Melissa Lee

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Melissa Lee

Melissa Lee.jpg
Member of the New Zealand House of Representatives
Assumed office
ConstituencyNational Party List № 37 (2008~2011)
№ 34 (2011~2014)
№ 31 (2014~present)
Personal details
이지연 (Lee Ji-yeon)

c. 1966 (age 52–53)
South Korea
NationalitySouth Korea
New Zealand
Political partyNew Zealand National Party

Melissa Ji-Yun Lee (Korean: 이지연, Lee Ji-yeon; born c. 1966) is a New Zealand politician. She was elected to the House of Representatives as a list MP for the National Party in the 2008 election. As of 2018 she is the National Party's spokesperson for broadcasting, communications, digital media, and ethnic affairs.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Lee was born in South Korea and grew up in Malaysia before moving to Australia and then to New Zealand in 1988 with her family. She has a MA Hons (First Class) in Communication Studies. Based in Auckland, She spent twenty three years in journalism including a five-year stint at the Sunday News and writing for numerous publications including The New Zealand Herald and The Listener.[2] She was also the producer of the TV magazine series, Asia Downunder.[3]

Member of Parliament[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate List Party
2008–2011 49th List 37 National
2011–2014 50th List 34 National
2014–2017 51st List 31 National
2017–present 52nd List 31 National

In November 2008, Lee became a List MP in the New Zealand Parliament. Her maiden speech included sections in English, Māori, and Korean. In English, she mentioned crime, education, and anti-Asian racism issues in New Zealand. In the Māori section, she mentioned the history of Māori first coming to New Zealand by canoe from Hawaiki and compared it to her own migration to New Zealand by aeroplane. Near the end of her speech, she thanked, in Korean, all the people that had given her support "simply by virtue of [their] shared heritage".[4]

Lee became the second Korean, and first Korean woman, to win election to a non-Korean national legislature. (The first Korean elected to a foreign national-level office, Jay Kim, became a member of the United States House of Representatives in 1992.)[5]

A poll conducted between 10 December 2008 and 19 April 2009 by the Spanish newspaper, 20 minutos (20 minutes) ranked Lee as the world's 51st most beautiful female politician.[6][7]

First term and Mt Albert by-election, 2008–2011[edit]

During the first months of entering Parliament two Conscience votes were taken, Melissa Lee voted against the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill[citation needed] and the Liquor Advertising (Television and Radio) Bill.[8]

On 16 April 2009, Lee announced her candidacy for the National Party nomination in the 2009 Mount Albert by-election.[9] She defeated the previous local National candidate, Ravi Musuku, to win selection for the National Party on 4 May 2009.[10]

On 13 May 2009 Lee told a candidates' meeting that the SH20 Waterview Connection could divert criminals from South Auckland away from the electorate. Lee apologised the next day, saying "if South Auckland people (find) my comments offensive, I apologise. It wasn't about them. It was about criminals." Prime Minister John Key later said the remark was a "stupid statement to make".[11] Later that day she apologised again saying, "I apologise unreservedly for the comments I made regarding South Auckland... I sincerely regret my remarks."[12] In the by-election, Lee attracted only 3,542 votes, coming a distant second to Labour's David Shearer's 13,260 votes.[13]

During the by-election, allegations were made in May 2009 that Lee's production company Asia Vision had spent New Zealand on Air money making a promotional video for the National Party ahead of the 2008 election. Lee called the allegations "ridiculous", saying that all work on the video was done by volunteers. The Green Party referred the video to the Electoral Commission, saying that it should have been declared as an election expense.[14][15] An investigation conducted by New Zealand on Air later cleared Lee of the charge of misuse of funding.[16]

Later in 2009 Lee used NZ$100,000 of contingency funding to increase the markup for Asia Downunder in violation of her contract with New Zealand on Air, which she described as "an innocent error".[17]

In April 2011 Lee courted controversy when, after she had made a speech supporting the controversially rushed-through copyright law 92A,[18] it emerged that hours earlier she had tweeted "Ok. Shower... Reading ... And then bed! listening to a compilation a friend did for me of K Pop. Fab. Thanks Jay"[19] which appeared to contradict her stance on law 92A.[20]

Second term, 2011–2014[edit]

During the 2011 general election, Melissa Lee increased her electoral vote in the Mt Albert electorate but failed to unseat David Shearer, who retained the seat by a margin of 10,021 votes.[21]

On 20 December 2011 John Key announced that Lee and John Hayes would become Parliamentary Private Secretaries, a role not in use for several years.[22] Key appointed her to the portfolio of Ethnic Affairs, given the heavy workload of Judith Collins as the newly appointed Minister of Justice. In January 2014, Lee was appointed Chairperson of the Social Services Select Committee.[1]

There were several conscience votes during the 50th Parliament surrounding issues of the legal alcohol purchase age and Same-Sex Marriage. In these votes Lee voted against the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013[23] and voted in favour of retaining the Alcohol Purchase age at 18 in the Alcohol Reform Bill.[citation needed]

