Leader of the Opposition (New Zealand)

Leader of the Opposition
Andrew Little

since 18 November 2014
Term length While leader of the largest political party not in government
Inaugural holder John Ballance
Formation 2 July 1889
Salary $243,700 (as of 2008)[1]
Website Party profile
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The Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition in New Zealand is the politician who, at least in theory, commands the support of the non-government bloc of members in the Parliament of New Zealand. In the debating chamber the Leader of the Opposition sits directly opposite the Prime Minister.[2] The current Leader of the Opposition is Andrew Little, the Leader of the Labour Party.[3]


By convention, the Leader of the Opposition is the leader of the largest party of the Opposition.[2]

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.[4]

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.[5]


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 considered Leader of the Opposition – those figures who took leading roles in opposing the government of the day were merely "first among equals", and had no formal office. It was only when the Liberal Party was formed that any unified leadership appeared in Parliament, and the role of Leader of the Opposition 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.

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. However, their opponents gradually coalesced around a leader, William Massey, who became Opposition leader in 1903, and in 1909 became the first leader of the new Reform Party. 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.

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 recognized 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.[6]

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 became superseded the Liberals as the official opposition and their leader Harry Holland became Leader of the Opposition.[7]

The 1928 General Election put United (the renamed Liberal party) 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 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.

With the introduction of the MMP voting system, first used in the 1996 general elections, the nature of 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 elections, 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 resurrection of the National Party in the 2005 general election, a more traditional relationship between Government and Opposition has been restored.

List of Leaders of the Opposition

A table of 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.

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

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.


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Leaders of the Opposition.
  1. "Bill English admits pay rise 'a bit embarrassing'". New Zealand Herald. 21 November 2008. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  2. 1 2 "People in Parliament". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  3. "Little wins Labour leadership". Stuff.co.nz. 18 November 2014. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  4. "Overview". NZSIS. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  5. "Bill English admits pay rise 'a bit embarrassing'". New Zealand Herald. 21 November 2008. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  6. Bassett, Michael. "Ward, Joseph George". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  7. O'Farrell, Patrick. "Holland, Henry Edmund - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
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