[5] When Bolger led the National Party to victory in the 1990 general election, Shipley was reelected in Rakaia, essentially a reconfigured Ashburton. She became Minister of Social Welfare, and also served as Minister for Women's Affairs (1990–1996).[6]

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. National won another term at the 1996 election, but was forced into a coalition with New Zealand First. Shipley left the Women's Affairs portfolio and took on several others, including responsibility for state-owned enterprises and transport.[citation needed]

In 1993, Shipley was awarded the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal.[7]

Prime Minister (1997–1999)[edit]

Premiership of Jenny Shipley
8 December 1997 – 10 December 1999
MonarchElizabeth II
CabinetFourth National Government of New Zealand
PartyNew Zealand National Party
Appointed byMichael Hardie Boys
SeatPremier House

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 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 returned to New Zealand and discovered that he no longer had the support of his party. Rather than face being voted out, he resigned, and Shipley replaced him. As leader of the governing party, she became Prime Minister on 8 December 1997.[8] On 21 May 1998 Shipley was appointed to the Privy Council and became The Right Honourable Jenny Shipley.[9]

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.[10][11][self-published source]

Shipley was nicknamed "the perfumed steamroller," when she first became prime minister.[12] During a later interview with Guyon Espiner, Shipley stated that female politicians were labelled differently in the media; she uses the example that male politicians are called bold where female politicians are called vindictive; although she notes that this is an observation, not something that hurts her personally.[13] Shipley's ascension to the leadership marked a shift to the right politically with subtle returns to the neo-liberal policies of the first term of the Bolger government. This was labelled by some commentators (usually critically) as "Jennycide", a portmanteau of "Jenny" and "genocide".[14]

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,[15][16] along the lines of the Canadian flag, but she took pains to publicly dissociate 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".[17] 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.[18]

The APEC Summit was hosted in Auckland in September 1999. Shipley met with the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, in one of only two state visits to New Zealand by a US President.[19]

Shipley was the first Prime Minister to attend the gay and lesbian Hero Parade,[20] 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.[11] 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.[21]

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. This election was a significant moment in history for New Zealand as it was the first New Zealand election in which the leaders of both major parties were women.[22]

Shipley served as the Leader of the Opposition until October 2001, when Bill English took over as National Party leader.[23] She retired from Parliament in January 2002.[24]

In the 2003 New Year Honours, Shipley was appointed a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services as a Member of Parliament.[25]


Shipley suffered a heart attack in 2000, leading to an emergency angioplasty procedure.[26] She made modifications to her lifestyle and lost weight, though she was diagnosed with diabetes in 2004. She underwent gastric bypass surgery in late 2007.[21]

Life after politics[edit]

Shipley attending the Wellington celebration of the anniversary of suffrage day, 19 September 2013

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.[27] As of 2012, she was on the board of the New Zealand branch of the state-owned China Construction Bank.[28][29] 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.[30] MPCL and Mainzeal Group Limited are part of the Richina group, controlled and majority owned by Yan Ci Lang (also known as Richard Yan).[31][32][33][34] Mainzeal went into liquidation on 28 February 2013, owing some NZ$110 million. 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.[35] In February 2019, the High Court of New Zealand found that the Mainzeal directors had breached their duty to avoid reckless trading and assessed their total liability at NZ$36 million, of which Shipley's share was assessed at NZ$6 million.[36] Within a week of the Court delivering its verdict, Shipley resigned from her Chair of the China Construction Bank New Zealand. An appeal against this judgment was filed along with a counter claim brought by the original plaintiffs for a vastly higher award against the Directors.[37] Both appeals failed.[38] In August 2023 New Zealand's Supreme Court upheld the long-contested judgements, determining "“Mainzeal was balance sheet insolvent from 2005, albeit this was not apparent from its financial statements” and ordered the four directors, of whom Shipley was one, to pay $39.8m together with interest, although the liability of Shipley is limited to $6.6m plus interest.

Shipley accepted redesignation as a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit on 14 August 2009, following the reintroduction of titular honours by the Fifth National Government.[39] Also in 2009, Shipley appeared on an episode of the television reality/travel show Intrepid Journeys, where she visited Namibia.[40] She later started a charity to help a school she came across on that trip called the Namibian Educational Trust.[41] 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".[21]


