Jenny Shipley, politician


Jenny Shipley gained the most powerful role in Government as Prime Minister of New Zealand, just over a century after Jane Watson was struggling to care for her family.

“Equality and development will not be achieved however, if peace is not understood from women's point of view.”


Jenny Shipley. Image supplied by author

Jenny Robson was born in 1952, grew up in rural Canterbury, and attended Marlborough Girls' College and the Christchurch College of Education. She befriended MP Ruth Richardson, whose politics she shared.

She was elected to parliament in 1987. Between 1990 and 1997 she held several portfolios, including Women’s Affairs, but was best-known for social welfare and health, where she oversaw radical and sometimes controversial reforms that were driven by Richardson’s policies, dubbed ‘Ruthanasia’. She mastered detail quickly and worked hard.

National’s ratings slumped as voters asked what had become of ‘the decent society’ Bolger promised in 1990. He demoted Richardson in 1993 and in 1996 formed the first MMP-era coalition with the centrist New Zealand First, led by Winston Peters.

Shipley shared caucus resentment of Winston Peters and of policy direction. After she seized the tiller from the ‘Great Helmsman’, National enjoyed a brief honeymoon, but she could not woo an electorate gun-shy of radical reforms. In late 1998 the coalition col-lapsed, leaving National propped up by an assortment of independents and minor parties.

After leaving Parliament, Shipley and husband Burton moved to Auckland, where she became a company director. She became Dame Jenny Shipley in 2009. Among other roles, she has had key roles with Global Women NZ, Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre, and  the national coordinating committee planning the Tuia: First Encounters 250 commemorations in 2019.

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