Fifth Labour Government of New Zealand

The Fifth Labour Government of New Zealand was the government of New Zealand from 10 December 1999 to 19 November 2008. Labour Party leader Helen Clark negotiated a coalition with Jim Anderton, leader of the Alliance Party and later the Progressive Party, and New Zealand First. While undertaking a number of substantial reforms, it was not particularly radical compared to previous Labour governments.

Fifth Labour Government
Ministry of New Zealand
Date formed10 December 1999
Date dissolved19 November 2008
People and organisations
MonarchElizabeth II
Governor-GeneralSir Michael Hardie Boys (1999-2001)
Dame Silvia Cartwright (2001-06)
Sir Anand Satyanand (2006-08)
Prime MinisterHelen Clark
Deputy Prime MinisterJim Anderton (1999–2002)
Michael Cullen (2002–2008)
Member partyLabour Party (1999-2008)
Alliance Party (1999-2002)
Progressive Party (2002-08)
United Future (2002-08)
Green Party (2005-08)
New Zealand First (2005-08)
Opposition partyNational Party
Opposition leader
Legislature term(s)
PredecessorFourth National Government of New Zealand
SuccessorFifth National Government of New Zealand


The previous government, the fourth National government, had been in power since 1990. It was widely unpopular by 1999, with much of the public antagonised by a series of free-market economic reforms, and was bedevilled by weakness and instability. In the 1999 general election, the Helen Clark-led Labour Party defeated the National Party easily, becoming the largest single party in the House of Representatives. Labour formed a minority coalition government with the left-leaning Alliance party, supported by the Green Party.

During its first term, the government pursued a number of reforms. The controversial Employment Contracts Act was repealed, replaced by an Employment Relations Act more friendly to unions and collective bargaining; a state-owned bank, Kiwibank, was created at the behest of the Alliance; a majority stake in the national airline, Air New Zealand, was purchased; and the public health sector was reorganised with the re-establishment of partly elected District Health Boards. Closing the Gaps, an affirmative action strategy targeting socio-economic inequalities between Māori and Pacific Island ethnic groups and other groups, was a particularly controversial reform.[1] The policy was widely criticised for unfairly privileging Māori, leading to calls for "one standard of citizenship" for all New Zealanders.[2]

With the disintegration of the Alliance in 2002, Helen Clark called a snap election, even though she still had the confidence of the House. Labour handily won the election. The Alliance failed to return to parliament, although a rump returned as Jim Anderton's Progressives. Labour formed a coalition with the Progressives, and turned to the centrist United Future party for confidence and supply. This second term was notable largely for its social and constitutional legislation, with the Government establishing a Supreme Court and ending appeals to the Privy Council, decriminalising prostitution, and providing for civil unions, the latter two changes in particular supported by the Green Party and opposed by United Future. The Government was also faced in this term with the foreshore and seabed controversy. While Labour, in cooperation with the New Zealand First party, eventually resolved the legal dispute by vesting foreshore and seabed title in the Crown, a dissident Labour minister, Tariana Turia, formed the Māori Party, while on the other side of the spectrum a resurgent National Party, now under former Reserve Bank governor Don Brash, became considerably more popular. In the 2005 election, the Government was returned with a slim margin on the strength of the Working for Families assistance package and financial assistance to students, benefiting also from mistakes in National's campaign.

Helen Clark was obliged to move even more to the centre, enlisting support for her Government from both New Zealand First and United Future. Almost immediately, the Government parties became involved in a protracted funding scandal, having apparently used public money for party political purposes during the election campaign. A heavy-handed attempt at campaign finance reform later in this term also harmed the Government, which by now appeared tired and at a loss for direction, although it did succeed in implementing a wide range of social and economic reforms during its time in office.[3][4]

In the 2008 election, the Labour Party lost convincingly to National, and the government was succeeded by the National Party led by John Key as Prime Minister.

Significant policies



Treaty of Waitangi

Treaty settlements:

Aspects of the Clark-led governments actions in relation to the Treaty of Waitangi is shown through settlements.

