Peter Tapsell (New Zealand politician)

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Sir Peter Tapsell

Peter Tapsell (cropped).jpg
24th Speaker of the House of Representatives
In office
21 December 1993 – 12 December 1996
Prime MinisterJim Bolger
Preceded byRobin Gray
Succeeded byDoug Kidd
30th Minister of Defence
In office
9 February 1990 (1990-02-09) – 2 November 1990 (1990-11-02)
Prime MinisterGeoffrey Palmer
Preceded byBob Tizard
Succeeded byWarren Cooper
Personal details
Born(1930-01-21)21 January 1930
Rotorua, New Zealand
Died5 April 2012(2012-04-05) (aged 82)[1]
Ruatoria, New Zealand
Political partyLabour

Sir Peter Wilfred Tapsell KNZM MBE FRCS FRCSEd (21 January 1930 – 5 April 2012) was Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives from 1993 to 1996. He was notable for being the first Māori Speaker,[2] and for being the first Speaker since Bill Barnard in 1943 to hold office while not a member of the governing party.

He was an orthopaedic surgeon before entering politics.[3][4]

Early life[edit]

Peter Wilfred Tapsell was born in 1930. His father Pita was a grandson of the early Danish-born trader Phillip Tapsell and Hine-i-tūrama Ngātiki.[5]

Tapsell was born and raised in Rotorua, and went to Rotorua Boys' High School. With the help of a scholarship, he studied medicine at the University of Otago,[6] graduating in 1952. He worked at several hospitals throughout New Zealand before travelling to the United Kingdom to undertake further study. Upon his return to New Zealand, he took up a position in Rotorua. Highly active in Māori cultural organisations, Tapsell was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 1968 Queen's Birthday Honours, for services to medicine and the Māori people.[7]

Member of Parliament[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1981–1984 40th Eastern Maori Labour
1984–1987 41st Eastern Maori Labour
1987–1990 42nd Eastern Maori Labour
1990–1993 43rd Eastern Maori Labour
1993–1996 44th Eastern Maori Labour

Tapsell stood as the Labour Party candidate for Rotorua in the 1975 election and the 1978 election, but was not successful in entering Parliament until the 1981 election, when he stood as a candidate in the Eastern Maori electorate.[3] In 1983 he was appointed as Labour's spokesperson for Youth Affairs and Sport and Recreation by Labour leader David Lange.[8]

Cabinet Minister[edit]

He was a minister in the Fourth Labour Government. At various stages of his parliamentary career, Tapsell served as Minister of Internal Affairs,[9] Minister for the Arts, Minister of Police,[9] Minister of Civil Defence,[10] Minister of Science, Minister of Forestry,[3] and Minister of Defence.[3]

Speaker of the House of Representatives[edit]

Tapsell as Speaker

After the 1993 election, the National Party had a majority of only one seat. The appointment of the Speaker, therefore, presented a problem – if National selected a Speaker from among its own ranks, as was traditional, it would lose its majority, since the Speaker was not permitted to vote at that time. Therefore, Prime Minister Jim Bolger decided to offer the Speaker's position to a member of the Labour Party, thereby retaining the crucial vote. Tapsell was the person chosen by Bolger for this role.

Despite many objections from his Labour Party colleagues, Tapsell opted to accept the position. His elevation was not unchallenged, however, with an objection being raised by Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party. Peters claimed that his objection was on behalf of the incumbent Speaker, long-serving National MP Robin Gray, who had expected to resume his duties but was now being "cast aside" for political reasons. Critics of Peters, however, claimed that New Zealand First merely wanted to leave National and Labour deadlocked, as it would be New Zealand First that held the balance of power in that situation. Robin Gray, however, refused the nomination, and Tapsell took the Speaker's chair unopposed.


In the 1996 election, however, Tapsell lost the electorate, now called Te Tai Rawhiti, by 4215 votes to New Zealand First's Tuariki Delamere, one of the Tight Five. Tapsell had not been put on the party list.[11][12] This was part of a major shift away from the Labour Party by Māori voters, with New Zealand First capturing all of the Māori electorates. Whether Tapsell would have retained the Speaker's role is uncertain, as a reform of Parliamentary procedure meant the Speaker no longer lost their vote. The loss of his electorate seat, however, prompted Tapsell's retirement from politics.

In 1991, Tapsell's family was struck with tragedy when his daughter killed his mother. In the subsequent trial, she was judged not guilty by reason of insanity.[13]

In the 1997 New Year Honours, Tapsell was appointed a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for public services, lately as Speaker of the House of Representatives.[14]

After his retirement, Tapsell was involved in a number of organisations, becoming the Patron of Monarchy New Zealand. He also assisted several medical charities, and the University of Waikato awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1997.[15] In 2006, Tapsell spoke at an event with Hak Ja Han, wife of Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon, and praised their teaching of a "concept of the ideal family as comprising a father, a mother, children and grandparents" living together in a three generation extended family, as being "very Māori."[16]


  1. ^ "Former House speaker Sir Peter Tapsell passes away | NATIONAL News". Retrieved 6 April 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "The Speaker – House of Representatives". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 31 January 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b c d "Tapsell keen on Act: Prebble". The New Zealand Herald. 15 June 2002. Retrieved 31 January 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ Rudd, Allison (11 March 2009). "Maori Studies post brings responsibilities". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 31 January 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "A Man of Many Parts". Te Puni Kōkiri. Kōkiri 26. Retrieved 27 August 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ McNicholas, Marie (14–20 July 2007). "Political animal". New Zealand Listener. 209 (3505).
  7. ^ "No. 44602". The London Gazette (3rd supplement). 8 June 1968. p. 6340.
  8. ^ "Labour leader allocates responsibilities". The Press. 17 March 1983. p. 3.
  9. ^ a b "Fisheries allocation arguments a 'disgrace': Tapsell". The New Zealand Herald. 11 July 2001. Retrieved 31 January 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ Poole, Michele (1 February 2009). "Could a flood this bad happen again?". The Southland Times. Retrieved 31 January 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Rudman, Brian (4 December 1999). "Ousted Delamere has little time for regrets". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 31 January 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ "Part III – Party Lists of Successful Registered Parties" (PDF). Electoral Commission. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 February 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ "At home in the House or on the farm". The Southland Times. 3 May 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ "New Year honours list 1997". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 1996. Retrieved 15 December 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ "Honorary Doctors of the University of Waikato". University of Waikato. Retrieved 31 January 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ Dearnaley, Mathew (14 August 2006). "Moonies show way to peace, says Tapsell". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 31 January 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
Political offices
Preceded by
Ann Hercus
Minister of Police
Succeeded by
Roger Douglas
Preceded by
Koro Wētere
Minister for Land Information
Succeeded by
Rob Storey
Preceded by
Robin Gray
Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Doug Kidd
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Paraone Reweti
Member of Parliament for Eastern Maori
Constituency abolished