Leader of the Opposition (New Zealand)

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Leader of the Opposition of New Zealand
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Simon Bridges

since 27 February 2018
Official Opposition of New Zealand
Shadow Cabinet of Simon Bridges
StyleThe Honourable
Leader of the Opposition
Member of
Reports toParliament
Term lengthWhile leader of the largest political party not in government
Inaugural holderJohn Ballance[a]
Formation2 July 1889[b]
Salary$288,900 (As at 2016)[1]
^ a. As the first parliamentary leader of an Opposition party.
^ b. The date Ballance was officially named Leader of the Opposition.
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In New Zealand, the leader of the Opposition (or Opposition leader) is a senior politician who commands the support of the Official Opposition. The leader of the Opposition by convention heads the largest party not supporting the government: usually this is the parliamentary leader of the second-largest caucus in the House of Representatives.[2] When in the debating chamber the Opposition leader sits on the left-hand side of the centre table, in front of the Opposition and opposite the prime minister.[3]

The role of the leader of the Opposition dates to the late 19th century, with the first political parties, and the office was formally recognised by statute in 1933. Although currently mentioned in a number of statutes, the office is not established by any Act (nor is that of the prime minister); it is simply a product of the conventions of the Westminster-style parliamentary system. The leader of the Opposition is paid a special salary by virtue of the office.

Typically the leader of the Opposition is elected by his or her party according to its rules. A new leader may be elected when the incumbent dies, resigns, or is challenged for the leadership. The current Leader of the Opposition is Simon Bridges, who was elected by the National Party caucus on 27 February 2018.[4]


The term "opposition" has a specific meaning in the parliamentary sense; it is an important component of the Westminster system, with the Official Opposition directing criticism at the Government. The leader of the Opposition leads a Shadow Cabinet, which scrutinises the policies and actions of the Cabinet led by the prime minister, as well as offer alternative policies.[5] The Opposition leader may be viewed as an alternative prime minister.[6] He or she is expected to be ready to form a new government if the incumbent government is unable to continue in office.

There are several ways in which the leader of the Opposition participates directly in affairs of state. Often, these relate to national security matters, which are supposed to transcend party politics – the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, for example, is required to brief the leader of the Opposition as well as the prime minister on certain matters of national security.[7]


The leader of the Opposition receives a higher salary than other members of the Opposition, being paid the same amount as a Cabinet Minister.[8] As at 2016 the Leader of the Opposition's salary is NZ$288,900.[9][1] In addition, like all other members of parliament, the leader of the Opposition receives annual allowances for travel and lodging.


For much of the country's early history, the role was not a formal one. For most of the 19th century, there was rarely any one person who could be identified as the leader of the Opposition. Prominent members were sometimes informally dubbed as "Leader of the Opposition" – often facetiously by rival politicians.[10] It was only when the Liberal Party was formed that any unified leadership appeared in Parliament, and the role of Opposition leader is generally traced from this point. John Ballance, leader of the Liberals (and later premier) is usually considered the first leader of the Opposition in the modern sense.[10]

When Ballance led the Liberals into government in 1891, they faced no formal opposition in a party sense, though certain MPs were styled leader of the Opposition. Their opponents gradually coalesced around a leader, William Massey, who became Opposition leader in 1903, and in 1909 became the first parliamentary leader of the new Reform Party.[11] For the first time, an Opposition party came forward as an alternative government.[11] After this, the leader of the Opposition would always be the parliamentary leader of the largest party in the House of Representatives that had not undertaken to support the government of the day.[citation needed]

One notable exception to this was during World War I, when the opposition Liberal Party accepted the governing Reform Party's offer to form a wartime coalition. Prime Minister Massey also extended the offer to the new Labour Party who rejected it. This made Labour the largest party not in government, however their leader Alfred Hindmarsh was not officially recognised as the leader of the Opposition. Joseph Ward, who became deputy prime minister in the wartime cabinet, still retained the title, albeit in name only.[12]

During the 1910s and 1920s, the role of Opposition alternated between the Liberal and Reform parties. However, the rise of the Labour Party in the 1920s, together with a gradual weakening in support for the Liberals, led to a three-party situation by the mid-1920s, with the Labour and Liberal parties having a similar number of seats. After the 1925 election there was no official leader of the Opposition until Rex Mason of Labour won the seat of Eden in the by-election held on 15 April 1926. Labour superseded the Liberals as the official opposition and their leader Harry Holland became Opposition leader.[13]

The 1928 general election put the United Party (a remnant of the Liberals) in government for the last time. Reform then became the Opposition, however in 1931 Reform entered into coalition with the Liberals, and Labour then became the Official Opposition, despite being the third party. The unity of the coalition, culminating in the formation of the National Party in 1936, created a stable two-party system, with National and Labour alternating between Government and Opposition for much of the remainder of the century.