  • Treaty 2U exhibition funding[7]
  • New Zealand School Curriculum launch[8]
  • Moriori heritage and Identity preservation[9]
  • Te Arawa Apology[10]
  • Te Uri O Hau[11]
  • Waitangi Day Commemorative Fund[12]
  • Fisheries Scholarship[13]

Social policy

  • Within 3 weeks of taking office, the govt. had announced an increase in the minimum wage, removed the interest on student loans for full-time and low-income students while they were still studying, announced the reversal of accident compensation deregulation, and introduced legislation to increase taxation for those on higher incomes.[14]
  • Introduced paid parental leave of 12 weeks (2001), increasing to 14 weeks by the end of the government.[15]
  • The Working for Families package was introduced in 2004, which significantly improved social welfare assistance for low-income families and contributed to a reduction in child poverty from 28% in 2004 to 22% in 2007.[16]
  • The wage-related floor of the state pension was restored.[17]
  • The Housing Restructuring Amendment Bill (2000) provided for income-related rents and set them at 25% of household income making community housing much more affordable than it had become under the previous Government's market rental strategy.[18]
  • Equity Funding was introduced (2002), which provided additional funding to community-based ECE services most in need.[18]
  • Research funding was increased.[18]
  • The New Zealand Transport Strategy (released in December 2002) provided increased funding for initiatives to promote the use of buses, trains, cycling and walking.[18]
  • The minimum wage was increased by more than 5% each year (well above the rate of inflation) during the labour-led government's second term.[18]
  • The Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Act (2002) served to make the principal Act more comprehensive by covering more industries and more conditions.[18]
  • The ring-fencing of mental health money and the creation of more than 800 FTE mental health staff positions see this promise coded as fulfilled representing a 100% fulfilment rate for this policy area.[18]
  • ICT was expanded to students in remote areas so they could receive specialist teaching.[18]
  • The Holidays Act (2003) entitled employees to receive "time and a half" for working on any statutory holiday from 2004 onwards and provided for four weeks' annual leave from 2007 onwards.[19]
  • Passed the Prostitution Reform Act 2003
  • Passed the Property (Relationships) Act: treats de facto relationships the same as after the breakup of legal marriages, unless the individuals in the relationship contract out of the Act;
  • Civil Union Act 2004
  • Supported the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007, which repealed and replaced section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961, which allowed "reasonable force" in the discipline of children.
  • National Statement on Religious Diversity (2007)
  • National Superannuation payments for married couples were increased (2000).[20]
  • A Parental Tax Credit was introduced (2000).[20]
  • A Child Tax Credit (which replaced the independent Family Tax Credit) was introduced (2000).[20]
  • A Family Tax Credit (which was formerly the Guaranteed Minimum Family income) was introduced (2000).[20]
  • A Modern Apprentices initiative was introduced to develop technological skills (2000).[20]
  • The Family Start programme was expanded (2000).[20]
  • Annual inflation to benefits was introduced (2000).[20]
  • Closing the Gaps policy platform introduced (2000).[21]
  • The Social Security Amendment Act of 2001 introduced various changes such as “disestablishment of the Community Wage, re-establishment of an unemployment benefit and non-work-tested sickness benefit, and the abolition of the work capacity assessment process”.[20]
  • The Social Security Amendment Act (2006) established three streams for reintegrating beneficiaries into the larger community. These included a work support stream for the unemployed, a work support development stream for most other beneficiaries, and a community support stream for a small group to be exempted from work, training or planning requirements.[22]
  • Income-related rents for state-owned housing were restored (2000).[20]
  • A social allocation system was introduced and implemented with the income-related rents scheme(2000).[20]
  • Vacant sales were frozen and the Home Buy programme was ended (2000).
  • Bulk funding for schools was ended (2000).[20]
  • Expenditure was increased, or newly allocated, for the reduction of attrition of students from school, tertiary education subsidies, Maori and Pacific peoples’ teacher recruitment, and Homework Centres (2000).[20]
  • Interest on student loans while students are studying was abolished, while the decision of the Fourth National Government to increase the student loan repayment rate was reversed (2000).[20]
  • Interest on student loans abolished for borrowers who remain in New Zealand (or studying overseas).[23]
  • Tertiary student fees were kept stable (2001).[20]
  • Expenditure for early childhood education was increased (2001).[20]
  • The National Certificate of Educational Achievement was established (2001).[20]
  • New funding was provided for principals’ leadership and professional development (2001).[20]
  • An In Work Payment was introduced to replace the Child Tax Credit.[22]
  • The ministries that handled work and income and those that did social policy were merged to create a new Ministry of Social Development (2001).[22]



National identity

  • Completed Establishing a fully New Zealand-based honours system (2000).

Foreign affairs


The following positions were appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Government:


Supreme Court

With the creation of the Supreme Court of New Zealand in 2003, the government appointed the first full bench of the Court.

