Leader of the Opposition (New Zealand)

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Leader of the Opposition of New Zealand
Coat of arms of New Zealand.svg
Christopher Luxon.jpg
Christopher Luxon

since 30 November 2021
Official Opposition of New Zealand
Reports to Parliament
Term length While leader of the largest political party in the House of Representatives that is not in government
Inaugural holder John Ballance [a]
Formation2 July 1889 [b]
Salary$288,900 (As at 2016) [1]
^ a. As the first parliamentary leader of an Opposition party.
^ b. The date Ballance was officially named Leader of the Opposition.
In parliament, the leader of the Opposition sits near the front to the left of the speaker's chair (annotated) NZ House of Representatives seating infographic.png
In parliament, the leader of the Opposition sits near the front to the left of the speaker's chair (annotated)

In New Zealand, the Leader of the Opposition (or Opposition leader) is a senior politician who leads the Official Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition is, by convention, the leader of the largest political party in the House of Representatives that is not in government (nor provides confidence and supply). This is usually the parliamentary leader of the second-largest caucus in the House of Representatives. [2]


When in the debating chamber the Opposition leader sits on the left-hand side of the centre table, in front of the Opposition and opposite the prime minister. [3]

The role of the leader of the Opposition dates to the late 19th century, with the first political parties, and the office was formally recognised by statute in 1933. Although currently mentioned in a number of statutes, the office is not established by any Act (nor is that of the prime minister); it is simply a product of the conventions of the Westminster-style parliamentary system. The leader of the Opposition is paid a special salary by virtue of the office.

Typically the leader is elected by his or her party according to its rules. A new leader may be elected when the incumbent dies, resigns, or is challenged for the leadership. On 30 November 2021 Christopher Luxon was voted Leader of the National Party and Leader of the Opposition [4]

Since 1936, the leader of the Opposition has invariably come from either the Labour or National parties.


The term "opposition" has a specific meaning in the parliamentary sense; it is an important component of the Westminster system, with the Official Opposition directing criticism at the Government. The leader of the Opposition chairs a Shadow Cabinet, which scrutinises the policies and actions of the Cabinet led by the prime minister, and promotes alternative policies. [5] [6] Directed by the leader, the Opposition may move no-confidence motions to test the Government's majority or the confidence of the House. [7] The leader of the Opposition may be asked by the governor-general form a new government if the incumbent government is unable to continue in office (e.g. upon a successful no-confidence motion). [8]

Apart from parliamentary duties, 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 of national security. [9]


The leader of the Opposition receives a higher salary than other members of the Opposition, being paid the same amount as a Cabinet minister. [10] As at 2016 the Leader of the Opposition's salary is NZ$288,900. [11] [1] In addition, like all other members of parliament, the leader of the Opposition receives annual allowances for travel and lodging.


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 identified as the leader of the Opposition. Prominent members were sometimes informally dubbed as "Leader of the Opposition" – often facetiously by rival politicians. [8] It was only when the Liberal Party was formed that any unified leadership appeared in Parliament, and the role of Opposition leader 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. [8]

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. Their opponents gradually coalesced around a leader, William Massey, who became Opposition leader in 1903, and in 1909 became the first parliamentary leader of the new Reform Party. [12] For the first time, an Opposition party came forward as an alternative government. [12] After this, the leader of the Opposition was typically the parliamentary leader of the largest party in the House of Representatives that had not undertaken to support the government of the day.[ citation needed ]

One 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 officially recognised 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. [13]

During the 1910s and 1920s, the role of Official 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 superseded the Liberals as the Official Opposition, and their leader Harry Holland became the leader of the Opposition. [14]

The 1928 general election put the United Party (a remnant of the Liberals) 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 Official 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.

Modern office

The office was first officially recognised by an Act of Parliament in 1933, when a special allowance was conferred on the holder. [8]

With the introduction of the mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting system, first used in the 1996 general election, the nature of parliamentary 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 election, 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 revival of the National Party in the 2005 general election, a more traditional relationship between Government and Opposition has been restored. According to Parliamentary Services, the leader of the Opposition formally represents and speaks for all parties that are outside Government. [15]

List of leaders of the Opposition

A table of leaders is below. Those who also served as prime minister, either before or after being leader of the Opposition, are indicated.


