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Prime Minister of New Zealand

John Key National Party2.jpg
John Key

Style: The Honourable
Appointed by: Anand Satyanand
as Governor-General of New Zealand
First : Henry Sewell
As Colonial Secretary
Formation: 7 May 1856
Residence: Premier House

New Zealand

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
New Zealand


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The Prime Minister of New Zealand is New Zealand's head of government consequent on being the leader of the party or coalition with majority support in the Parliament of New Zealand. Since 19 November 2008, the Prime Minister has been John Key of the National Party.

The title "Prime Minister" had made its first formal appearance in the 1873 Schedule of the Civil List Act, but originally the Prime Minister was entitled Colonial Secretary or First Minister. This was formally changed in 1869 to "Premier". However, this title too did not last, being informally changed by Richard Seddon to "Prime Minister" in 1901 during his tenure in office.[1] Following the declaration of New Zealand as a Dominion in 1907, the term "Prime Minister" has been used exclusively.


Responsibilities and powers

The role of the Prime Minister is not formally defined, being based on constitutional convention rather than specific legislation. According to these conventions, the Prime Minister is leader of Cabinet (itself a body existing by convention), and takes a co-ordinating role.

The Prime Minister is regarded by convention as "first among equals". He or she does indeed hold the most senior post in the administration, but is also required to adhere to any decisions taken by Cabinet. The actual ability of a Prime Minister to give direct orders is surprisingly limited; most of the position's power comes about through other means, such as:

  • The ability to set the Cabinet agenda, thereby controlling what issues will be discussed.
  • The ability to appoint and dismiss ministers. The extent to which this power can be exercised varies between different parties; the Labour Party, for example, places most of this responsibility in the hands of the Caucus, leaving the Prime Minister only with the power to choose which portfolios a minister is given. Furthermore, the MMP electoral system has complicated this, as the Prime Minister may have to consult with another party leader.
  • The influence a Prime Minister is likely to have as leader of the dominant party. These powers may give him or her more direct control over subordinates than is attached to the Prime Minister's role itself.
  • The power gained simply from being central to most significant decision-making, and from being able to comment on and criticise any decisions taken by other ministers.

The Prime Minister can call elections by advising the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament. The Governor-General may reject this advice should an alternative government exist, but so far none have done so.

The post of Prime Minister is, like other ministerial positions, an appointment by the Governor-General "during the Queen's pleasure". However, the convention has long since been established that the Prime Minister must have and retain the support of a majority of Members of Parliament. Historically, this has usually meant that the Prime Minister is the parliamentary leader of the largest political party in the House of Representatives.

The Prime Minister also indirectly holds the power to appoint and recall the Governor-General. By constitutional convention, only the Prime Minister has the right to tender advice to the Sovereign on nominations for the office, and so in effect the Prime Minister may appoint the Governor-General. The Prime Minister may also advise the Queen to recall (dismiss) the Governor-General, so long as the Prime Minister has the support of the House of Representatives, although this power has never been exercised by a Prime Minister in New Zealand. Three Governors were recalled during the colonial period, but on the advice of British ministers.

Within the last fifty years, a convention has also developed of appointing a Deputy Prime Minister. The Deputy typically holds important ministerial portfolios and becomes Acting Prime Minister in the absence or incapacitation of the Prime Minister. The Deputy is commonly a member of the same party as the Prime Minister, but not necessarily so; in coalition Governments, the parliamentary leader of a support party may be offered the post.


The Prime Minister is supported by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, their official residence is Premier House, Tinakori Road, Wellington.

The Prime Minister's salary and annuities are determined by the Remuneration Authority, under the Civil List Act 1979.


Assuming that Sewell is counted as the first Prime Minister, thirty-eight people have held the office since it was established. Some of these people have held it on several different occasions, with the record for maximum number of times being shared between William Fox and Harry Atkinson (both of whom served four times). The longest that anyone has served in the office is thirteen years, a record set by Richard Seddon. The first holder of the office, Henry Sewell, led the country for the shortest total time; his only term lasted only thirteen days (the shortest term actually belonged to Harry Atkinson, whose third term lasted only seven days, but Atkinson served longer than Sewell in total). The youngest to hold office was Edward Stafford, who was 37 years old when he became Premier in 1856. The oldest was Walter Nash, who was 75 years old in 1957.

