Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand

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politics and government of
New Zealand

The Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand is the second most senior minister in the Government of New Zealand, although this seniority does not necessarily translate into power.

Generally, the position is held by the deputy leader of the ruling party, but now that the MMP electoral system makes coalitions more likely, the role may instead go to the leader of a junior party. This occurred with Winston Peters, leader of New Zealand First, and Jim Anderton, leader of the Alliance.

The post of Deputy Prime Minister was formally established in 1949, although it informally existed prior to then. Since 1949, sixteen people have held the position (one of them doing so twice). Of those people, only Holyoake, Marshall, Watt, Muldoon, Palmer, and Clark have eventually served as Prime Minister.[1]

Little scholarly attention has focused on deputy prime ministers in New Zealand or elsewhere. In 2009, an article by Steven Barnes appeared in Political Science where nine 'qualities' of deputy prime ministership were identified: temperament; relationships with their Cabinet and caucus; relationships with their party; popularity with the public; media skills; achievements as Deputy Prime Minister; relationship with the Prime Minister; leadership ambition; and method of succession. Barnes conducted a survey of journalists, academics, and former Members of Parliament to rank New Zealand's Deputy Prime Ministers since 1960. Across the nine deputy prime minister 'qualities', Don McKinnon achieved the number one ranking, followed by Brian Talboys, Michael Cullen, and John Marshall. In a second 'overall' ranking, Cullen was ranked number one, followed by Talboys, McKinnon, and Marshall. Jim Anderton, Winston Peters, and Bob Tizard were ranked lowest in both sections of the survey.[2]

List of Deputy Prime Ministers of New Zealand

Colour key
(for political parties)

 NZ First  

No. Name Portrait Term of Office Prime Minister
1 Keith Holyoake 13 November 1954 20 September 1957 Holland
2 Jack Marshall 20 September 1957 12 December 1957 Holyoake
3 Clarence Skinner 12 December 1957 12 December 1960 Nash
(2) Jack Marshall 12 December 1960 9 February 1972 Holyoake
4 Robert Muldoon 9 February 1972 8 December 1972 Marshall
5 Hugh Watt 8 December 1972 1 September 1974 Kirk
6 Bob Tizard 10 September 1974 12 December 1975 Rowling
7 Brian Talboys 12 December 1975 4 March 1981 Muldoon
8 Duncan MacIntyre 4 March 1981 15 March 1984
9 Jim McLay 15 March 1984 26 July 1984
10 Geoffrey Palmer 26 July 1984 8 August 1989 Lange
11 Helen Clark 8 August 1989 4 September 1990 Palmer
12 Don McKinnon 4 September 1990 16 December 1996 Bolger
13 Winston Peters 16 December 1996 14 August 1998
14 Wyatt Creech 14 August 1998 5 December 1999
15 Jim Anderton 5 December 1999 15 August 2002 Clark
16 Michael Cullen 15 August 2002 19 November 2008
17 Bill English 19 November 2008 incumbent Key
  1. Note: Some lists consider Hugh Watt as a New Zealand Prime Minister. Watt served as acting Prime Minister for seven days from 31 August to 6 September 1972 following the death of Norman Kirk. He is not normally counted in the official numbering of New Zealand Prime Ministers.
  2. Steven Barnes, 'What About Me? Deputy Prime Ministership in New Zealand', Political Science, Vol. 61, No. 1, 2009, pp. 33-49
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