New Zealand First
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|Deputy Leader||Ron Mark|
|Founded||18 July 1993|
|Headquarters||Parliament Buildings Wellington|
|International affiliation||Not affiliated|
|MPs in the House of Representatives||
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New Zealand First is a conservative and populist political party in New Zealand founded in July 1993, following the 19 March 1993 resignation of its leader and founder, Winston Peters, from the then-governing National Party. It has formed governments with both major parties in New Zealand: first with the National Party from 1996 to 1998, and then with the Labour Party from 2005 to 2008.
Commentators dispute the appropriate classification of the party on the traditional political spectrum, but New Zealanders might arguably associate it with advocacy of senior citizens' benefits, and opposition to immigration, especially from Asia.
The party held seats in the House of Representatives of New Zealand from its formation in 1993 until 2008, when it failed to gain enough party votes to retain representation. However, in the 2011 election, New Zealand First gained 6.59% of the total party vote, entitling it to eight MPs in the House.
- 1 Policies
- 2 Māori vote
- 3 History
- 4 Electoral results
- 5 Office-holders
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
At the core of New Zealand First's policies are its "Fifteen Fundamental Principles"; the first being "To put New Zealand and New Zealanders First". They largely echo the policies that Peters has advocated throughout his career.
New Zealand First is best known for its policies regarding the welfare of the elderly and its strong anti-immigration policies, which have caused media controversy in the past. The party also espouses a mixture of economic policies. It opposes the privatisation of state assets (particularly to overseas buyers), which aligned it with views generally found on the left of New Zealand politics. On the other hand, it favours reducing taxation and reducing the size of government (policies typical of the New Zealand right) and espouses strongly conservative views on social issues. Rather than defining the party's precise position on the left-right spectrum, some commentators simply labelled NZ First as "populist"—in line with its emphasis on direct democracy and on popular referendums.
In 2011, it was announced at the New Zealand First annual convention that if elected to parliament in the 2011 general election the party would repeal the controversial Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 (widely known as the Anti-Smacking Legislation), which a vast majority of voters rejected in a 2009 citizen-initiated referendum. The party also announced that it would introduce a new government scheme to tackle the ongoing problem of student debt in New Zealand where the government makes a matching dollar-for-dollar payment on student debt for students staying and working in New Zealand.
In 2012, New Zealand First announced that if state assets were to be partially privatised, at the next general election, it would work in coalition with parties that will buy the assets back.
The New Zealand First Party has a part-Māori leader, once held all the then available Māori electorates, and continues to receive significant support from voters registered in Māori electorates. But as a party, New Zealand First does not support the retention of the Māori electorates and has declared that it will not stand candidates in the Māori electorates in the future. It did not stand candidates in the Māori electorates in the 2002, 2005, or 2008 general elections.
In June 1992, National Party Member of Parliament for Tauranga and former Minister of Māori Affairs Winston Peters was told that he would not be allowed to run under National's banner in the 1993 election. On 19 March 1993, shortly before the writs were issued for the general election, Peters resigned from the then governing National Party. About four months later on 18 July 1993 and shortly before the that year's general election, Peters announced the formation of New Zealand First as a political grouping.
1993 general election
In the April 1993 special by-election, Tauranga voters re-elected Peters as an independent. Tau Henare, another New Zealand First candidate, won the Northern Māori seat, giving the party a total of two MPs. This did much to counter the perception of New Zealand First as merely a personality-driven vehicle for Peters.
1996 general election
With the switch to the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system for the 1996 election, smaller parties could gain a share of seats proportional to their share of the vote. This enabled New Zealand First to win 13% of the vote and 17 seats, including all five Māori seats. New Zealand First's five Māori MPs—Henare (the party's deputy leader), Tuku Morgan, Rana Waitai, Tu Wyllie and Tuariki Delamere—became known as the "Tight Five". The election result put New Zealand First in a powerful position just three years after its formation. Neither of the two traditional major parties (National and Labour) had enough seats to govern alone, and only New Zealand First had enough seats to become a realistic coalition partner for either. This placed the relatively new party in a position where it could effectively choose the next prime minister.
New Zealand First entered into negotiations with both major parties. Before the election, most people (including many New Zealand First voters) had expected Peters to enter into coalition with Labour. In fact, he harshly attacked his former National colleagues during the campaign, and appeared to promise that he would not even consider going into coalition with them.
Coalition with National, 1996–98
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However, to the surprise of the electorate, which had apparently voted for New Zealand First in order to get rid of National, Peters decided to enter a coalition with National, enabling and becoming part of the third term of the fourth National government. The most common explanation for this decision involved National's willingness to accept New Zealand First's demands (and/or Labour's refusal to do so). However, Michael Laws (a former National Party MP who served as a New Zealand First campaign-manager) claims that Peters had secretly decided to go with National significantly before this time, and that he merely used negotiations with Labour to encourage more concessions from National.