Modern office

The office was first officially recognised by an Act of Parliament in 1933, when a special allowance was conferred on the holder.[10]

With the introduction of the mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting system, first used in the 1996 general election, the nature of parliamentary opposition has changed. Now, though the leader of the largest non-Government party still becomes the leader of the Opposition, there will usually be several parties who are "in opposition". An example of this arose after the 2002 general election, when the National Party gained only 27 seats – less than half the 58 seats held by opposition parties. This prompted calls from a number of parties, notably New Zealand First and the Greens, for the abolition or reform of the post. It was argued by these parties that the position had become an "anachronism" in the modern multi-party environment, and that the days of a united opposition bloc were gone. However, with the revival of the National Party in the 2005 general election, a more traditional relationship between Government and Opposition has been restored. According to Parliamentary Services, the leader of the Opposition formally represents and speaks for all parties that are outside Government.[14]

List of leaders of the Opposition

A table of leaders is below. Those who also served as prime minister, either before or after being leader of the Opposition, are indicated.


  Liberal   Conservative   Reform   Labour   United   National

No. Leader
Portrait Term of office Party Prime Minister
1 John Ballance
MP for Wanganui
John Ballance 1880.jpg 2 July 1889 23 January 1891 Liberal Atkinson 1887–91
2 John Bryce
MP for Waikato
JohnBryce.jpg 23 January 1891 31 August 1891 Conservative Ballance 1891–93
3 William Rolleston
MP for Halswell
William Rolleston (cropped).jpg 31 August 1891 8 November 1893 Conservative
Seddon 1893–1906
4 William Russell
MP for Hawkes Bay
William Russell, ca 1878.jpg 26 June 1894 3 July 1901 Conservative
5 William Massey
MP for Franklin
William Ferguson Massey 1919.jpg 11 September 1903 February 1909 Conservative
Hall-Jones 1906
Ward 1906–12
February 1909 10 July 1912 Reform
Mackenzie 1912
6 Joseph Ward
MP for Awarua[1]
Joseph Ward c. 1906.jpg 11 September 1913 27 November 1919 Liberal Massey 1912–25
7 William MacDonald
MP for Bay of Plenty
William Donald Stuart Macdonald, circa 1910.jpg 21 January 1920 31 August 1920 Liberal
8 Thomas Wilford
MP for Hutt
Thomas Wilford, 1928.jpg 8 September 1920 13 August 1925 Liberal
Bell 1925
Coates 1925–28
9 George Forbes
MP for Hurunui
George William Forbes.jpg 13 August 1925 4 November 1925 Liberal
Position vacant
from 1925 general election until after 1926 Eden by-election
4 November 1925 16 June 1926
10 Harry Holland
MP for Buller
Harry Holland (1925).jpg 16 June 1926 18 October 1928 Labour
(6) Joseph Ward
MP for Invercargill
Joseph Ward c. 1906.jpg 4 December 1928 10 December 1928 United
11 Gordon Coates
MP for Kaipara
Joseph Gordon Coates, 1931.jpg 10 December 1928 22 September 1931 Reform Ward 1928–30
Forbes 1930–35
(10) Harry Holland
MP for Buller
Harry Holland (1925).jpg 22 September 1931 8 October 1933 Labour
12 Michael Joseph Savage
MP for Auckland West
Michael Joseph Savage Portrait.jpg 12 October 1933 6 December 1935 Labour
(9) George Forbes
MP for Hurunui
George William Forbes.jpg 6 December 1935 May 1936 United Savage 1935–40
May 1936 2 November 1936 National
13 Adam Hamilton
MP for Wallace
Adam Hamilton (1926).jpg 2 November 1936 26 November 1940 National
14 Sidney Holland
MP for Christchurch North until 1946
MP for Fendalton from 1946
Sidney George Holland (1953) 2.png 26 November 1940 13 December 1949 National Fraser 1940–49
15 Peter Fraser
MP for Brooklyn
Peter Fraser.jpg 13 December 1949 12 December 1950 Labour Holland 1949–57
16 Walter Nash
MP for Hutt
Walter Nash (ca 1940s).jpg 17 January 1951 12 December 1957 Labour
Holyoake 1957
17 Keith Holyoake
MP for Pahiatua
Keith Holyoake (crop).jpg 12 December 1957 12 December 1960 National Nash 1957–60
(16) Walter Nash
MP for Hutt
Walter Nash (ca 1940s).jpg 12 December 1960 31 March 1963 Labour Holyoake 1960–72
18 Arnold Nordmeyer
MP for Island Bay
Arnold Nordmeyer (1950).jpg 1 April 1963 16 December 1965 Labour
19 Norman Kirk
MP for Lyttelton until 1969
MP for Sydenham from 1969
Norman Kirk Portrait.jpg 16 December 1965 8 December 1972 Labour
Marshall 1972
20 Jack Marshall
MP for Karori
Jack Marshall, 1972.jpg 8 December 1972 4 July 1974 National Kirk 1972–74
21 Robert Muldoon
MP for Tāmaki
Muldoon 1978.jpg 4 July 1974 12 December 1975 National
Rowling 1974–75
22 Bill Rowling
MP for Tasman
Bill Rowling, 1962.jpg 12 December 1975 3 February 1983 Labour Muldoon 1975–84
23 David Lange
MP for Māngere
David Lange (cropped).jpg 3 February 1983 26 July 1984 Labour
(21) Robert Muldoon
MP for Tāmaki
Muldoon 1978.jpg 26 July 1984 29 November 1984 National Lange 1984–89
24 Jim McLay
(born 1945)
MP for Birkenhead
Jim McLay (cropped).jpg 29 November 1984 26 March 1986 National
25 Jim Bolger
(born 1935)
MP for King Country
Bolger, 1992.jpg 26 March 1986 2 November 1990 National
Palmer 1989–90
Moore 1990
26 Mike Moore
MP for Christchurch North
Mike Moore.jpg 2 November 1990 1 December 1993 Labour Bolger 1990–97
27 Helen Clark
(born 1950)
MP for Mount Albert
Helen Clark UNDP 2010.jpg 1 December 1993 5 December 1999 Labour
Shipley 1997–99
28 Jenny Shipley
(born 1952)
MP for Rakaia
Jenny Shipley 2013 (crop).jpg 5 December 1999 8 October 2001 National Clark 1999–2008
29 Bill English
(born 1961)
MP for Clutha-Southland
Bill-English-Parliament-Profile.jpg 8 October 2001 28 October 2003 National
30 Don Brash
(born 1940)
List MP
Don.Brash.jpg 28 October 2003 27 November 2006 National
31 John Key
(born 1961)
MP for Helensville
John Key headshot.jpg 27 November 2006 19 November 2008 National
32 Phil Goff
(born 1953)
MP for Mount Roskill
Phil Goff.jpg 19 November 2008 13 December 2011 Labour Key 2008–16
33 David Shearer
(born 1957)
MP for Mount Albert
David Shearer.jpg 13 December 2011 15 September 2013 Labour
34 David Cunliffe
(born 1963)
MP for New Lynn
David Cunliffe, 2008.jpg 15 September 2013 27 September 2014 Labour
35 Andrew Little
(born 1965)
List MP
Andrew Little, 2017.jpg 18 November 2014 1 August 2017 Labour
English 2016–17
36 Jacinda Ardern
(born 1980)
MP for Mount Albert
Jacinda Ardern, 2018.jpg 1 August 2017 26 October 2017 Labour
(29) Bill English
(born 1961)
List MP
Prime Minister Bill English.jpg 26 October 2017 27 February 2018 National Ardern 2017–present
37 Simon Bridges
(born 1976)
MP for Tauranga
Simon-Bridges-Free-Crop.jpg 27 February 2018 Incumbent National