Acting judges were also appointed from the retired judges of the Court of Appeal:

Court of Appeal

The government has appointed three presidents of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand:


The Fifth Labour government was elected in the 1999 general election, after entering a coalition with the Alliance Party and a confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party. Labour managed to increase their percentage of the votes by 10.5% and won 12 more seats than in the 1996 election.[30] With this coalition in place the Labour Party returned to government for the first time in nine years,[30] and Helen Clark became New Zealand's first elected female Prime Minister.[31] The 1999 election also became Labour's first successful MMP election.[30]

The 2002 election

The 2002 Election was held a few weeks before the Parliamentary term elapsed.[32] This had only occurred twice before in New Zealand's political history, in 1951 and 1984.[33] The Government cited the collapse of the Alliance Party, with whom they had entered a coalition in 1996 as the reason for the earlier date. The Alliance Party had split after Jim Anderton, their leader, left to form the Progressive Coalition Party.[34] However, some critics believe that Labour could have continued to govern for the remaining few weeks. They say that the election was called early to capitalise on high opinion poll ratings before they could be undermined by a potential softening in the New Zealand economic performance.[32]

After initial polls indicated Labour may have enough votes to govern alone, a feat which has never occurred under MMP in New Zealand, they won 41.3% of the vote and 52 seats. Although this meant they improved on their results in the 1999 election, it was not enough to govern alone.[32] As a result, Labour entered a coalition with the new Progressive Coalition Party. Additionally, they entered a confidence and supply agreement with United Future.[32] Labour's success was highlighted by the National Party's demise as they accrued a record low 20.9% of the vote.[32]

The 2005 election

After some initial doubt as to what date the election would be held, the 17th of September was the chosen day.[35] After falling behind National in the initial opinion polls, Labour fought back to obtain 41.1% of the vote. Although this saw a 0.2% decrease from the previous election, it still saw them sit ahead of National by 2%.[35] The 2005 election saw a dramatic fall in the success of the minor parties. New Zealand First and United Future each won less than half of the percentage of total votes they achieved in 2002.[35] In order to reach the required majority, Labour entered confidence and supply agreements with New Zealand First and United Future. This was done in addition to a coalition agreement with the Progressive Coalition Party, of whom only Jim Anderton obtained a seat.[35]

The newly formed Maori Party accrued four seats.[36] After only being formed in 2004 as a result of the controversial Foreshore and Seabed Act they oversaw a successful campaign based on a critical assessment of Labour's record with Maori issues.[35] Their success was highlighted by the decline of ACT New Zealand, the Progressive Coalition, and United Future who each won only a single seat each.[36]


Election results

The following table shows the total votes* for Labour, plus parties supporting the Labour-led government. For more details of election results, see the relevant election articles.

Election Parliament Seats* Total votes* Percentage Gain (loss) Seats won* Change Majority
1999 46th 120 1,066,618 51.64% - 66 - 6
2002 47th 120 1,150,911 56.65% +5.01% 69 +3 9
2005 48th 121 1,152,735 50.65% -6.00% 61 -8 1*

* 'Votes' means party votes only. 'Seats' means both list and electorate seats.


  • Following the 1999 election, Labour formed a coalition with the Alliance Party, and gained support on matters of confidence and supply from the Greens.
  • Following the 2002 election, Labour formed a coalition with the Progressive Party, and gained support on matters of confidence and supply from United Future. The Greens also entered into a formal agreement with the government, but it was not as strong as the agreements covering confidence and supply it made in the preceding and following parliaments.[37]
  • Following the 2005 election, Labour formed a coalition with the Progressive Party, and gained support on matters of confidence and supply from New Zealand First and United Future. The Greens signed an agreement to abstain on votes of confidence and supply, giving the Labour-led Government a majority. The Māori Party also abstained on confidence and supply votes but had no formal agreement with the Government.

Prime minister

Helen Clark was Prime Minister from when the government was elected in 1999 until it was defeated by the National Party in the 2008 elections.