Whatever the case, New Zealand First exacted a high price from incumbent Prime Minister Jim Bolger in return for allowing him to stay in power. Winston Peters would serve as Deputy Prime Minister, and would also hold the specially created office of Treasurer (senior to the Minister of Finance). The National Party also made considerable concessions on policy.
Initially, New Zealand First had a relatively smooth coalition relationship with National. Despite early concerns about the ability of Peters to work with Bolger, who had sacked Peters from a former National cabinet, the two, who had signed off on a detailed coalition agreement, did not have major problems.
New Zealand First had graver concerns about the behaviour of some of its MPs, whom opponents accused of incompetence and extravagant spending. Many people came to the conclusion that the party's minor MPs had come into parliament merely to provide votes for Peters, and would not make any real contributions themselves. A particularly damaging scandal involved Tuku Morgan.
Gradually, however, the coalition tensions became more significant than problems of party discipline. This became increasingly the case after Transport Minister Jenny Shipley gained enough support within the National caucus to force Bolger's resignation and become Prime Minister (8 December 1997). The tensions between the two parties also rose as New Zealand First adopted a more aggressive approach to promoting its policies (including those that National would not implement). This new attitude probably fed off New Zealand First's poor performance in opinion polls, which (to Peters) indicated that the party's success rested on its confrontational style. Many commentators believe that Peters performs better in opposition than in Government.
Return to opposition, 1998
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On 14 August 1998, Shipley sacked Peters from Cabinet. This occurred after an ongoing dispute about the sale of the government's stake in Wellington International Airport. The issue itself appeared merely the outward manifestation of much deeper disagreement.
Peters immediately broke off the coalition with National. However, several other MPs, unwilling to follow Peters out of government, tried to replace Peters with Henare. This caucus-room coup failed, and most of these MPs joined Henare in forming a new party, Mauri Pacific, while others established themselves as independents. Many of these MPs had previously come under public scrutiny for their behaviour. Until 1999, however, they provided National with enough support to continue on without the rump New Zealand First.
1999 general election
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In the 1999 election the voters gave New Zealand First a severe mauling. Some voters had apparently not forgiven Peters for going into coalition with National after being led to believe that a vote for him would help get rid of National. The party gained only 4% of the vote, and would not have received any seats in Parliament had Peters not held onto his electorate seat of Tauranga. (Under New Zealand's MMP rules, a party must either win an electorate seat or 5% of the vote to qualify for representation.) Peters held his Tauranga seat by a mere 63 votes, and New Zealand First received (by proportionality) only five seats in total.
2002 general election
By the election of 2002, however, the party had rebuilt much of its support. This occurred largely due to Peters' three-point campaign for sensible immigration, scrutinising Treaty costs, and reducing crime. The party won 10.38% of the vote, which was a considerable improvement on its previous performance (although still not as good as its performance in 1996), and New Zealand First won thirteen seats in parliament. Winston Peters' campaign phrase "can we fix it? yes we can" gained much media attention, as the same line appears in theme music for the children's television programme Bob the Builder.
It appears that New Zealand First had hoped to play in 2002 a similar role to the one it had in 1996, where it found itself able to give power to either Labour or National depending on which offered the best deal. However, National's vote had collapsed to the extent that it could not form a government even with New Zealand First's support, depriving the party of its negotiating advantage. In the end, however, this proved irrelevant, as Labour refused to consider an alliance with New Zealand First in any case. Instead, Labour relied on support from the newly significant United Future Party.
After the 2002 election New Zealand First continued to promote its policies strongly. In light of National's decreased strength, New Zealand First attempted to gain more prominence in Opposition, frequently attacking the Labour Coalition government on a wide range of issues. Speculation has occurred on efforts to create a more united front linking New Zealand First, National, and ACT, but Peters has rejected this scenario, saying that the New Zealand voters will decide what alliances are necessary (even though New Zealand never votes directly on preferred coalitions). Unlike ACT, which portrays itself as a natural coalition partner for National, New Zealand First welcomes coalition with any major party, regardless of the political spectrum.
For a period in early 2004 New Zealand First experienced a brief decline in the polls after Don Brash became leader of the National Party, a change which hugely revived National's previously fallen fortunes. The votes that had apparently previously switched to New Zealand First from National seemed to return to support Brash, and many commentators predicted that New Zealand First would lose a number of its seats in the next election. By 2005, however, the proportions had changed again, and as the campaign for the September 2005 election got under way, New Zealand First had again reached the 10% mark in political polling.
