Geoffrey Palmer (politician)

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Sir Geoffrey Palmer

Geoffrey Palmer.jpg
Palmer in 1986
33rd Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
8 August 1989 4 September 1990
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor-General Paul Reeves
Deputy Helen Clark
Preceded by David Lange
Succeeded by Mike Moore
10th Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
26 July 1984 8 August 1989
Prime MinisterDavid Lange
Preceded by Jim McLay
Succeeded by Helen Clark
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Christchurch Central
In office
18 August 1979 27 October 1990
Preceded by Bruce Barclay
Succeeded by Lianne Dalziel
Personal details
Born (1942-04-21) 21 April 1942 (age 77)
Nelson, New Zealand
Political party Labour
Margaret Hinchcliff(m. 1963)
Children2, including Matthew Palmer
Education Victoria University of Wellington
University of Chicago
OccupationLaw professor
Signature Geoffrey Palmer signature.jpg

Sir Geoffrey Winston Russell Palmer KCMG AC QC PC (born 21 April 1942) is a New Zealand lawyer, legal academic, and past politician, who was a member of Parliament from 1979 to 1990. He served as the 33rd Prime Minister of New Zealand for a little over a year, from August 1989 until September 1990, leading the Fourth Labour Government. As Minister of Justice from 1984 to 1989, Palmer was responsible for considerable reforms of the country's legal and constitutional framework, such as the creation of the Constitution Act 1986, New Zealand Bill of Rights, Imperial Laws Application Act, and the State Sector Act. He served as president of the New Zealand Law Commission, from 2005 to 2010.

The Fourth Labour Government of New Zealand governed New Zealand from 26 July 1984 to 2 November 1990. It was the first Labour government to win a second consecutive term since the First Labour Government of 1935 to 1949. The policy agenda of the Fourth Labour Government differed significantly from that of previous Labour governments: it enacted major social reforms and economic reforms.

Minister of Justice (New Zealand) Minister of Justice in New Zealand

The Minister of Justice is a minister in the government of New Zealand. The minister has responsibility for the formulation of justice policy and for the administration of law courts.

Constitution Act 1986 Act of Parliament in New Zealand

The Constitution Act 1986 is an Act of the New Zealand Parliament that forms a major part of the Constitution of New Zealand. It lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles of governance and establishes the powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state. It outlines the roles and duties of the Monarch, Governor-General, ministers and judges. The Act also repealed and replaced the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 and the Statute of Westminster, and removed the ability of the British Parliament to pass laws for New Zealand with the consent of the New Zealand Parliament.


Early life and education

Palmer was born in Nelson and attended Nelson Central School, Nelson Intermediate School and Nelson College. At Victoria University of Wellington, he studied both political science and law. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1964 and a Bachelor of Laws in 1965. After working for a time in Wellington, he attended the University of Chicago's law school, gaining a Juris Doctor in 1967. He moved from New Zealand to Iowa in August 1969 to become a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law. [1] In his first year, he taught the newly adapted small-section courses of American Property law, Conflict Resolution, and International law. [1] He also developed the curriculum for a Torts course to be taught during the second year of law school. [1] This was the first course of its kind in the United States and he was granted tenure in his second year of teaching at the college. [1] In 1972, he left to be a visiting professor at the University of Virginia College of Law. [1] Eventually, in 1974, he was appointed to a professorship of law at Victoria University of Wellington, bringing him back to New Zealand. At the 1975 general election, Palmer took part in the "Citizens for Rowling" campaign.[ citation needed ]

Nelson, New Zealand City in Nelson City, New Zealand

Nelson is a city on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay. Nelson is the oldest city in the South Island and the second-oldest settled city in New Zealand – it was established in 1841 and was proclaimed a city by royal charter in 1858.

Nelson College is the oldest state secondary school in New Zealand. It is a boys-only school in the City of Nelson that teaches from years 9 to 13. In addition, it runs a private Preparatory School for year 7 and 8 boys. The school also has places for boarders, who live in three boarding houses adjacent to the main school buildings on the same campus. These boarding houses are called Rutherford, Barnicoat and Fell. In 2017 and 2018 Rutherford received a complete interior overhaul and reopened in late 2018. Fell house will be receiving the same treatment during 2019 and 2020 and is currently closed to boarders.