Party key Labour
New Zealand First
United Future
Ministry Minister Term(s)
Deputy Prime MinisterJim Anderton5 December 1999 – 15 August 2002
Michael Cullen15 August 2002 – 19 November 2008
Attorney-GeneralMargaret Wilson5 December 1999 – 28 February 2005
Michael Cullen28 February 2005 – 19 October 2005
David Parker19 October 2005 – 20 March 2006
Michael Cullen21 March 2006 – 19 November 2008
Minister of EducationTrevor Mallard5 December 1999 – 19 October 2005
Steve Maharey19 October 2005 – 31 October 2007
Chris Carter31 October 2007 – 19 November 2008
Minister of FinanceMichael Cullen5 December 1999 – 19 November 2008
Minister of Foreign AffairsPhil Goff5 December 1999 – 19 October 2005
Winston Peters19 October 2005 – 29 August 2008
Minister of Internal AffairsMark Burton5 December 1999 – 13 November 2000
George Hawkins13 November 2000 – 19 October 2005
Rick Barker19 October 2005 – 19 November 2008
Minister of HealthAnnette King5 December 1999 – 19 October 2005
Pete Hodgson19 October 2005 – 5 November 2007
David Cunliffe5 November 2007 – 19 November 2008
Minister of JusticePhil Goff5 December 1999 – 19 October 2005
Mark Burton19 October 2005 – 31 October 2007
Annette King31 October 2007 – 19 November 2008
Minister for Women's AffairsLaila Harré5 December 1999 – 15 August 2002
Ruth Dyson15 August 2002 – 19 October 2005
Lianne Dalziel19 October 2005 – 5 November 2007
Steve Chadwick5 November 2007 – 19 November 2008
Minister of ConservationSandra Lee5 December 1999 – 15 August 2002
Chris Carter15 August 2002 – 31 October 2007
Steve Chadwick31 October 2007 – 19 November 2008
Minister of Māori AffairsDover Samuels10 December 1999 – 28 June 2000
Parekura Horomia28 June 2000 – 19 November 2008
Minister of AgricultureJim Sutton10 December 1999 – 19 October 2005
Jim Anderton19 October 2005 – 19 November 2008
Minister of Social Development and EmploymentSteve Maharey10 December 1999 – 31 October 2007
Ruth Dyson31 October 2007 – 19 November 2008
Minister of CorrectionsMatt Robson5 December 1999 – 15 August 2002
Mark Gosche15 August 2002 – 12 May 2003
Paul Swain19 May 2003 – 19 October 2005
Damien O'Connor19 October 2005 – 5 November 2007
Phil Goff5 November 2007 – 19 November 2008
Minister of RevenueMichael Cullen10 December 1999 – 19 October 2005
Peter Dunne19 October 2005 – 19 November 2008
Minister of TransportMark Gosche10 December 1999 – 27 July 2002
Paul Swain15 August 2002 – 26 February 2004
Pete Hodgson26 February 2004 – 19 October 2005
David Parker19 October 2005 – 21 March 2006
Annette King3 May 2006 – 19 November 2008
Minister of PoliceGeorge Hawkins10 December 1999 – 19 October 2005
Annette King19 October 2005 – 19 November 2008
Minister of ImmigrationLianne Dalziel10 December 1999 – 21 February 2004
Paul Swain21 February 2004 – 19 October 2005
David Cunliffe19 October 2005 – 11 November 2007
Clayton Cosgrove11 November 2007 – 19 November 2008
Minister for the EnvironmentMarian Hobbs10 December 1999 – 19 October 2005
David Benson-Pope19 October 2005 – 27 July 2007
Trevor Mallard31 October 2007 – 19 November 2008
Minister for the Community and Voluntary SectorSteve Maharey10 December 1999 – 15 August 2002
Tariana Turia15 August 2002 – 30 April 2004
Rick Barker24 August 2004 – 19 October 2005
Winnie Laban19 October 2005 – 5 November 2007
Ruth Dyson5 November 2007 – 19 November 2008
Minister of DefenceMark Burton10 December 1999 – 19 October 2005
Phil Goff19 October 2005 – 19 November 2008
Minister of State ServicesTrevor Mallard10 December 1999 – 19 October 2005
Annette King19 October 2005 – 2 November 2007
David Parker2 November 2007 - 19 November 2008
Minister of State Owned EnterprisesMark Burton10 December 1999 – 21 December 2004
Paul Swain21 December 2004 – 19 October 2005
Trevor Mallard19 October 2005 - 19 November 2008

