Our History

No new party can claim the record of electoral and policy success as New Zealand First can. As we approach our 25-year anniversary, New Zealand First has been represented in two coalition governments, with National in 1996 and Labour in 2017, and as a confidence-and-supply partner in the Labour minority government in 2005. 

We have, in government and on the opposition benches, remained steadfast in our core beliefs and vision for New Zealand. 

In Government in 2018, we’re working hard to ensure that common-sense prevails and focusing on putting New Zealand first. 

 

Formation

New Zealand First was formed in July 1993 to represent the views of New Zealanders concerned about the economic and social direction of their country after the radical market reforms of the 1980s and early 1990s, which entailed the sale of public assets to and a decline in employment and social services. The party’s vision is to put people first through enlightened economic and social policies, by controlling resources and by restoring faith in the democratic process. 

New Zealand First was founded by MP for Tauranga Winston Peters and a group of  people  disenchanted with the policies of the then National Government. Mr Peters had left the National Party after disputes with its leadership over broken election promises about the economy and an extra tax on the elderly. Mr Peters resigned from Parliament and Tauranga voters re-elected him in a special by-election as an independent where he attained 90.71% of the vote. 

 

1993 General Election 

The newly constituted New Zealand First fought the last FPP general election in 1993 and the party won Tauranga and also the Northern Maori seat, gaining 8.4% of the vote. The election saw National  return to power with a one-seat majority, winning 50 seats, but only 35% of the popular vote.

With two seats in Parliament, the 1993 election positioned the new party as a major player leading in to the first MMP election in 1996.   

 

1996 General  Election

In the first MMP election in 1996, New Zealand First won over 13 per cent of the vote, gaining 17 seats, including all five Maori seats. Neither National nor Labour had enough seats to govern alone so entered negotiations with the new party.

In 1996, New Zealand First went into a coalition with National because Labour could not muster sufficient votes to guarantee confidence and supply – even with New Zealand First. This was because Labour could not guarantee the votes of Jim Anderton’s Alliance Party. Peters was also concerned about the prospect of dealing with two parties who were bitter enemies at the time. 

As part of the coalition agreement, New Zealand First extracted numerous policy concessions. Party Leader Winston Peters also served as Deputy Prime Minister and held the specially-created office of Treasurer (as in Australia, senior to the Minister of Finance).  The coalition relationship between National and New Zealand First was initially a good one, with the Government overcoming the local effects of the 1997 Asian currency crisis which deeply impacted on New Zealand’s Asian export markets. 

However, behind the scenes Jenny Shipley was plotting to remove the influence of  New Zealand  First on the government. On the 8th December 1997, Shipley gained enough support from her colleagues to have her replace Prime Minister Jim Bolger.     

The change in Prime Minister brought about a change in style and policy priorities. New Zealand First’s relationship with National deteriorated and on 14 August 1998, with Peters being ousted from Cabinet after an ongoing dispute about the sale of the government’s  stake in Wellington International Airport. 

 

1999 General Election 

In the 1999 elections, New Zealand First experienced a decline in popularity, gaining only 4.3 per cent of the vote, but Peters held his electorate seat of Tauranga. New Zealand First received (by proportionality) five seats in total. Jenny Shipley’s National Government was replaced by a coalition of Helen Clark's Labour Party and the smaller Alliance.   

Through the election campaign, New Zealand First took an uncompromising position on the economic mismanagement of the previous Labour and National administrations. 

After the crisis of the coalition breakdown, the party concentrated on rebuilding its support for the 2002 election.

 

2002 General Election

On election night 2002, New Zealand First won back 10 per cent of the vote and brought 13 MPs into Parliament. Peters had mounted a brilliant three-point campaign against uncontrolled immigration, Treaty costs, and crime.   

Labour declined to form a coalition with New Zealand First, but Peters continued to promote his policies assertively. New Zealand First showed that it could work with Labour when the parties combined to pass legislation establishing Kiwibank, the Cullen Superannuation Fund, and legislation clarifying Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed. 

 

2005 General Election 

In the 2005 election, New Zealand First took 5.72 per cent of the vote.   

New Zealand First took their seven MPs into coalition with the Labour Party (and United Future). In this government, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters served as Minister for Foreign Affairs (outside Cabinet), Minister for Racing and Associate Minister for Senior Citizens. Peters has been widely acknowledged for his work as Minister of Foreign Affairs during this time, which saw New Zealand establish a better relationship with the United States. 

 

2008 General Election 

The 2008 election brought a poor result for the party (4.07%), and for the first time since its conception, New Zealand First lacked representation in Parliament. After the 2008 defeat, party members and the leader met in Hamilton and decided to carry on.   

Over the next two and a half years, Peters stumped the country packing community halls while the party rebuilt. Although written off by the mainstream media and political commentators, Peters and his advisers were encouraged by public support at ground level. 

 

2011 General Election 

Without a seat in Parliament and a small campaign budget, Peters campaigned the hard way on the road in 2011. After being told by TVNZ he would not take part in the leaders’ debate, rising polls forced TVNZ to rescind the decision. Peters won the debate easily and continued rising in the polls.  Three weeks from the 2011 election, party strategists decided to publicly reject media suggestions that New Zealand First would form a coalition with Labour and the Greens. Peters told a public meeting in Kelston that New Zealand First would go into Opposition and hold the government to account. New Zealand First came back into parliament with 6.5 per cent of the vote and eight list MPs. 

The  party’s 2011 election performance is heralded as one of the greatest come-backs in New Zealand’s political history. 

 

2014 General Election   

The publication of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics created the most significant political maelstrom of the Fifth National Government’s term. With the party rebuilt, New Zealand First ran a successful campaign and increased their parliamentary representation further, winning 8.6% of the party vote to secure 11 seats in Parliament. This result, doubling their support from 6 years earlier, carried the party through to the 2015 by-election in Northland, a monumental electoral victory for the party. 

 

2015 By-election 

In 2015, National MP Mike Sabin was forced to resign, leaving his seat of Northland open. The seat, located in the Far North District, had been in National hands for decades. However, Peters ran for the seat and won it with a commanding majority—the first time that New Zealand First had won an electorate seat since 2005. 

The victory in one of the bluest electorates in the country bloodied the nose of the National Government and Prime Minister John Key, and positioned New Zealand First well heading into the 2017 election. 

 

2017 General Election 

In the 2017 election, New Zealand First secured 7.2% of the party vote with the party's parliamentary presence being reduced from twelve to nine seats. 

This put New Zealand First, however, in the kingmaker position. New Zealand First subsequently entered into negotiations with both Labour and National, eventually forming a Labour-New Zealand First Government with confidence and supply from the Green Party.   

New Zealand First secured four Ministers inside Cabinet, including Rt Hon Winston Peters as Deputy Prime Minister, and one Parliamentary Under-Secretary.   

These Ministerial and Undersecretarial positions include the following portfolios: 

Foreign Affairs, Infrastructure, Regional Economic Development, Internal Affairs, Seniors, Defence, Veterans’ Affairs, Children, Forestry, State Owned Enterprises, Racing, Associate Finance, Associate Education and an Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Regional Economic Development, and Disarmament and Arms Control.