Victoria University of Wellington public university in New Zealand

Victoria University of Wellington is a university in Wellington, New Zealand. It was established in 1897 by Act of Parliament, and was a constituent college of the University of New Zealand.

Political career

Member of Parliament

New Zealand Parliament
1979 1981 39th Christchurch Central Labour
1981 1984 40th Christchurch Central Labour
1984 1987 41st Christchurch Central Labour
1987 1990 42nd Christchurch Central Labour

In a 1979 by-election, Palmer was elected to Parliament as the member for Christchurch Central, having stood as the Labour Party candidate. He eventually became deputy Leader of the Opposition in 1983. When, in 1984, the Labour Party won the general elections, Palmer became Deputy Prime Minister of the Fourth Labour Government. He also became Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. The new justice minister, who had promoted proportional representation as a law professor in his book Unbridled Power?, also published in 1984, set up a Royal Commission to investigate the electoral system and propose modifications or alternatives. His Royal Commission reported in December 1986, recommending the Mixed Member Proportional system. After the 1987 elections, when Labour was re-elected, he also became Minister of the Environment, an area in which he took personal interest.[ citation needed ]

The Christchurch Central by-election of 1979 was a by-election during the 39th New Zealand Parliament. It was prompted by the death of Bruce Barclay, a Labour Party MP, and resulted in Geoffrey Palmer, also of the Labour Party, being elected to replace him for the seat of Christchurch Central. Palmer would eventually go on to become Prime Minister. The by-election was somewhat embarrassing for the National Party, whose candidate was pushed into third place by Social Credit's Terry Heffernan.

Christchurch Central Current New Zealand electorate

Christchurch Central is a New Zealand parliamentary electorate in the South Island city of Christchurch. The electorate was established for the 1946 election and, until 2011 had always been won by the Labour Party. Since 2008, the incumbent was Brendon Burns but the election night results for the 2011 election resulted in a tie; the special vote results combined with a judicial recount revealed a 47-vote majority for Nicky Wagner, the National list MP based in the electorate. Wagner significantly increased her winning margin in the 2014 election after having declared the electorate "unwinnable" for National earlier in the year following a boundary review.

Leader of the Opposition (New Zealand) parliamentary position of the Parliament of New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Leader of the Opposition is the politician who commands the support of the Official Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition by convention leads the largest party not supporting the government: this is usually the parliamentary leader of the second largest caucus in the House of Representatives. In the debating chamber the Leader of the Opposition sits directly opposite the Prime Minister.


The most notable feature of New Zealand politics at the time was the economic change promoted by the Finance Minister, Roger Douglas. Douglas was advancing monetarist policies involving extensive privatisation of state assets and the removal of tariffs and subsidies—these reforms were named "Rogernomics". [2] These policies, which contravened Labour's basic policy platform and campaign promises, were deeply unpopular with Labour's traditional support base, and resulted in a confrontation between Prime Minister David Lange and Roger Douglas. Lange also reneged from his promise to hold a binding referendum on the MMP system. Palmer conceded defeat on MMP at an April 1989 Labour regional conference, saying that the issue was "effectively dead for the immediate future." Eventually, Douglas was removed from Cabinet, but the dispute had weakened Lange enough that he resigned a month later. Palmer, being deputy leader, took over as Prime Minister. Electoral reformers in the Labour Party kept up the pressure, and in September 1989, after Palmer had become prime minister, the full annual conference of the Labour Party passed a remit endorsing a referendum on the principle of proportional representation.

Minister of Finance (New Zealand) in New Zealand

The Minister of Finance, originally known as Colonial Treasurer, is a senior figure within the Government of New Zealand and head of the New Zealand Treasury. The position is often considered to be the most important cabinet post after that of the Prime Minister. The Minister of Finance is responsible for producing an annual New Zealand budget outlining the government's proposed expenditure.

Roger Douglas New Zealand politician

Sir Roger Owen Douglas is a retired New Zealand politician who served as a minister in two Labour governments. He is best known for his prominent role in the radical economic restructuring of the 1980s, when the Fourth Labour Government's economic policy became known as "Rogernomics".

Monetarism is a school of thought in monetary economics that emphasizes the role of governments in controlling the amount of money in circulation. Monetarist theory asserts that variations in the money supply have major influences on national output in the short run and on price levels over longer periods. Monetarists assert that the objectives of monetary policy are best met by targeting the growth rate of the money supply rather than by engaging in discretionary monetary policy.

