Jenny Shipley

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Dame Jenny Shipley

Jenny Shipley 2013 (crop).jpg
Shipley in 2013
36th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
8 December 1997 – 5 December 1999
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor-General Michael Hardie Boys
Deputy Winston Peters
Wyatt Creech
Preceded by Jim Bolger
Succeeded by Helen Clark
28th Leader of the Opposition
In office
10 December 1999 – 8 October 2001
Prime Minister Helen Clark
Preceded by Helen Clark
Succeeded by Bill English
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Rakaia
In office
27 October 1990 – 27 July 2002
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Brian Connell
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Ashburton
In office
15 August 1987 – 27 October 1990
Preceded by Rob Talbot
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Jennifer Mary Robson

(1952-02-04) 4 February 1952 (age 66)
Gore, New Zealand
Political party National Party
Burton Shipley (m. 1972)
Children 2

Dame Jennifer Mary Shipley DNZM PC (née Robson; born 4 February 1952[1]) is a former New Zealand politician who served as the 36th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1997 to 1999. She was the first female Prime Minister of New Zealand, and is the only woman to have led the National Party.[2]

Shipley was born in Gore, Southland. She grew up in rural Canterbury, and attended Marlborough Girls' College and the Christchurch College of Education. Before entering politics, she worked as a schoolteacher and was involved with various community organisations. Shipley was elected to Parliament at the 1987 election, winning the Ashburton electorate (later renamed Rakaia). When the National Party returned to power in 1990, she was appointed to Cabinet under Jim Bolger. Shipley subsequently served as Minister of Social Welfare (1990–1996), Minister for Women's Affairs (1990–1996), Minister of Health (1993–1996), and Minister of Transport (1996–1997).

In December 1997, Bolger resigned as Prime Minister after losing the confidence of his party. Shipley was elected as his replacement unopposed, becoming New Zealand's first female head of government. She inherited an uneasy coalition with New Zealand First, led by Winston Peters. The coalition was dissolved in August 1998, but Shipley was able to remain in power with the aid of Mauri Pacific, an NZ First splinter group. At the 1999 election, Shipley's government was defeated by Helen Clark's Labour Party. She continued on as Leader of the Opposition until October 2001. Shipley has involved herself with business and charitable interests since leaving politics, and is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders.

Early life

Born in Gore, New Zealand, Shipley was one of four sisters.[3] After attending Marlborough Girls' College, she qualified in 1971 as a teacher through the Christchurch College of Education and taught in New Zealand primary schools until 1976. In 1973 she married Burton Shipley and settled in Ashburton.[3]

Member of Parliament

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate List Party
1987–1990 42nd Ashburton National
1990–1993 43rd Ashburton National
1993–1996 44th Rakaia National
1996–1999 45th Rakaia 4 National
1999–2002 46th Rakaia 1 National

Having joined the National Party in 1975, Shipley successfully stood in Ashburton, a safe National seat in the country areas surrounding Christchurch, in the 1987 election. Entering parliament at age 35, she was one of parliament's youngest members.[3]

Cabinet Minister

Shipley rose quickly in the National caucus. While still in her first term, party leader Jim Bolger named her the party's spokeswoman on social welfare. When Bolger led the National Party to victory in the general election of 1990, Shipley was reelected in Rakaia, essentially a reconfigured Ashburton. She became Minister of Social Welfare, and also served as Minister for Women's Affairs (1990–1996).[4]

In her role as Minister of Social Welfare, Shipley presided over sharp cutbacks to state benefits. Later, when she became Minister of Health in 1993, she caused further controversy by attempting to reform the public health service, introducing an internal market. National won another term in 1996, but was forced into a coalition with New Zealand First. Shipley left the Women's Affairs portfolio and took on several others, including responsibility for state-owned enterprises and transport.[citation needed]

In 1993, Shipley was awarded the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal.[5]

Prime Minister

Shipley and US President Bill Clinton join in a toast during a gala at the Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum in Christchurch, 15 September 1999

Shipley grew increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with the cautious pace of National's leader, Jim Bolger, and with what she saw as the disproportionate influence of New Zealand First. She began gathering support to replace Bolger in mid-1997. Later that year, while Bolger attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Shipley convinced a majority of her National Party colleagues to back her bid for the leadership. Bolger returned to New Zealand and discovered that he no longer had the support of his party. Rather than face being voted out, he resigned, and Shipley replaced him. As leader of the governing party, she became Prime Minister on 8 December 1997. On 21 May 1998 Shipley was appointed to the Privy Council and became The Right Honourable Jenny Shipley.[6]