   Liberal    Conservative    Reform    Labour    United    National

PortraitTerm of officePartyPrime Minister
1 John Ballance
MP for Wanganui
John Ballance 1880.jpg 2 July 188923 January 1891 Liberal Atkinson
2 John Bryce
MP for Waikato
JohnBryce.jpg 23 January 189131 August 1891 Conservative Ballance
3 William Rolleston
MP for Halswell
William Rolleston (cropped).jpg 31 August 18918 November 1893 Conservative
4 William Russell
MP for Hawkes Bay
William Russell Russell.jpg 26 June 18943 July 1901 Conservative
5 William Massey
MP for Franklin
William Ferguson Massey 1919.jpg 11 September 1903February 1909 Conservative
February 190910 July 1912 Reform
6 Joseph Ward
MP for Awarua [lower-alpha 1]
Joseph Ward c. 1906.jpg 11 September 191327 November 1919 Liberal Massey
7 William MacDonald
MP for Bay of Plenty
William Donald Stuart Macdonald, circa 1910.jpg 21 January 192031 August 1920 Liberal
8 Thomas Wilford
MP for Hutt
Thomas Wilford, 1928.jpg 8 September 192013 August 1925 Liberal
9 George Forbes
MP for Hurunui
George William Forbes.jpg 13 August 19254 November 1925 Liberal
Position vacant
from 1925 general election until after 1926 Eden by-election
4 November 192516 June 1926
10 Harry Holland
MP for Buller
Harry Holland (1925).jpg 16 June 192618 October 1928 Labour
(6) Joseph Ward
MP for Invercargill
Joseph Ward c. 1906.jpg 4 December 192810 December 1928 United
11 Gordon Coates
MP for Kaipara
Joseph Gordon Coates, 1931.jpg 10 December 192822 September 1931 Reform Ward
(10) Harry Holland
MP for Buller
Harry Holland (1925).jpg 22 September 19318 October 1933 Labour
12 Michael Joseph Savage
MP for Auckland West
Michael Joseph Savage Portrait (cropped).jpg 12 October 19336 December 1935 Labour
(9) George Forbes
MP for Hurunui
George William Forbes.jpg 6 December 193514 May 1936 United Savage
14 May 19362 November 1936 National
13 Adam Hamilton
MP for Wallace
Adam Hamilton (1926).jpg 2 November 193626 November 1940 National
14 Sidney Holland
MP for Christchurch North until 1946
MP for Fendalton from 1946
Sidney George Holland (1953) 2.png 26 November 194013 December 1949 National
15 Peter Fraser
MP for Brooklyn
Peter Fraser.jpg 13 December 194912 December 1950 Labour Holland
16 Walter Nash
MP for Hutt
Walter Nash (ca 1940s).jpg 17 January 195112 December 1957 Labour
17 Keith Holyoake
MP for Pahiatua
Keith Holyoake (crop).jpg 12 December 195712 December 1960 National Nash
(16) Walter Nash
MP for Hutt
Walter Nash (ca 1940s).jpg 12 December 196031 March 1963 Labour Holyoake
18 Arnold Nordmeyer
MP for Island Bay
Arnold Nordmeyer (1950).jpg 1 April 196316 December 1965 Labour
19 Norman Kirk
MP for Lyttelton until 1969
MP for Sydenham from 1969
Norman Kirk, crop.jpg 16 December 19658 December 1972 Labour
20 Jack Marshall
MP for Karori
Jack Marshall, 1972.jpg 8 December 19729 July 1974 National Kirk
21 Robert Muldoon
MP for Tāmaki
Muldoon 1978.jpg 9 July 197412 December 1975 National
22 Bill Rowling
MP for Tasman
Bill Rowling, 1962.jpg 12 December 19753 February 1983 Labour Muldoon
23 David Lange
MP for Māngere
David Lange (cropped).jpg 3 February 198326 July 1984 Labour
(21) Robert Muldoon
MP for Tāmaki
Muldoon 1978.jpg 26 July 198429 November 1984 National Lange
24 Jim McLay
(born 1945)
MP for Birkenhead
Jim McLay (cropped).jpg 29 November 198426 March 1986 National
25 Jim Bolger
(born 1935)
MP for King Country
Bolger, 1992.jpg 26 March 19862 November 1990 National
26 Mike Moore
MP for Christchurch North
Mike Moore.jpg 2 November 19901 December 1993 Labour Bolger
27 Helen Clark
(born 1950)
MP for Mount Albert
Helen Clark UNDP 2010.jpg 1 December 199310 December 1999 Labour
28 Jenny Shipley
(born 1952)
MP for Rakaia
Jenny Shipley 2013 (crop).jpg 10 December 19998 October 2001 National Clark
29 Bill English
(born 1961)
MP for Clutha-Southland
Bill-English-Parliament-Profile.jpg 8 October 200128 October 2003 National
30 Don Brash
(born 1940)
List MP
Don.Brash.jpg 28 October 200327 November 2006 National
31 John Key
(born 1961)
MP for Helensville
John Key headshot.jpg 27 November 200619 November 2008 National
32 Phil Goff
(born 1953)
MP for Mount Roskill
Phil Goff.jpg 19 November 200813 December 2011 Labour Key
33 David Shearer
(born 1957)
MP for Mount Albert
David Shearer.jpg 13 December 201115 September 2013 Labour
34 David Cunliffe
(born 1963)
MP for New Lynn
David Cunliffe, 2008.jpg 15 September 201327 September 2014 Labour
35 Andrew Little
(born 1965)
List MP
Andrew Little, 2017.jpg 18 November 20141 August 2017 Labour
36 Jacinda Ardern
(born 1980)
MP for Mount Albert
Jacinda Ardern, 2018.jpg 1 August 201726 October 2017 Labour
(29) Bill English
(born 1961)
List MP
Bill English Official.jpg 26 October 201727 February 2018 National Ardern
37 Simon Bridges
(born 1976)
MP for Tauranga
Simon-Bridges-Free-Crop.jpg 27 February 201822 May 2020 National
38 Todd Muller
(born 1968)
MP for Bay of Plenty
Todd Muller.jpg 22 May 202014 July 2020 National
39 Judith Collins
(born 1959)
MP for Papakura
Judith Collins.png 14 July 202025 November 2021 National
Shane Reti [lower-alpha 2]
(born 1963)
List MP
Interim Leader of the National Party
Shane Reti lays wreath 2021 (cropped).jpg 25 November 202130 November 2021 National
40 Christopher Luxon
(born 1970)
MP for Botany
Christopher Luxon (crop).jpg 30 November 2021Incumbent National
  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.
  2. Shane Reti assumed the position of interim leader of the National Party due to the motion of no confidence against former leader Judith Collins.

See also

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