Palmer, however, was perceived by the public as being too closely involved with Douglas's reforms and academically remote. Of particular concern to many people was his work on the legal aspects of state sector rearrangement, such as his preparation of the State Owned Enterprises Act. The presence of David Caygill (a Douglas ally) as Minister of Finance further compounded perception that Palmer was doing nothing to address public concerns. The only area in which Palmer won praise from traditional left-wing supporters was in his handling of the Environment portfolio, which he kept when he became Prime Minister – it was his work here in initiating the resource management law reform process that eventually led to the creation of the Resource Management Act 1991. [3]

David Caygill New Zealand politician

David Francis Caygill is a former New Zealand politician. Caygill was born and raised in Christchurch. He entered politics in 1971 as Christchurch's youngest city councillor at the age of 22. He served as a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1978 to 1996, representing the Labour Party. A support of Rogernomics, he served as Minister of Finance between 1988 and 1990.

Resource Management Act 1991 New Zealand law promoting sustainable management of natural and physical resources

The Resource Management Act (RMA) passed in 1991 in New Zealand is a significant, and at times, controversial Act of Parliament. The RMA promotes the sustainable management of natural and physical resources such as land, air and water. New Zealand's Ministry for the Environment describes the RMA as New Zealand's principal legislation for environmental management.

Two months before the 1990 elections, it was clear that Labour would not win. The perceived damage done by Roger Douglas's reforms, as well as Palmer's lack of general charisma, caused too many Labour supporters to abandon the party. In addition, Palmer was perceived as being too academic and aloof, reminding people of the paternalistic attitude that Douglas was accused of. Palmer was replaced by Mike Moore, who Labour believed would give it a better chance of winning. Palmer chose to resign from parliament, and was replaced in his seat by Lianne Dalziel. The attempt failed, however, and the opposition National Party under Jim Bolger won a landslide victory.

Paternalism action limiting a person’s or group’s liberty or autonomy intended to promote their own good

Paternalism is action that limits a person's or group's liberty or autonomy and is intended to promote their own good. Paternalism can also imply that the behavior is against or regardless of the will of a person, or also that the behavior expresses an attitude of superiority. Paternalism, paternalistic and paternalist have all been used as a pejorative.

Mike Moore (New Zealand politician) politician from New Zealand who has served both as Prime Minister of New Zealand and Director-General of the World Trade Organization

Michael Kenneth Moore, commonly known as Mike Moore, is a former New Zealand politician and union organiser. In the Fourth Labour Government of New Zealand he served in several portfolios including Minister of Foreign Affairs, and became the Prime Minister for 59 days before the October 1990 general election. Following Labour's defeat in that election, Moore served as Leader of the Opposition until the 1993 election, after which Helen Clark successfully challenged him for the Labour Party leadership.

Lianne Dalziel New Zealand politician

Lianne Audrey Dalziel is the Mayor of Christchurch. Prior to this position, she was a member of the New Zealand Parliament for 23 years, serving as Minister of Immigration, Commerce, Minister of Food Safety and Associate Minister of Justice in the Fifth Labour Government. She resigned from Cabinet on 20 February 2004 after apparently lying about a leak of documents to the media, but was reinstated as a Minister following Labour's return to office after the 2005 election. She resigned from Parliament effective 11 October 2013 to contest the Christchurch mayoral election. The incumbent, Bob Parker, decided not to stand again, and she was widely regarded as the top favourite and won with a wide margin to become the 46th Mayor of Christchurch.

Geoffrey Palmer became the second Labour leader to leave the party leadership without ever leading the party into an election after Alfred Hindmarsh.