1 From 4 August 1915 to 21 August 1919, the Reform Party and the Liberal Party formed a joint wartime coalition. Joseph Ward of the Liberals officially remained "Leader of the Opposition", even though he was actually part of the government.

See also


  1. ^ a b "MPs given 2.5 percent pay rise". Radio NZ. 8 November 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  2. ^ "Glossary". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  3. ^ "People in Parliament". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  4. ^ "Bridges' first speech as National leader outlines party future". TVNZ. 27 February 2018. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  5. ^ "The Relationship between the Government and the Opposition or Minority Parties in Selected Places" (PDF). 13 November 2002. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  6. ^ "The Leader of the Opposition" (PDF). Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  7. ^ "Overview". NZSIS. Archived from the original on 4 January 2009. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  8. ^ "Bill English admits pay rise 'a bit embarrassing'". New Zealand Herald. 21 November 2008. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  9. ^ "Parliamentary Salaries and Allowances Determination 2016" (PDF). New Zealand Parliament. 2016. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  10. ^ a b c "Chapter 8 Parties and Government". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  11. ^ a b Gardner, William James (1966). McLintock, Alexander Hare (ed.). "MASSEY, William Ferguson". An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  12. ^ Bassett, Michael. "Ward, Joseph George". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  13. ^ O'Farrell, Patrick. "Holland, Henry Edmund - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  14. ^ "Who's who in Parliament?". Retrieved 9 February 2018.

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