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Past politicians

Last Updated: 14 March 2019

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Parliament hasn’t always included the range of members it includes today. Find out how the face of politics has changed over the years.

First politicians

All 51 members from the two Houses of New Zealand’s first Parliament were Pākehā (European) men. The year was 1854. In these colonial days, most members were British-born and were large land owners, or independently wealthy. Property ownership was a requirement for both voting and entering Parliament.

Politics was a poorly paid, part-time pursuit. Even getting to Parliament (often by sea) was hard work. Because of these conditions, turnover in membership was high.

Members gathered around the fireplace, Lobby, circa 1900. Enlarge image

Members of Parliament in the lobby of the House of Representatives, Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-C-005701-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22330651

Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, 89363.

Māori politicians

During the 1850s and 1860s, Māori campaigned for political representation. Parliament agreed that some representation was needed but feared that Māori votes might outnumber Pākehā votes in some areas. It therefore ‘reserved’ four separate Māori seats for which only Māori could stand as candidates.

The first four Māori entered Parliament in 1868. For decades, their voice was a lonely one in a Pākehā-dominated House. Only during the twentieth century did the Māori voice begin to make an impact. 

In 1967, the ‘reserved’ status of the four Māori seats was removed, allowing non-Māori to stand as candidates in the Māori seats. For the first time, Māori were also allowed to contest general, or European, seats.

Professional politicians

From the 1870s, members of Parliament were increasingly New Zealand-born and generally less educated than before. But they were now able to make a career out of politics. From the 1890s, members were organised into political parties.

Women politicians

Women got the vote in 1893 — but couldn’t stand for Parliament until 1919. In 1933, the first woman entered Parliament, and in 1947 the first woman cabinet minister was appointed. However, the impact of women members wasn’t really felt until the 1980s, when the Ministry of Women's Affairs was created. New Zealand got its first female Prime Minister in 1997 and its first female Speaker in 2005.

Politicians today

Today’s members of Parliament work long hours, and are well educated and well resourced. Since the introduction of mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) in 1996, they have come from more diverse backgrounds than before.

At the 2017 election women made up over a third (38%) of members. Māori made up about one fifth (22.5%), holding not only Māori seats (of which there are now seven) but also general and list seats. MPs with Pacific Island or Asian ethnicity are also represented, making up 6.7% and 5.8% of the parliament elected in 2017.