New Zealand First

New Zealand First
New Zealand First Party
Aotearoa Tuatahi
Leader Winston Peters
President Kevin Gardener
Deputy Position vacant
Founded 1993
Headquarters Parliament Buildings Wellington
Ideology Nationalism
International affiliation Not affiliated
Official colours Black
MPs in the House of Representatives 0
Politics of New Zealand
Political parties

New Zealand First is a political party in New Zealand that was founded in 1993, following the party's founder Winston Peters's resignation from his former party in 1992. It had members in the New Zealand House of Representatives for over fifteen years, from the date that Winston Peters, its leader, won his Tauranga electorate seat in 1993.

In 2005 Peters lost his Tauranga seat and in 2008 the party failed to pass the 5% threshold required for party list representation under New Zealand's Mixed Member Proportional electoral system of proportional representation. Instead, it polled 4.07% of the total vote.[1] It plans to contest the 2011 General Election.



At the core of New Zealand First's policies are its "Fifteen Fundamental Principles"; the first of which being "To put New Zealand and New Zealanders First".

New Zealand First is best known for its policies regarding the welfare of the elderly and its strong anti-immigration policies, which has caused 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 quite 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 New Zealanders rejected in a 2009 citizen-initiated referendum.[2] 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.[3]

The Māori vote

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.


1993 election

New Zealand First emerged as a political grouping on 18 July 1993, shortly before the that year's general election. Peters, the MP for Tauranga and a former Minister of Māori Affairs, had left the National Party after disputes with its leadership. He had been told he would not be allowed to run under National's banner in the 1993 election. However, Peters stole a march on National when he resigned shortly before the writs were issued for the general election. Tauranga voters had re-elected him in a special by-election as an independent.

In the following general election Peters held onto Tauranga. 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 election

With the switch to the MMP electoral system for the 1996 elections, 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 1996–1998

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 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

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

In the 1999 elections 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 against immigration, Treaty costs, and crime. The party won 10% of the vote - 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 could dramatically improve; 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 elections, 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.

New Zealand First had seven MPs, all elected on the party list: Peters, Peter Brown, Dail Jones, Ron Mark, Doug Woolerton, Barbara Stewart and Pita Paraone.

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[4] to Peters' becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs detected a change in his attitude since the "Rotorua speech",[5] 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.[6]

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 escalated in 2008. 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.[7] On 29 August 2008 Peters stood down from his ministerial roles while the investigations were ongoing.[8] 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.[9]

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 'its not over yet. We'll reorganise ourselves in the next few months. And we'll see what 2011 might hold for all us.'[10]

At a post-election meeting held to discuss the party's future in February 2009, former Deputy Leader Peter Brown stepped down from his former role [11]

Electoral results (1993-2008)

Election # of candidates nominated (electorate/list) # of seats won # of party votes  % of popular vote
84 / 0
65 / 62
67 / 40
24 / 22
40 / 40
22 / 22
32 / 33


See also


  1. ^ New Zealand general election, 2008 - Official Results
  2. ^ NZ Herald staff (1 August 2011). "'We are not a cling-on party' - Peters slams PM, 'sordid cronyism'". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  3. ^ New Zealand First Policies: New Zealand Young People
  4. ^ For example: section "Baublewatch" in Audrey Young: "PM marks Peters' report with 'pretty good effort'" in The New Zealand Herald, 26 November 2005, retrieved 6 February 2008.
  5. ^ "WHO WILL NEW ZEALAND FIRST GO WITH?": An address by Rt Hon Winston Peters to a public meeting in Rotorua, Wednesday 7 September 2005, at the Rotorua Convention Centre, Concert Chambers, Lake end of Fenton Street, Rotorua, 12:30 pm., retrieved 6 February 2008
  6. ^ "Charity turns down NZ First's donation". New Zealand Herald. 18 June 2008. Retrieved 2009-04-26. 
  7. ^ "Winston Peters - Going, going ...". The New Zealand Herald. 29 August 2008. 
  8. ^ "Peters 'hurt but calm' in stepping down". New Zealand Herald. 29 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-14. 
  9. ^ Claire Trevett and Patrick Gower (5 November 2008). "Police inquiry clears NZ First". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  10. ^ Gower, Patrick (9 November 2008). "Winston Peters: Gone but never forgotten". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  11. ^ "NZ First deputy leader resigns". NZPA. 14 February 2009. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 

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