The Right Honourable Helen Elizabeth Clark (born February 26, 1950) has served as Prime Minister of New Zealand since December 1999. She is now into her third term as Prime Minister.
Helen Clark was the eldest of a four-girl farming family from the Waikato. Her mother worked as a primary-school teacher and her father, a farmer, supported the National Party at the time of the 1981 election. Clark received her education at Te Pahu Primary School, Epsom Girls' Grammar School in Auckland and the University of Auckland, where she studied political science and graduated with a MA(Hons). She studied abroad in 1976 on a University Grants Committee scholarship.
She became a lecturer in political science at the University of Auckland from 1973 until her election to Parliament in 1981. She married the sociologist Peter Davis, who had been her partner of five years at that time, shortly before the 1981 election. Dr Davis is currently a professor in medical sociology and is the Head of Sociology at the University of Auckland.
Labour Party involvement
Clark has worked actively in the New Zealand Labour Party for most of her life. She served as a member of the party's New Zealand executive from 1978 until September 1988 and again from April 1989. She has been the president of the Labour Youth Council, an executive member of the Party's Auckland Regional Council, secretary of the Labour Women's Council and a member of the Policy Council.
She represented the Labour Party at the congresses of the Socialist International and the Socialist International Women in 1976, 1978, 1983 and 1986, at an Asia-Pacific Socialist Organisation Conference held in Sydney in 1981 and at the Socialist International Party Leaders' Meeting in Sydney in 1991.
Member of Parliament
First elected to the New Zealand House of Representatives in 1981, representing the Mt Albert electorate in Auckland, she was one of four women who entered Parliament in that election. At the time she was only the second woman elected to an Auckland electorate and the seventeenth woman elected to the New Zealand Parliament. During her first term (1981 - 1984), she became a member of the Statutes Revision Committee. In her second term (1984 - 1987), she chaired the Select Committees on Foreign Affairs and Disarmament and Arms Control, both of which combined with Defence in 1985 to form a single committee.
Clark served in the Labour cabinets of David Lange, Geoffrey Palmer and Mike Moore, first as Minister of Housing and Conservation, then as Minister of Health and later as Deputy Prime Minister. She became Leader of the Opposition during the National Party administrations of Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley during the 1990s.
Clark served as Minister of Conservation from August 1987 until January 1989. She was Minister of Housing from August 1987 until August 1989. She became Minister of Health in January 1989 and Minister of Labour and Deputy Prime Minister in August 1989. She chaired the Cabinet Social Equity Committee and was a member of the Cabinet Policy Committee, Cabinet Committee on Chief Executives, Cabinet Economic Development and Employment Committee, Cabinet Expenditure Review Committee, Cabinet State Agencies Committee, Cabinet Honours Appointments and Travel Committee and Cabinet Domestic and External Security Committee.
From October 1990 until December 1993, Clark was Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Opposition spokesperson for Health and Labour and a member of the Social Services Select Committee and the Labour Select Committee. Clark became Leader of the Opposition on 1 December 1993.
When the New Zealand Labour Party became the government following the 1999 election, Clark became the second female Prime Minister of New Zealand and the first to have won office at an election. The previous Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley took office as the result of a mid-term party leadership challenge.
Prior to the 2005 General Election, Clark was Prime Minister, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and had responsibility for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and Ministerial Services. Her areas of interest include social policy and international affairs.
As Leader of the Labour Party, she formed successive minority coalition governments with the Alliance party (1999). The coalition with the Alliance Party collapsed in 2002 resulting in an early election and coalition with Jim Anderton's Progressive Party (2002, with parliamentary supply and confidence from United Future and 'good faith' with the Green Party). In 2005, the coalition with the Progressive Party was renewed, with supply and confidence from both New Zealand First and United Future in exchange for giving the leaders of those parties ministerial positions outside Cabinet.
Helen Clark's Achievements
Helen Clark's term as Prime Minister has seen New Zealand enjoy economic growth at levels unseen for many years. At the time of the 2005 election, New Zealand had the lowest unemployment of all industrial nations. Clark is also widely credited with creating stable government from New Zealand's hitherto unwieldy new Mixed Member Proportional representation electoral system.
New Zealand has, under her leadership, pursued a determinedly independent foreign policy, evidenced by the retention of nuclear-free status (possibly at the cost of a free trade agreement with the USA) and a refusal to participate in the Iraq invasion without UN sanction.
Clark has occasionally been involved in controversy during her Prime Ministerial term.
In 2000, Labour MP Chris Carter investigated the background of one of her Cabinet colleagues, Maori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels. Carter left a message on Peter Yelich's answering machine, asking for information about Samuels. When the answering machine message was exposed to the media, Clark attacked Yelich's character, calling him a murderer. Yelich had previously been convicted of manslaughter, and he sued Clark for defamation. Clark used public money to settle out of court with Mr Yelich. In a press release, ACT leader Richard Prebble said the settlement was $20,000 for defamation and $35,000 to keep it confidential.
Clark signed a painting for a charity auction that a staff member painted. After it was revealed she had not painted it, a staff member bought the painting back and destroyed it.
The most publicised event occurred in 2004 when Police, Diplomatic Protection Squad and Ministerial Services staff facilitated a high speed motorcade between Timaru and Christchurch Airport, reaching speeds of up to 172 km/h so Clark could attend a rugby match in Wellington. Some Police and Ministerial staff were eventually convicted of driving offences. Clark distanced herself, saying she did not know the vehicle was speeding and that she had no influence or role in the decision to speed.