New Zealand is also one of the few countries in the world to have had two female heads of government, and one of only two countries to have two female heads of government directly succeed the other. The first female New Zealand Prime Minister was Jenny Shipley, who replaced Prime Minister Jim Bolger in mid-1997. She was succeeded by the next Prime Minister, Helen Clark, in 1999.



On becoming a British Colony in 1840, New Zealand was directly governed by a Governor, appointed by the Colonial Office. Self-government was established in 1853, following the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, and the 1st Parliament met on 24 May 1854.

The exact origins of the office of Prime Minister are disputed. Use of the words "prime minister" as a descriptive term date back to the 1st Parliament, where they are applied to James FitzGerald and Thomas Forsaith. FitzGerald and Forsaith had no official titles, however, and New Zealand had not yet obtained self-rule. As such, they are not usually considered Prime Ministers in any substantive sense.

The first person to be formally appointed to a position of leadership was Henry Sewell, who formed a government at the beginning of the Second Parliament. Despite his formal leadership role, however, his only actual title was Colonial Secretary, a position comparable to the Minister of Internal Affairs. His successor, William Fox, was also given a formal leadership role, but was not Colonial Secretary. It was not until Frederick Weld, the sixth person appointed to formal leadership, that a substantive leadership title – Premier – appeared. Weld's successor, Edward Stafford, briefly changed the title to First Minister but it was soon afterwards restored to Premier by William Fox. From that point, Premier became the usual designation. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the term Prime Minister arose as a common alternative to Premier and Richard Seddon used the title almost exclusively. Seddon's successor, William Hall-Jones, was officially appointed Prime Minister rather than Premier. The title "Prime Minister" has been used ever since.

Initially, Premiers acted as advisers to the Governor. This began to change during the first tenure of Edward Stafford. Stafford met with his ministers and made decisions outside of the official Executive Council, forming the New Zealand Cabinet.[2] Stafford also clashed with the Governor over control of Maori affairs, which was eventually to fall within the Premier's powers.[3] A further extension of the Premier's power came during John Ballance's tenure, 1891 - 1893. The Premier gained the ability to restrict the term of appointments to the Legislative Council of New Zealand.

Dominion and Realm

In 1907 Parliament passed a declaration declaring New Zealand as the "Dominion of New Zealand". This led to the reconstituting of the office of Governor as Governor-General, and a subsequent narrowing of that office's power. As a result, the Prime Ministers powers were again expanded.[3]

In 1967, Prime Minister Keith Holyoake advised the Queen to appoint Sir Arthur Porritt, the first New Zealand born Governor-General.[3]

Living former Prime Ministers

There are five living former prime ministers. The most recent prime minister to die was David Lange (1984–1989), on 13 August 2005.

Name Term of office Date of birth
Geoffrey Palmer 1989-1990 21 April 1942
Mike Moore 1990 28 January 1949
Jim Bolger 1990-1997 31 May 1935
Jenny Shipley 1997-1999 4 February 1952
Helen Clark 1999-2008 26 February 1950

See also


  1. ^ "Prime Minister: The Title "Premier"". Te Ara - An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 1966. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  2. ^ Bohan, Edward (1994), Edward Stafford, New Zealand's first statesman, Christchurch, New Zealand: Hazard Press, ISBN 0908790678 
  3. ^ a b c Gavin McLean (October 2006), The Governors, New Zealand Governors and Governors-General, Otago University Press, ISBN 13 978 1 877372 25 4, 

External links


Premiers and Prime Ministers of New Zealand New Zealand
Sewell | Fox | Stafford | Domett | Whitaker | Weld | Waterhouse | Vogel | Pollen | Atkinson | Grey | Hall | Stout | Ballance | Seddon | Hall-Jones | Ward | Mackenzie | Massey | Bell | Coates | Forbes | Savage | Fraser | Holland | Holyoake | Nash | Marshall | Kirk | Rowling | Muldoon | Lange | Palmer | Moore | Bolger | Shipley | Clark | Key

Simple English

The Prime Minister of New Zealand is New Zealand's head of government. This job is given to the leader of the party or coalition with the most support in the Parliament of New Zealand. Since 19 November 2008, the Prime Minister has been John Key of the National Party.


Responsibilities and powers

The role of the Prime Minister is not formally defined, being based on constitutional convention rather than specific legislation. According to these conventions, the Prime Minister is leader of Cabinet (itself a body existing by convention), and takes a co-ordinating role.

The Prime Minister holds the most senior post in the New Zealand Parliment. The Prime Minister is not able to give direct orders to other people in their party.

