Dame Jennifer Mary Shipley DNZM (née Robson; born 4 February 1952) is a former New Zealand politician who served as the 36th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1997 to 1999. She was the first woman to hold the position, and is the only woman to have led the National Party.
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 prime minister. 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 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.
Born in Gore, New Zealand, Shipley was one of four sisters. 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. She assisted in a number of educational and child-care organisations, such as the Plunket Society.
Member of Parliament
|New Zealand Parliament|
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. She represented this electorate until her retirement from politics in 2002, though it was renamed Rakaia in 1990.
Shipley rose quickly in the National caucus. While still in her second 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 became Minister of Social Welfare, and also served as Minister for Women's Affairs (1990–1996).
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. When National gained re-election in 1996, Shipley left the Women's Affairs portfolio and took on several others, including responsibility for state-owned enterprises and transport.
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 coalition partner 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, seeing that he no longer had the support of his party, 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.
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.
Peters immediately withdrew support for Shipley's government. However, several New Zealand First MPs wanted to continue the coalition, and led by NZF deputy leader Tau Henare they tried to oust Peters as leader. When they failed, they left their party, either becoming independents or trying to form their own parties. Shipley gained sufficient support from these MPs to keep National in power. On the same day Shipley unexpectedly backed Cultural Affairs Minister Marie Hasler's call for a change in the New Zealand flag.
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, 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." 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.
She was the first Prime Minister to attend the gay and lesbian Hero Parade, 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. 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 with the mission of mobilising the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.
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. It was the first (and to date, only) New Zealand election in which the leaders of both major parties were women. Shipley led the National Party until October 2001, when Bill English took over as Leader of the Opposition, and she retired from Parliament in 2002.
Jenny Shipley suffered a heart attack in 2000.
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. As of 2012, she was on the board of the China Construction Bank. 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. MPCL and Mainzeal Group Limited are part of the Richina group, controlled and majority owned by Yan Ci Lang (also known as Richard Yan). 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.
Shipley accepted a damehood on 14 August 2009. This came after the Fifth National Government reinstated knighthoods. Also in 2009, Shipley appeared on an episode of the television reality/travel show Intrepid Journeys, where she visited Namibia. She later started a charity to help a school she came across on that trip called the Namibian Educational Trust. 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".