Pre-election polls put New Zealand First ahead of the other minor parties. Some thought it likely that in the event of a National minority, unless ACT's fortunes dramatically improved, Brash would have to form a second coalition or seek a support agreement with New Zealand First to be able to form a Government. Peters announced (in his "Rotorua speech") that he would support the party that won the most seats, or at least abstain in no-confidence motions against it. However, he also said he would not support any government that included the Greens within the Cabinet.
2005 general election
In the 2005 election, however, the smaller political parties (including New Zealand First) suffered a severe mauling. Though it remained the third-largest party in the House, New Zealand First took only 5.72 percent of the vote, a considerable loss from 2002, and just barely enough to cross the MMP proportionality quota of 5%. In addition, Peters narrowly lost his previously safe constituency seat of Tauranga by 730 votes to National's Bob Clarkson, and became a list MP.
Following the 2005 election, New Zealand First agreed to a supply-and-confidence agreement with the Labour Party (along with United Future) in return for policy concessions and the post of Foreign Minister (outside Cabinet) for Peters. Some reaction to Peters' becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs detected a change in his attitude since Peters' "Rotorua speech" on 7 September 2005 at a public address at the Rotorua Convention Centre, which had spoken of sitting on the cross-benches (and thus staying out of government) and eschewing "the baubles of office".
Soon after the 2005 election Peters launched a legal challenge against Bob Clarkson. The case alleged that Clarkson had spent more than the legal limit allowed for campaign budgets during elections in New Zealand. This legal bid ultimately failed, with a majority of the judges in the case declaring that Clarkson had not overspent.
In the 2005 election funding controversy, the Auditor-General found that all the parties in parliament except the Progressive Party had misspent parliamentary funding. New Zealand First was the only party that did not repay the misspent funding.
2008 general election
In the months before the 2008 general election, New Zealand First became embroiled in a dispute over donations to the party from Owen Glenn, the Vela family and Bob Jones. This resulted in an investigation into party finances by the Serious Fraud Office on 28 August 2008 and an investigation into Peters by the Privileges Committee. On 29 August 2008 Peters stood down from his ministerial roles while the investigations were ongoing. Although the Serious Fraud Office and the police both found that Peters was not guilty of any wrongdoing, the episode harmed Peters and the party in the lead-up to the election.
On election night it was clear that Peters had not regained Tauranga and that the party had not met the 5% threshold needed for parties to be elected without an electorate seat. In what some journalists described as a 'gracious' concession speech, Peters said that 'it's not over yet. We'll reorganise ourselves in the next few months. And we'll see what 2011 might hold for all us.'
2011 general election
At the beginning of the election campaign New Zealand First was polling at around 2 percent in most major polls and was effectively written off by most political commentators. Prime Minister John Key had previously ruled out working with Peters and New Zealand. First, however Opposition Leader Phil Goff had stated he was open to working with New Zealand First post-election provided they made it back into Parliament.
Peters received a significant amount of media attention towards the end of the campaign at the height of the Tea Tape scandal which arose during the campaign. Peters had previously criticised the arrangement in the seat of Epsom between National and ACT in which National encouraged its supporters to vote for the ACT candidate for their electorate MP and railed against National for alleged remarks made about the then ACT leader Don Brash and New Zealand First's elderly supporters.
Peters appeared on a TVNZ minor parties leaders debate and won the debate convincingly in the subsequent text poll, with 36 percent of the respondents saying Peters had won.
New Zealand First won 6.6 percent of the party vote on election night. Many political experts credit the Tea Tape Scandal for the re-entry of New Zealand First into Parliament; however, Peters himself credits the return to Parliament to the hard work undertaken by the Party over the three years it was not represented in Parliament.
2014 general election
New Zealand First entered the 2014 general election campaign without providing a clear indication as to their coalition preferences. However, Peters did raise late in the campaign the prospect of a Labour-New Zealand First coalition or confidence and supply arrangement, as well as express some respect for the National Party, in particular the Finance Minister Bill English.
New Zealand First increased its party vote to 8.66% at the election, which took the Party's representation in Parliament to 11 seats. Peters was highly critical of the conduct of the Labour and Green Parties, who he blamed for the Opposition's loss.
In 2015 Peters contested the Northland by-election, which was held as a result of the resignation of the incumbent Mike Sabin on 30 January 2015 amid allegations of assault. Peters eventually won the traditionally safe National seat with a majority of 4,441 over the National candidate Mark Osborne. It was the first time a New Zealand First MP held an electorate seat since Peters lost Tauranga in 2005. The win also resulted in New Zealand First acquiring a new List MP, Ria Bond, which increased the Party's Parliamentary representation to 12 seats.
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- Winston Peters, 1993–present
- Deputy leader:
- Party President:
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