Despite continued economic growth, the Shipley government became increasingly politically unstable. In particular, the relationship between National and New Zealand First deteriorated. While Bolger had been able to maintain good relations with New Zealand First and with its leader, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, the alliance became strained after Shipley rose to power. Finally, on 14 August 1998, Shipley sacked Peters from Cabinet.[7][8]

Shipley, along with the New Zealand Tourism Board, backed the quasi-national emblem of the silver fern on a black background as a possible alternative flag,[9][10] along the lines of the Canadian flag, but she took pains to publicly disassociate herself from Bolger's support for republicanism. As the debate continued in 1999, the Princess Royal visited New Zealand, and Shipley stated, "I am an unashamed royal supporter, along with many New Zealanders".[11] However, the debate was muted by the controversy surrounding Tourism Board contracts going to the public-relations firm Saatchi & Saatchi, whose World CEO Kevin Roberts, also an advocate of the silver fern flag, was a good friend of Shipley.[12]

The APEC Summit was hosted in Auckland in September 1999. Shipley met with the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, in one of only two state visits to New Zealand by a US President.[13]

Shipley was the first Prime Minister to attend the gay and lesbian Hero Parade,[14] being the first National Party leader to seek to make electoral overtures to the gay and lesbian voting public. She advocated lowering the alcohol purchase age from 20 to 18 and achieved this in 1999.[8] This was part of her expressed desire to expand the traditional National Party voting base.

Shipley became a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers.[15]

Defeat and resignation

Shipley led the National Party into the 1999 election, hoping to become the first woman to be elected prime minister in her own right. However, she was defeated by the Labour Party, also led by a woman, Helen Clark. This election was a significant moment in history for New Zealand as it was the first (and to date, only) New Zealand election in which the leaders of both major parties were women.[16]

Shipley served as the Leader of the Opposition until October 2001, when Bill English took over as National Party leader.[17] She retired from Parliament in January 2002.[18]

Media commentary

Given Shipley was New Zealand's first female Prime Minister, it is perhaps surprising that there is relatively little commentary on Shipley during her time as Prime Minister. Shipley comments herself during her 9th floor interview with Guyson Espiner that women and men tend to be labelled differently in the media. She uses the example that men are called bold, whereas women are called vindictive. Although, she notes that this is an observation, not something that hurts her personally.[19] Shipley was nicknamed "the perfumed steamroller," when she first became Prime Minister[20] an indication of how people viewed her as strong and tough, but at the same time still a woman.


Shipley suffered a heart attack in 2000, leading to an emergency angioplasty procedure.[21] She made modifications to her lifestyle and lost weight, though she was diagnosed with diabetes in 2004. She underwent gastric bypass surgery in late 2007.[15]

Life after politics

Since leaving politics, Shipley has involved herself with various business and charitable interests. In 2007, she joined the financial services firm Source Sentinel, and in 2009, she was appointed chair of the Genesis Energy Limited board.[22] As of 2012, she was on the board of the China Construction Bank.[23] In December 2012, Shipley resigned from the board of directors of Mainzeal Property & Construction (MPCL), which went into receivership on 6 February 2013. At mid-day on 5 February 2013 she was one of four independent directors who resigned from the board of Mainzeal Group Ltd.[24] MPCL and Mainzeal Group Limited are part of the Richina group, controlled and majority owned by Yan Ci Lang (also known as Richard Yan).[25][26][27][28] In May 2015, the receiver of Mainzeal, BDO, filed a civil lawsuit against the former Mainzeal directors, including Shipley, for an alleged breach of directors' duties.[29]

Shipley accepted a damehood on 14 August 2009. This came after the Fifth National Government reinstated knighthoods.[30] Also in 2009, Shipley appeared on an episode of the television reality/travel show Intrepid Journeys, where she visited Namibia.[31] She later started a charity to help a school she came across on that trip called the Namibian Educational Trust.[32] Shipley chairs Global Women NZ, and is Patron of the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre and the New Zealand National Heart Foundation's campaign "Go Red for Women".[15]


