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Encyclopedia > Leader of the Opposition (New Zealand)
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The Leader of the Opposition in New Zealand is the politician who, at least in theory, leads the Opposition bloc in the New Zealand Parliament.


By convention, the Leader of the Opposition is the leader of the largest party of the Opposition.

The Leader of the Opposition does not have a large official role, as most of the post's functions are ceremonial. Nevertheless, 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.

The Leader of the Opposition also receives a higher salary than other members of the Opposition, being paid the same amount as a Cabinet Minister.


The development of the Leader of the Opposition's office in New Zealand was gradual. While the title has existed for some time, it only came to have much significance as part of a slow process. Initially, before the establishment of a party system, the Leader of the Opposition was merely "first among equals", nominated by those MPs who happened to oppose the ministry of the day. It was only later, when political parties began to be established, that the Leader of the Opposition gained a more substantial role.

Initially, all Leaders of the Opposition were independents, although were often affiliated with a particular identifiable faction. Later, with the creation of a party system, the post alternated between the Liberal Party and the Reform Party, although the newly-founded Labour Party did manage to capture the position from 1926 to 1928. Since 1935, the position has alternated between the Labour Party and the National Party.

After a poor showing in the 2002 elections, the National Party constituted less than half of what was (at least technically) the Opposition. As the largest party, however, its leader had still retained the title of Leader of the Opposition. This prompted a number of parties, notably New Zealand First and the Greens, to call 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.

The current Leader of the Opposition is Don Brash.

Past Leaders of the Opposition

A table of past Leaders of the Opposition is below. The table begins in 1891, when the first real political party (the Liberals) was founded. Those who also served as Prime Minister, either before or after being Leader of the Opposition, are indicated.

Name Served
as PM
Took Office Left Office Party
1 John Bryce - 23 June 1891 31 August 1891 None
2 William Rolleston - 31 August 1891 8 November 1893 None
3 William Russell - June 1894 3 July 1901 None
4 William Massey yes 11 September 1903 February 1909 None
William Massey, continued yes February 1909 10 July 1912 Reform
5 Joseph Ward*, 1st time yes 10 July 1912 27 November 1919 Liberal
6 William MacDonald - 21 January 1920 31 August 1920 Liberal
7 Thomas Wilford - 8 September 1920 13 August 1925 Liberal
8 George William Forbes, 1st time yes 13 August 1925 14 October 1925 Liberal
9 Harry Holland, 1st time - 16 June 1926 18 October 1928 Labour
Joseph Ward, 2nd time yes 4 December 1928 10 December 1928 United (Liberal)
10 Gordon Coates yes 10 December 1928 22 September 1931 Reform
Harry Holland, 2nd time - 22 September 1931 8 October 1933 Labour
11 Michael Joseph Savage yes 12 October 1933 6 December 1935 Labour
George William Forbes, 2nd time yes 6 December 1935 2 November 1936 United/Reform ("National")
12 Adam Hamilton - 2 November 1936 26 November 1940 National
13 Sidney Holland yes 26 November 1940 13 December 1949 National
14 Peter Fraser yes 13 December 1949 12 December 1950 Labour
15 Walter Nash, 1st time yes 17 January 1951 12 December 1957 Labour
16 Keith Holyoake yes 12 December 1957 12 December 1960 National
Walter Nash, 2nd time yes 12 December 1960 31 March 1963 Labour
17 Arnold Nordmeyer - 1 April 1963 16 December 1965 Labour
18 Norman Kirk yes 16 December 1965 8 December 1972 Labour
19 Jack Marshall yes 8 December 1972 4 July 1974 National
20 Robert Muldoon, 1st time yes 4 July 1974 12 December 1975 National
21 Bill Rowling yes 12 December 1975 1982 Labour
22 David Lange yes 1982 26 July 1984 Labour
Robert Muldoon, 2nd time yes 26 July 1984 November 1984 National
23 Jim McLay - November 1984 26 March 1986 National
24 Jim Bolger yes 26 March 1986 2 November 1990 National
25 Mike Moore yes 2 November 1990 1993 Labour
26 Helen Clark yes 1993 5 December 1999 Labour
27 Jenny Shipley yes 5 December 1999 8 October 2001 National
28 Bill English - 8 October 2001 28 October 2003 National
29 Don Brash - 28 October 2003 (present) National

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

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