The Prime Minister can call for an election by asking the Governor-General to close Parliament

List of New Zealand Prime Ministers

Name Took Office Left Office Party
1 Henry Sewell 7 May 1856 20 May 1856 None
2 William Fox 20 May 1856 2 June 1856 None
3 Edward Stafford 2 June 1856 12 July 1861 None
(2) William Fox, 2nd time 12 July 1861 6 August 1862 None
4 Alfred Domett 6 August 1862 30 October 1863 None
5 Frederick Whitaker 30 October 1863 24 November 1864 None
6 Frederick Weld 24 November 1864 16 October 1865 None
(3) Edward Stafford, 2nd time 16 October 1865 28 June 1869 None
(2) William Fox, 3rd time 28 June 1869 10 September 1872 None
(3) Edward Stafford, 3rd time 10 September 1872 11 October 1872 None
7 George Waterhouse 11 October 1872 3 March 1873 None
(2) William Fox, 4th time 3 March 1873 8 April 1873 None
8 Julius Vogel 8 April 1873 6 July 1875 None
9 Daniel Pollen 6 July 1875 15 February 1876 None
(8) Julius Vogel, 2nd time 15 February 1876 1 September 1876 None
10 Harry Atkinson 1 September 1876 13 October 1877 None
11 George Grey 13 October 1877 8 October 1879 None
12 John Hall 8 October 1879 21 April 1882 None
(5) Frederick Whitaker, 2nd time 21 April 1882 25 September 1883 None
(10) Harry Atkinson, 2nd time 25 September 1883 16 August 1884 None
13 Robert Stout 16 August 1884 28 August 1884 None
(10) Harry Atkinson, 3rd time 28 August 1884 3 September 1884 None
(13) Robert Stout, 2nd time 3 September 1884 8 October 1887 None
(10) Harry Atkinson, 4th time 8 October 1887 24 January 1891 None
14 John Ballance 24 January 1891 27 April 1893 Liberal
15 Richard Seddon 27 April 1893 10 June 1906 Liberal
16 William Hall-Jones 10 June 1906 6 August 1906 Liberal
17 Joseph Ward 6 August 1906 28 March 1912 Liberal
18 Thomas Mackenzie 28 March 1912 10 July 1912 Liberal
19 William Massey 10 July 1912 10 May 1925 Reform
20 Francis Bell 10 May 1925 30 May 1925 Reform
21 Gordon Coates 30 May 1925 10 December 1928 Reform
(17) Joseph Ward, 2nd time 10 December 1928 28 May 1930 United (Liberal)
22 George Forbes 28 May 1930 6 December 1935 United (Liberal)
23 Michael Joseph Savage 6 December 1935 27 March 1940 Labour
24 Peter Fraser 27 March 1940 13 December 1949 Labour
25 Sidney Holland 13 December 1949 20 September 1957 National
26 Keith Holyoake 20 September 1957 12 December 1957 National
27 Walter Nash 12 December 1957 12 December 1960 Labour
(26) Keith Holyoake, 2nd time 12 December 1960 7 February 1972 National
28 Jack Marshall 7 February 1972 8 December 1972 National
29 Norman Kirk 8 December 1972 31 August 1974 Labour
Hugh Watt (Acting) 31 August 1974 6 September 1974 Labour
30 Bill Rowling 6 September 1974 12 December 1975 Labour
31 Robert Muldoon 12 December 1975 26 July 1984 National
32 David Lange 26 July 1984 8 August 1989 Labour
33 Geoffrey Palmer 8 August 1989 4 September 1990 Labour
34 Mike Moore 4 September 1990 2 November 1990 Labour
35 Jim Bolger 2 November 1990 8 December 1997 National
36 Jenny Shipley 8 December 1997 5 December 1999 National
37 Helen Clark 5 December 1999 18 November 2008 Labour
38 John Key 19 November 2008 Present National
See also: List of New Zealand Prime Ministers by term

