Overview

Helen Clark

(b. 1950)


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(b. 26 Feb. 1950).

Prime Minister of New Zealand, 1999– 

Early career

Born in Hamilton into a wealthy farming family, she studied political science and graduated from the University of Auckland with a Ph.D. In 1973 she became a lecturer at the University of Auckland, and in 1981 she became the first woman member of the Labour Party to be elected to parliament, as an MP for Mt Albert. She rose quickly within the parliamentary party, and became Minister for Conservation and Minister of Housing (1987–9). In 1989 she served briefly as deputy Prime Minister until Labour's defeat in the 1990 elections. She replaced Mike Moore as Labour leader from 1993, and from then on worked hard to overcome a dry, intellectual image. Clark presided over a disastrous election defeat in 1996, but the party recovered in the 1999 elections.

In office

In addition to being Prime Minister, she also held the portfolio for Arts, Culture, and Heritage. Her coalition government with the Alliance party was two seats short of a parliamentary majority, so that she was reliant on the support of the Green Party. She called early elections in 2002, but despite a strong showing by Labour she was unable to secure the absolute majority she had bargained for. She won the 2005 elections by a narrow majority, and became the first Labour Prime Minister since 1945 to hold three successive terms in office. Once again, she led a minority government, relying on shifting support from the Green Party, the Maori Party and the United Future party. In her period of office, Helen Clark tried to combine social policies (such as the introduction of the four-week statutory annual holiday) with a market-oriented approach. She promoted a reduction in New Zealand's emission of greenhouse gases to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, for instance by supporting biofuels. She also increased government spending on public transport by 750 per cent since taking office.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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