See also


  1. Piercy, Gemma; Mackness, Kate; Rarere, Moana; Madley, Brendan (2017). "Investigating commentary on the fifth Labour-led government's Third Way approach" (PDF). New Zealand Sociology. 32 (1): 51–75 via University of Waikato Research Commons.
  2. Humpage, Louise (2006). "An 'inclusive' society: a 'leap forward' for Maori in New Zealand?". Critical Social Policy 26 (1): 220-242.
  3. "The state of our nation 1999–2007 – some facts" (Press release). New Zealand Government. 30 January 2007. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  5. "Income tax rates". 8 October 2014. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  6. "Budget 2008 – Tax Changes". 22 May 2008. Archived from the original on 25 March 2015. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  7. More funding for the Treaty 2U exhibition. 2007. retrieved from:
  8. New Zealand School Curriculum Launch. 2007. Retrieved from:
  9. More funding for the Treaty 2U exhibition. 2007. Retrieved from URL:
  10. PM gives formal apology to Te Arawa. 2006. Retrieved from:
  11. Formal Apology to Te Uri O Hau. 2004. Retrieved from:
  12. Waitangi Day Commemorative fund. 2001. Retrieved from:
  13. PM welcomes fisheries scholarship. 2001. Retrieved from:
  14. Keith Sinclair (1959). A History of New Zealand.
  15. Katherine Forbes. "Paid Parental Leave Under (New) Labour" (PDF). Social Policy Journal of New Zealand (34).
  16. "Child Poverty Monitor: Technical Report". Child Poverty Monitor. 2015. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  17. Alison McClelland & Susan St. John. "Social policy responses to globalisation in Australia and New Zealand, 1980–2005" (PDF). Australian Journal of Political Science. 41 (2): 177–191. doi:10.1080/10361140600672428. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 August 2011.
  18. Nathan P. McClusky (2008). A Policy of Honesty: Election Manifesto Pledge Fulfilment in New Zealand 1972–2005 (PDF) (Ph.D. thesis). University of Canterbury.
  19. "Timeline". Labour History Project. Archived from the original on 2 June 2010. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  20. Stephen McTaggart (December 2005). "Monitoring the Impact of Social Policy, 1980–2001: Report on Significant Policy Events" (PDF). Occasional Paper Series, Resource Report 1. Social Policy Evaluation and Research Committee (SPEAR). Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  21. Cullen, Michael (2000). "Budget Speech and Fiscal Strategy Report 2000" (PDF). The New Zealand Treasury.
  22. Jane Silloway Smith (1 August 2010). "Looking Back to Look Forward: How welfare in New Zealand has evolved". Maxim Institute. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  23. ""Interest-free" student loans for borrowers living in New Zealand". IRD. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  24. "The Kyoto Protocol". New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 16 July 2007. Archived from the original on 12 February 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
  25. "Singapore signs Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand". History SG. 13 November 2000.
  26. Chapman, Paul. "New Zealand scraps air force warplanes". The Telegraph. 9 May 2001.
  27. Brooker, Jarrod (27 May 2006). "NZ forces on way to East Timor". New Zealand Herald.
  28. Young, Audrey. "Joint task force in Tonga this afternoon". New Zealand Herald. 18 November 2006.
  29. "NZ refused to send troops to Iraq for war 'it didn't believe in'". TVNZ. 7 July 2016.
  30. Alvey, James (2000). "The 1999 Election in New Zealand". Review - Institute of Public Affairs 52. no. 1: 17–18.
  31. "Helen Clark | NZHistory, New Zealand history online". Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  32. Geddis, Andrew (2004). "The General Election in New Zealand, July 2002". Electoral Studies. 23 (1): 149–55. doi:10.1016/s0261-3794(03)00036-2.
  33. "Our Elections Through History". New Zealand Parliament. 20 July 2017. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  34. Vowles, Jack (2005). Gallagher, Michael; Mitchell, Paul (eds.). The Politics of Electoral Systems. New York, United States: Oxford University Press. p. 303.
  35. Geddis, Andrew (2006). "The General Election in New Zealand, September 2005". Electoral Studies. 25 (4): 809–14. doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2005.12.005.
  36. "Research papers". Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  37. "Government and Greens sign formal co-operation agreement". New Zealand Government. 26 August 2002. Retrieved 9 July 2016.

Further reading

  • Boston, Jonathan. Left Turn: The New Zealand general election of 1999 (Victoria U.P, 2000)
  • Boston, Jonathan; et al. (2004). New Zealand Votes: The 2002 General Election. Victoria University Press.
  • Levine, Stephen and Nigel S. Roberts, eds. The Baubles of Office: The New Zealand General Election of 2005 (Victoria U.P, 2007)
  • Levine, Stephen and Nigel S. Roberts, eds. Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008 (Victoria U.P, 2010)
  • Welch, Denis. Helen Clark: A Political Life (2009) 240pp
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