After Parliament

Palmer later went on to serve as Professor of Law at Victoria University again. He also held a position as Professor of Law at the University of Iowa, and worked for a time as a law consultant. While at the University of Iowa he taught courses on International law and global environment issues as well as a two-week mini course about the International Court of Justice. The MMP system which he had helped promote was adopted in a 1993 referendum. In 1994, he established Chen Palmer & Partners, a specialist public law firm he began with Wellington lawyer Mai Chen. In September 2001 Palmer became a founding trustee of Motu Economic and Public Policy Research and in December 2002 was appointed to be New Zealand's representative to the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Palmer continued his involvement with, and teaching at Victoria University of Wellington and was regularly engaged as an expert consultant on public and constitutional law issues. His son Matthew Palmer was also a prominent legal academic and public servant, and has recently been appointed a High Court Judge.[ citation needed ]

Law Commissioner

Palmer in 2007 SirGeoffreyPalmer.jpg
Palmer in 2007

On 1 December 2005 Palmer was appointed to the presidency of the New Zealand Law Commission (the government agency that reviews, reforms and seeks to improve the country's laws) by the Governor-General for a term of five years. During his tenure, he persuaded the Government to engage in a programme of reviewing the old Law Commission reports with a view to actioning them. This resulted in a number of existing reports being actioned. [4] Palmer stepped down from the Law Commission at the end of his tenure on 1 December 2010.

UN Inquiry

In August 2010 Palmer was chosen to chair a UN Inquiry panel [5] into the fatal Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship participating in a Gaza-bound protest flotilla in May of that year. [6] [7] The panel included the outgoing Colombian President Álvaro Uribe as the Vice-chair, and representatives from Turkey and Israel. The report, released on 2 September 2011, found that Israel's "naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law," and that Israeli soldiers enforcing the blockade faced "organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers" when they boarded the ship. However, the report also found that the Israeli soldiers responded with "excessive and unreasonable" force and recommended that Israel make "an appropriate statement of regret" and pay compensation. [8]

Constitutional reform campaign

In September 2016, Palmer and legal academic Andrew Butler published "A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand." [9] In this book the pair outlined their arguments for New Zealand to adopt a written Constitution, and also drafted out what this would look like. They then invited public submissions on the subject online and spent a year promoting the book and their campaign. [10] The pair released a second book in 2018, "Towards Democratic Renewal" that amends some of their proposal in the previous text and further argues their cause for a written Constitution, [11] taking on board the response of the public. This campaign is ongoing.

Honours and awards

Palmer is a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council. He was created a Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George in 1991 and made an Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia in the same year. In 1991 he was listed on the United Nations Global 500 Roll of Honour for his work on environmental issues. These included reforming resource management law. Geoffrey Palmer has also sat as a Judge ad hoc on the International Court of Justice in 1995. He holds honorary doctorates from three universities. In 2008 Palmer was one of the first people appointed as Senior Counsel during the temporary change from Queen's Counsel in the Helen Clark Government. [12]


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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Palmer, G. W. R. (Geoffrey W. R.),. Reform : a memoir. Wellington. ISBN   9780864739056. OCLC   862731950.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. Easton, Brian (1997). In Stormy Seas: The Post War New Zealand Economy (1st ed.). Dunedin: University of Otago Press. pp. 211–231. ISBN   9781877133084.
  3. Palmer, G., (1991). "Sustainability – New Zealand's resource management legislation." Resources: the Newsletter of the Canadian Institute of Resources Law No 34: 6 pp 3–10.
  4. "Sir Geoffrey Palmer Interview". Lawyer Profiles. The New Zealand Law Society. 15 November 2010. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  5. "UN panel on CNN". 2 August 2010.
  6. "Former NZ PM to lead Gaza flotilla attack probe".
  7. "Palmer to head UN flotilla inquiry". The New Zealand Herald. 3 August 2010.
  8. MacFarquhar, Neil; Bronner, Ethan (1 September 2011). "Report Finds Naval Blockade by Israel Legal but Faults Raid". The New York Times.
  9. Palmer, Geoffrey; Butler, Andrew (2016). A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand. Victoria University Press.
  10. "A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand".
  11. Hogan, Finn (5 April 2018). "New Zealand's 'inevitable' republic: Part two". Newshub. Newshub. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  12. "First Senior Counsel appointed – Sir Geoffrey is one".
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Bruce Barclay
Member of Parliament
for Christchurch Central

Succeeded by
Lianne Dalziel
Political offices
Preceded by
Jim McLay
Succeeded by
David Lange
Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Bill Jeffries
Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Helen Clark
Preceded by
David Lange
Minister of Education
Succeeded by
Phil Goff
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Mike Moore
Party political offices
Preceded by
David Lange
Deputy-Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Helen Clark
Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Mike Moore