  1. ^ "Jenny Shipley". New Zealand history online. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 27 October 2017. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  2. ^ Skard, Torild (2014) "Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark" in Women of Power – Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide. Bristol: Policy Press, ISBN 978-1-44731-578-0
  3. ^ a b c Wolfe, Richard. Battlers Bluffers & Bully Boys. Random House New Zealand. ISBN 1-86941-715-1.
  4. ^ "Minister of Women's Affairs". Ministry of Women's Affairs. Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 27 January 2011.
  5. ^ "The New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal 1993 – register of recipients". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 26 July 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  6. ^ Appointments to the Privy Council (28 May 1998) 74 New Zealand 1613 at 1644.
  7. ^ Barber, David (15 August 1998). "Shipley sacks rebel minister". The Independent. Wellington. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  8. ^ a b Thompson, Alasdair (2013). Life Changing: Learning from the past; fixing the future. Xlibris Corporation. p. 333. ISBN 9781483668437. [self-published source]
  9. ^ "Calls for a new flag". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  10. ^ Blundell, Sally (12 March 2014). "A symbol solution". Noted. The Listener. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  11. ^ "Princess Royal's Unfailing Efforts Praised By Pm" (Press release). Government of New Zealand. 17 March 1999. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  12. ^ "Standfornz – when social media goes bad « The Standard". Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  13. ^ "State visit of the United States President" (Press release). Government of New Zealand. 27 August 1999. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  14. ^ "Pride and Progress: The Past and the Future of Auckland's Pride Parade – Tearaway". Tearaway. 24 February 2017. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  15. ^ a b c McLeod, Rosemary (22 October 2011). "Jenny Shipley: 'Leadership is a life sentence'". The Dominion Post. Stuff. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  16. ^ Vowles, Jack (2013). "Gender and Leadership". Proportional Representation on Trial: The 1999 New Zealand General Election and the Fate of MMP?. Auckland: Auckland University Press. ISBN 9781869407155.
  17. ^ Small, Vernon; Armstrong, John; Mold, Fran (9 October 2001). "Shipley out, English next in line". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  18. ^ "Jenny Shipley Announces Retirement". Scoop News. 31 January 2002. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Denny, Charlotte. "Prepare to meet the perfumed steamroller." Guardian, 24 Nov. 1997, p. T4+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 15 May 2018.
  21. ^ Fraser, Fiona (8 September 2009). "Jenny's change of heart". New Zealand Woman's Weekly. Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. Retrieved 5 January 2010.
  22. ^ "Shipley, Withers take senior SOE roles". New Zealand Herald. 20 October 2009.
  23. ^ "Board of Directors – China Construction Bank". Retrieved 19 June 2012.
  24. ^ "Mainzeal in receivership; Jenny Shipley and Paul Collins resign from the board". Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  25. ^ "Failed Mainzeal faces $93.5m in claims". 16 March 2013.
  26. ^ "Mainzeal collapse hits subcontractors". Dominion Post. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  27. ^ "Richina accused of polluting Shanghai". Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  28. ^ "Meet Mainzeal's man at the top, the enigmatic migrant made good – until now". New Zealand Herald. 9 February 2013.
  29. ^ Harris, Catherine (30 May 2015). "Jenny Shipley among Mainzeal directors facing legal action". p. C24. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  30. ^ "Prime Minister congratulates knights and dames". Television New Zealand. 1 August 2009. Archived from the original on 4 August 2009.
  31. ^ "Jenny Shipley: Namibia". Intrepid Journeys. Television New Zealand. Retrieved 26 June 2009.
  32. ^ "The lights are on at Ehomba School in Africa!". Namibian Educational Trust. Retrieved 26 June 2009.

External links

  • Prime Minister's Office biography,; accessed 18 June 2015.
  • Profile,; accessed 18 June 2015.
  • Scherer, Karyn (4 February 2008). "The prime of Mrs Jenny Shipley". The New Zealand Herald.
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Rob Talbot
Member of Parliament
for Ashburton

Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament
for Rakaia

Succeeded by
Brian Connell
Political offices
Preceded by
Margaret Shields
Minister of Women's Affairs
Succeeded by
Christine Fletcher
Preceded by
Bill Birch
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Bill English
Preceded by
Jim Bolger
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Helen Clark
Preceded by
Helen Clark
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Bill English
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jim Bolger
Leader of the National Party
Succeeded by
Bill English
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Mahathir Mohamad
Chair of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
Succeeded by
Hassanal Bolkiah
Retrieved from ""
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