Time line

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 from:start       till:20/04/1856  color:Ind  $left  text:"___1856_Henry Sewell"
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 from:03/06/1856  till:12/07/1861  color:Ind  $left  text:"___1856-1861 Edward Stafford"
 from:12/07/1861  till:06/08/1862 color:Ind  $right text:"William Fox 1861-1862"
 from:06/08/1862  till:30/10/1863 color:Ind  $left  text:"___1862-1863 Alfred Domett"
 from:30/10/1863  till:24/11/1864 color:Ind  $right text:"Frederick Whitaker 1863-1864"
 from:24/11/1864  till:16/10/1865 color:Ind  $left  text:"___1864-1865 Frederick Weld"
 from:16/10/1865  till:28/06/1869 color:Ind  $right text:"Edward Stafford 1865-1869"
 from:28/06/1869  till:10/08/1872 color:Ind  $left  text:"___1869-1872 William Fox"
 from:10/08/1872  till:11/10/1872 color:Ind  $right text:"Edward Stafford 1872"
 from:11/10/1872  till:03/03/1873 color:Ind  $left  text:"___1872-1873 George Waterhouse"
 from:03/03/1873  till:08/05/1873 color:Ind  $rightup text:"William Fox 1873"
 from:08/05/1873  till:06/07/1875 color:Ind  $left  text:"___1873-1875 Julius Vogel"
 from:06/07/1875  till:15/02/1876 color:Ind  $right text:"Daniel Pollen 1875-1876"
 from:15/02/1876  till:01/09/1876 color:Ind  $left  text:"___1876 Julius Vogel"
 from:01/09/1876  till:13/10/1877 color:Ind  $right text:"Harry Atkinson 1876-1877"
 from:13/10/1877  till:08/10/1879 color:Ind  $left  text:"___1877-1879 George Grey"
 from:08/10/1879  till:21/04/1882 color:Ind  $right text:"John Hall 1879-1882"
 from:21/04/1882  till:25/09/1883 color:Ind  $left  text:"___1882-1883 Frederick Whitaker"
 from:25/09/1883  till:05/06/1884 color:Ind  $right text:"Harry Atkinson 1883-1884"
 from:05/06/1884  till:28/07/1884 color:Ind  $left  text:"___1884 Robert Stout"
 from:28/07/1884  till:03/09/1884 color:Ind  $rightup text:"Harry Atkinson 1884"
 from:03/09/1884  till:08/10/1887 color:Ind  $left  text:"___1884-1887 Robert Stout"
 from:08/10/1887  till:24/01/1891 color:Ind  $right text:"Harry Atkinson 1887-1891"
 from:24/01/1891  till:27/04/1893 color:Lib  $left  text:"___1891-1893 John Ballance"
 from:27/04/1893  till:10/06/1906 color:Lib  $right text:"Richard Seddon 1893-1906"
 from:10/06/1906  till:06/08/1906 color:Lib  $left  text:"___1906 William Hall-Jones"
 from:06/08/1906  till:28/03/1912 color:Lib  $right text:"Joseph Ward 1906-1912"
 from:28/03/1912  till:10/07/1912 color:Lib  $left  text:"___1912 Thomas Mackenzie"
 from:10/07/1912  till:10/04/1925 color:Ref  $right text:"William Massey 1912-1925"
 from:10/04/1925  till:30/05/1925 color:Ref  $left  text:"___1925 Francis Bell"
 from:30/05/1925  till:10/12/1925 color:Ref  $right text:"Gordon Coates 1925-1928"
 from:10/12/1925  till:28/05/1930 color:Lib  $left  text:"___1925-1930 Joseph Ward"
 from:28/05/1930  till:06/12/1935 color:Lib  $right text:"George Forbes 1930-1935"
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 from:12/12/1960  till:07/02/1972 color:Nat  $right text:"Keith Holyoake 1960-1972"
 from:07/02/1972  till:08/12/1972 color:Nat  $left  text:"___1972 Jack Marshall"
 from:08/12/1972  till:06/09/1974 color:Lab  $right text:"Norman Kirk 1972-1974"
 from:06/09/1974  till:12/12/1975 color:Lab  $left  text:"___1974-1975 Bill Rowling"
 from:12/12/1975  till:26/07/1984 color:Nat  $right text:"Robert Muldoon_1975-1984"
 from:26/07/1984  till:08/08/1989 color:Lab  $left  text:"___1984-1989 David Lange"
 from:08/08/1989  till:04/09/1990 color:Lab  $right text:"Geoffrey Palmer_1989-1990"
 from:04/09/1990  till:02/11/1990 color:Lab  $left  text:"___1990 Mike Moore"
 from:02/11/1990  till:08/12/1997 color:Nat  $right text:"Jim Bolger_1990-1997"
 from:08/12/1997  till:05/12/1999 color:Nat  $left  text:"___1997-1999_Jenny Shipley"
 from:05/12/1999  till:19/12/2008        color:Lab  $right text:"Helen Clark_1999-2008"
from:19/12/2008  till:end color:Nat  $right text:"John key_2008-present"

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