Third term, 2014–2017[edit]

During the 2014 general election, Melissa Lee failed to win the Mt Albert electorate. Her Labour opponent David Shearer retained the seat by 10,656 votes, a moderate decrease on the previous election but substantially increased the party vote, winning the party vote by 3536.[24][25]

After the 2014 election, Lee was appointed to Chair the Commerce Select Committee while also retaining her position as Parliamentary Private Secretary for Ethnic Communities, the position being renamed to reflect the change in name of the eponymous Ministry and Minister, Lee has been joined by Jacqui Dean as a Parliamentary Private Secretary since the retirement of John Hayes at the 2014 Election. Lee also has one Private Members Bill waiting to be drawn from the ballot: the Accident Compensation (Recent Migrants and Returning New Zealanders) Amendment Bill.[26]

Fourth term, 2017–present[edit]

During the 2017 general election in mid-September 2017, Melissa Lee was re-elected on the National Party List.[27] Lee stood against Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern in the Mt Albert electorate but was defeated by a margin of 15,264 votes.[28] Following the formation of a Labour-led coalition government on 19 October 2017, the National Party became the main opposition party in Parliament. Lee is currently the National Party's spokesperson for broadcasting, communications, and digital media, and ethnic communities. She is also a member of the Economic Development, Science and Innovation select committee.[1]

In March 2018, Lee challenged the Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran about her undisclosed meeting with Carol Hirschfield, the head of content at Radio New Zealand.[29] Curran initially claimed the meeting had been coincidental but later admitted that it had been prearranged. Lee accused Curran of engaging in a cover-up.[30][31]


  1. ^ a b c "Melissa Lee". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  2. ^ "Melissa Lee – Biography". New Zealand National Party. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  3. ^ Trevett, C. (27 January 2009). "New voices: Brendon Burns, Melissa Lee, Steven Joyce". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 15 May 2009.
  4. ^ Farrar, D.P. (10 December 2008). "Praise for maiden speeches". Kiwiblog. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  5. ^ Zwetsloot, J. (22 December 2008). "Melissa Lee – first Korean member in New Zealand's parliament". Korean Culture and Information Service. Archived from the original on 23 December 2008. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  6. ^ "Aussie MPs Penny Wong, Kate Ellis and Melissa Parke in Spanish web poll to find world's most beautiful female politician". Australian Associated Press. News Limited. 26 March 2009. Archived from the original on 28 March 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  7. ^ Larrosa, MC. "¿Quién es la política más linda del mundo? (Who is the most beautiful politician in the world?)". Listas. 20 minutos. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  8. ^ "Liquor Advertising (Television and Radio) Bill — First Reading". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  9. ^ "Battle for Mt Albert begins". NewstalkZB. 19 April 2009. Archived from the original on 20 April 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2009.
  10. ^ Gower, Patrick (30 March 2009). "Lee tipped as National contender in Mt Albert". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  11. ^ "Manukau mayor accepts Lee's apology for 'regrettable' remarks". The New Zealand Herald. 14 May 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  12. ^ "Lee issues full apology". 14 May 2009. Retrieved 18 May 2009.
  13. ^ "2009 Mt Albert By-Election Official Results". Electoral Commission. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  14. ^ "Melissa Lee faces quizzing on election video". Fairfax Media. 1 January 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  15. ^ Martin Kay (15 May 2009). "Lee gaffe sets her poll chances back". Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  16. ^ "Lee cleared of misuse of funding claims". New Zealand Herald. 21 May 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2009.
  17. ^ Young, Audrey (13 October 2009). "Lee firm's $100,000 error". Retrieved 13 October 2009.
  18. ^ "Lee's speech to NZ parliament supporting law 92A". 15 April 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  19. ^ "Lee tweets of listening to compilation". 15 April 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  20. ^ Keall, Chris (15 April 2011). "Melissa Lee, you appear to be a pirate". National Business Review. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  21. ^ "Official Count Results -- Mt Albert (2011)". Electoral Commission. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  22. ^ Key, John. "Parliamentary Private Secretaries appointed". New Zealand Government. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  23. ^ "Gay marriage: How MPs voted". The New Zealand Herald. 18 April 2013. Archived from the original on 31 March 2016. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  24. ^ "Official Count Results (2014)". Electoral Commission. 12 January 2014. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  25. ^ "Official Count Results – Mt Albert". Elections Electoral Commission. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  26. ^ "New Zealand Parliament – Members' bills ballot". Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  27. ^ "Attachment A: 2017 General Election list of successful candidates" (PDF). Electoral Commission. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  28. ^ "Mt Albert - Official Result". Electoral Commission. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  29. ^ "7. Question No. 7—Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  30. ^ Walters, Laura; Cooke, Henry (27 March 2018). "Curran's 'informal' meeting with Carol Hirschfeld planned for an hour". Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  31. ^ "Carol Hirschfeld resigns over Clare Curran meeting". Otago Daily Times. NZME. 27 March 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.

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