  1. ^ "Jenny Shipley". New Zealand history online. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 27 October 2017. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ "Judith Collins is new National Party leader, Gerry Brownlee her deputy". The New Zealand Herald. 14 July 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Wolfe, Richard (2005). Battlers Bluffers & Bully Boys. Random House New Zealand. ISBN 1-86941-715-1.
  5. ^ "National Party's new parliamentary line-up". The New Zealand Herald. 12 February 1990. p. 5.
  6. ^ "Minister of Women's Affairs". Ministry of Women's Affairs. Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 27 January 2011.
  7. ^ "The New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal 1993 – register of recipients". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 26 July 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  8. ^ "Jenny Shipley, Prime Minister; Swearing-in fuels hopes of more women in Cabinet". The Evening Post. 8 December 1997. p. 1.
  9. ^ Appointments to the Privy Council (28 May 1998) 74 New Zealand 1613 at 1644.
  10. ^ Barber, David (15 August 1998). "Shipley sacks rebel minister". The Independent. Wellington. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  11. ^ a b Thompson, Alasdair (2013). Life Changing: Learning from the past; fixing the future. Xlibris Corporation. p. 333. ISBN 9781483668437.[self-published source]
  12. ^ Denny, Charlotte. "Prepare to meet the perfumed steamroller." Guardian, 24 November 1997, p. T4+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 15 May 2018.
  13. ^ "'Look at the language: men are bold, women are vindictive' – ex-PM Jenny Shipley on depictions of politicians (WATCH)". 28 April 2017. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  14. ^ "Now it's Jennycide". Daily News. 9 April 1998. p. 6.
  15. ^ "Calls for a new flag". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  16. ^ Blundell, Sally (12 March 2014). "A symbol solution". Noted. The Listener. Archived from the original on 8 September 2017. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  17. ^ "Princess Royal's Unfailing Efforts Praised By Pm" (Press release). Government of New Zealand. 17 March 1999. Archived from the original on 8 September 2017. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  18. ^ "Standfornz – when social media goes bad « The Standard". 10 May 2015. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  19. ^ "State visit of the United States President" (Press release). Government of New Zealand. 27 August 1999. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  20. ^ "Pride and Progress: The Past and the Future of Auckland's Pride Parade – Tearaway". Tearaway. 24 February 2017. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  21. ^ a b c McLeod, Rosemary (22 October 2011). "Jenny Shipley: 'Leadership is a life sentence'". The Dominion Post. Stuff. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  22. ^ Vowles, Jack (2013). "Gender and Leadership". Proportional Representation on Trial: The 1999 New Zealand General Election and the Fate of MMP?. Auckland: Auckland University Press. ISBN 9781869407155.
  23. ^ Small, Vernon; Armstrong, John; Mold, Fran (9 October 2001). "Shipley out, English next in line". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  24. ^ "Jenny Shipley Announces Retirement". Scoop News. 31 January 2002. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  25. ^ "New Year honours list 2003". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2002. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  26. ^ Fraser, Fiona (8 September 2009). "Jenny's change of heart". New Zealand Woman's Weekly. Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. Retrieved 5 January 2010.
  27. ^ "Shipley, Withers take senior SOE roles". New Zealand Herald. 20 October 2009.
  28. ^ "Board of Directors – China Construction Bank". Retrieved 19 June 2012.
  29. ^ Meadows, Richard (11 May 2015). "Shipley v Brash: Who earns more Chinese bank cash?". Stuff. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  30. ^ "Mainzeal in receivership; Jenny Shipley and Paul Collins resign from the board". Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  31. ^ "Failed Mainzeal faces $93.5m in claims". 16 March 2013.
  32. ^ "Mainzeal collapse hits subcontractors". Dominion Post. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  33. ^ "Richina accused of polluting Shanghai". Archived from the original on 16 May 2021. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  34. ^ "Meet Mainzeal's man at the top, the enigmatic migrant made good – until now". New Zealand Herald. 9 February 2013.
  35. ^ Harris, Catherine (30 May 2015). "Jenny Shipley among Mainzeal directors facing legal action". p. C24. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  36. ^ "Mainzeal Property and Construction Ltd (In Liq) v Yan and Others [2019] NZHC 255" (PDF). 26 February 2019.
  37. ^ "Mainzeal Property and Construction Limited (in liq) v Yan [2019] NZHC 1637". 12 July 2019.
  38. ^ Hutching, Chris (29 July 2019). "Dame Shipley and Mainzeal directors fail to overturn $36m penalties". Stuff.
  39. ^ "Prime Minister congratulates knights and dames". Television New Zealand. 1 August 2009. Archived from the original on 4 August 2009.
  40. ^ "Jenny Shipley: Namibia". Intrepid Journeys. Television New Zealand. Archived from the original on 17 June 2011. Retrieved 26 June 2009.
  41. ^ "The lights are on at Ehomba School in Africa!". Namibian Educational Trust. Retrieved 26 June 2009.

External links[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by Member of Parliament
for Ashburton

Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament
for Rakaia

Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Minister for Social Welfare
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Women's Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of New Zealand
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Preceded by Leader of the Opposition
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