New Zealand First

New Zealand First Party
Aotearoa Tuatahi
Leader Winston Peters
Deputy Leader Ron Mark
President Brent Catchpole
Secretary Anne Martin
Founded 18 July 1993 (18 July 1993)
Ideology Conservatism[1]
Political position Centre[3][4][5]
International affiliation Not affiliated
Colours      Black
MPs in the House of Representatives
12 / 121

New Zealand First is a conservative[1] and populist[2] political party in New Zealand. It was 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 many New Zealanders 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 Members of Parliament (MPs).

The party sits on the cross-benches and during the 50th New Zealand Parliament tended to vote with the Opposition against Government policies.


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 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.[6] 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.[7]

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.

Māori vote

The New Zealand First Party's leader is part-Māori, it once held all the then available Māori electorates, and it continues to receive significant support from voters registered in Māori electorates. However, New Zealand First no longer supports 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.[8]


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.[9] On 19 March 1993, shortly before the writs were issued for the general election, Peters resigned from the then governing National Party.[10] 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.[11]

1993 general election

In the April 1993 special by-election, Tauranga voters re-elected Peters as an independent. At the general election a few months later, Peters easily retained Tauranga, and 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

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. Under the terms of a detailed coalition agreement, 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.

New Zealand First had a relatively smooth coalition relationship with National at first. Despite early concerns about the ability of Peters to work with Bolger, who had sacked Peters from a former National cabinet, the two 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

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.

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 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 election New Zealand First lost much of its support, receiving only 4% of the party vote. Some voters had apparently not forgiven Peters for forming a coalition with National after being led to believe that a vote for him would help get rid of National. Under New Zealand's MMP rules, a party must either win an electorate seat or 5% of the vote to have seats in parliament. Peters held his Tauranga seat by a mere 63 votes, and New Zealand First received five seats in total.

2002 general election

By the election of 2002, however, the party had rebuilt much of its support. This occurred largely because if 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 not as good as its performance in 1996), and New Zealand First won thirteen seats in parliament.[12] 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, 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 fortunes. The votes that had apparently 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% of the vote, a considerable loss from 2002, and just enough to cross the MMP proportionality quota of 5%. In addition, Peters narrowly lost his 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[13] 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 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.[14]

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.[15] On 29 August 2008 Peters stood down from his ministerial roles while the investigations were ongoing.[16] Although the Serious Fraud Office and the police found that Peters was not guilty of any wrongdoing, the episode harmed Peters and the party in the lead-up to the election.[17]

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.'[18]

At a post-election meeting held to discuss the party's future in February 2009, Deputy Leader Peter Brown stepped down.[19]

2011 general election

At the beginning of the election campaign New Zealand First was polling at around 2% in most major polls and was effectively written off by most political commentators. Prime Minister John Key had 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 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% of the respondents saying Peters had won.

New Zealand First won 6.6% of the party vote on election night.[20] 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.[21]

In 2012 the party sacked MP Brendan Horan after allegations he stole money from his dying mother in order to gamble.[22]

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, and express some respect for the National Party, in particular the Finance Minister Bill English.[23]

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.[24]

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 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.

On 3 July 2015 Ron Mark was elected Deputy Leader of New Zealand First, replacing Tracey Martin who had held the post since 2013.[25]

Electoral results

Election # of candidates nominated
# of seats won # of party votes % of popular vote (PR)
1993 84/0
2 / 99
161,481 8.40%
1996 65/62
17 / 120
276,603 13.35%
1999 67/40
5 / 120
87,926 4.26%
2002[12] 24/22
13 / 120
210,912 10.38%
2005 40/40
7 / 121
130,115 5.72%
2008 22/22
0 / 122
95,356 4.07%
2011 32/33
8 / 121
147,544 6.59%
2014 31/31
11 / 121
208,300 8.66%


See also


  1. 1 2 Karl R. DeRouen; Paul Bellamy (2008). International Security and the United States: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 528. ISBN 978-0-275-99255-2.
  2. 1 2 Bale, Tim; Blomgren, Magnus (2008), "Close but no cigar?: Newly governing and nearly governing parties in Sweden and New Zealand", New Parties in Government, Routledge, p. 94, ISBN 9780415404990
  3. New Zealand Country Study Guide Strategic Information and Developments. Intl Business Pubns USA. 2012. p. 36. ISBN 1-4387-7517-2.
  4. Mazzoleni, Juliet Roper; Christina Holtz-Bacha; Gianpietro (2004). The politics of representation : election campaigning and proportional representation. New York, NY [u.a.]: Lang. p. 40. ISBN 9780820461489.
  5. Deschouwer, Kris (2008). New Parties in Government: In Power for the First Time. Routledge. p. 86. ISBN 9781134136407.
  6. 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.
  7. New Zealand First Policies: New Zealand Young People
  8. "Tōrangapū – Māori and political parties - National, New Zealand First, Māori and Mana parties". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 13 July 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  9. David Barber (12 June 1992). "NZ Party Moves To Expel Peters". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 13. |section= ignored (help)
  10. David Barber (18 March 1993). "Rebel MP To Quit NZ Party". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 6. |section= ignored (help)
  11. David Barber (15 September 1993). "NZ set for November poll. Economic recovery under way, says Bolger". The Age. p. 9. |section= ignored (help)
  12. 1 2 "Official Count Results -- Overall Status". Electoral Commission. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  13. 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.
  14. "Charity turns down NZ First's donation". New Zealand Herald. 18 June 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2009.
  15. "Winston Peters - Going, going ...". The New Zealand Herald. 29 August 2008.
  16. "Peters 'hurt but calm' in stepping down". New Zealand Herald. 29 August 2008. Retrieved 14 September 2008.
  17. Claire Trevett and Patrick Gower (5 November 2008). "Police inquiry clears NZ First". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  18. Gower, Patrick (9 November 2008). "Winston Peters: Gone but never forgotten". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  19. "NZ First deputy leader resigns". NZPA. 14 February 2009. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  22. "Horan admits 144 TAB calls". 3 News NZ. 10 December 2012.
  23. NZ Herald (2014). "Peters: Consider a Labour-NZ First Govt option". Retrieved from:
  24. NZ Herald (2014). "Election results 2014: Winston Peters blames Labour and Greens for rout". Retrieved from:
  25. Jones, Nicholas (3 July 2015). "Ron Mark new NZ First deputy leader". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  27. Vance, Andrea (3 August 2015). "Winston Peters jumps into race debate at NZ First party conference". Stuff. Retrieved 12 September 2015.

External links

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