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New Zealand First Party

Current New Zealand First logo

New Zealand First is a political party in New Zealand. The correct classification of the party is a matter of dispute, but its most well known policies would probably be its controversial campaigns against immigration.

The party is led by Winston Peters, its founder. His contribution to the party is very significant, and many people do not believe that New Zealand First would survive without him.


In the most recent election campaign, New Zealand First focused on three primary policies - reducing immigration, bringing crime under control and increasing sentences, and reducing payments related to the settlements process for the Treaty of Waitangi. Some see the party as opportunist, pursuing whichever issues it can gain votes from. Others see it as a champion of ordinary New Zealanders.

The party's economic policies are mixed. It opposes the privatisation of state assets (particularly to overseas buyers), which is a view generally found on the left of New Zealand politics. On the other hand, it is in favour of reducing taxation (a policy typical of the New Zealand right.

The policies of New Zealand First generally mirror the views of Winston Peters.


New Zealand First was established in 1993, shortly before the general elections. Winston Peters, the party's founder, had recently won the seat of Tauranga as an independent, having left the National Party after disputes with its leadership.

In the 1993 elections, Winston Peters retained his Tauranga seat. Tau Henare, another New Zealand First candidate, was also elected, giving the party a total of two MPs.

With the switch to the MMP electoral system for the 1996 elections, smaller parties were able to gain a share of seats proportional to their share of the vote. This enabled New Zealand First to gain seventeen seats (having obtained just over 13% of the vote). The election result put New Zealand First into a position of power - neither of the two major parties had sufficient strength to form a government, and would need New Zealand First's support.

New Zealand First entered into a long period of negotiations with both the Labour party and the National Party. Before the election, most people (including many New Zealand First voters) had expected Peters to enter into coalition with Labour, and therefore were surprised when he chose National. The most common explanation for this decision was National's willingness to accept New Zealand First's demands (or Labour's refusal to). However, Michael Laws (a former MP who served as a New Zealand First campaign manager) claims that Peters had secretly made his decision significantly before this time, and that negotiations with Labour were merely used to encourage more incentives from National.

New Zealand First gained considerable concessions from National in exchange for this deal. Winston Peters would serve as Deputy Prime Minister, and would also hold the specially-created office of Treasurer (senior to the Minister of Finance). Concessions of policy were also considerable.

Initially, New Zealand First's relationship with National was relatively smooth. There were initial concerns about the ability of Peters to work with National leader Jim Bolger, who had sacked Peters when he was still a member of National, but the two did not have major problems.

Of more concern to New Zealand First was the behaviour of some of its MPs, who were accused of incompetence and extravagant spending. Many people came to the conclusion that the party's minor MPs were in parliament merely to provide votes for Winston Peters, and were not making any real contributions themselves.

Gradually, however, the coalition tensions became more significant than problems of party discipline. This was particularly true after Jenny Shipley, a National Party politician, gained enough support to force Jim Bolger's resignation, and to be subsequently elected to replace him. The tensions between the two parties also rose as New Zealand First adopted a more aggressive approach to promoting its policies (including those that National was not prepared to implement). This new attitude was probably prompted by New Zealand First's poor performance in opinion polls, which (to Peters) indicated that the party's success rested on its confrontational style. Many commentators believe that Peters performs better in Opposition than in Government.

On 14 August 1998, Winston Peters was sacked from his Cabinet positions. This occurred after an ongoing dispute about a relatively minor matter (the sale of the government's stake in Wellington International Airport). The issue itself was regarded as being the outward manifestation of much deeper disagreement.

With the sacking of Peters, New Zealand First opted to leave its coalition with National. Many of the party's MPs, were unwilling to follow Peters out of government, and left New Zealand First. These MPs either tried to start their own parties (such as Mauri Pacific) or establish themselves as independents. Many of these MPs were those who had previously been in the public spotlight over their behaviour, and none were re-elected. Until the election, however, they provided National with enough support to continue on without New Zealand First.

In the 1999 elections, New Zealand First gained only 4% of the vote, and would not have qualified for proportional representation under MMP had Winston Peters not retained his electorate. Peters held his Tauranga seat by a mere 63 votes). New Zealand First remained outside of government.

By the election of 2002, however, the party had rebuilt much of its support. This was largely due to Peters' three-point campaign against immigration, treaty costs, and crime. The party won 10% of the vote - a considerable improvement on its last performance, although still not as good as its performance in 1996. New Zealand First gained thirteen seats in parliament. Winston Peters' campaign phrase "can we fix it? yes we can" was the source of much media attention, as the same line appears in theme music for the children's television programme Bob The Builder.

It appears that New Zealand First was hoping to play a similar role to the one it had in 1996, where it was able to give power to either Labour or National depending on which offered the best deal. However, National's vote had collapsed to the extent that it could not form a government even with New Zealand First's support, depriving the party of its negotiating advantage. In the end, however, this was irrelevant, as Labour refused to consider an alliance with New Zealand First in any case. Instead, Labour relied on support from the newly significant United Future party. Peters appeared angry over this.

Since the election, New Zealand First has continued to strongly promote its policies. In light of National's lessened strength, New Zealand First has attempted to gain more prominence in Opposition, frequently attacking the government on a wide range of issues. There has recently been speculation about efforts to create a more united front among New Zealand First, National, and ACT, but Peters has rejected this, saying that it will be the New Zealand voter who decides what alliances are necessary. Unlike ACT which pursues the role of the natural right-wing coalition partner to National, New Zealand First is increasingly working to entirely replace the National party.

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