Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (800.37 kB)

Life After Politics? The post-leadership activities of New Zealand premiers and prime ministers, 1856-2008

Download (800.37 kB)
posted on 2021-11-13, 22:50 authored by Booker, Jess

Political leadership has been a nebulous concept in New Zealand, one that has grown and changed as we have matured as a nation. Scholarship on political leadership in New Zealand has also matured, particularly over the last several decades, to now stand in its own right. Absent from this scholarship, however, has been a focus on what our leaders do after leaving office and why they undertake such activities. This thesis looks at the collective activities of New Zealand’s Premiers and Prime Ministers from 1856-2008. Drawing upon the influence of both individual and situational variables, it highlights a series of patterns within three distinct groups of leaders. Firstly, the Colonial Premiers (1856-1893), who carved out a range of post-leadership activities, though the choice of many of these activities often reflected a need to stabilise their financial position, which had deteriorated during their time as Premier. The Kiwi Prime Ministers (1856-1960), whose choice of post-leadership activities was marked by the transformational events occurring during their lifetime: two World Wars, a Great Depression and a series of significant industrial disputes. Many of these 20th century Prime Ministers suffered significant physical or psychological decline during their time in office. Finally, the Modern New Zealand Prime Ministers (1960-2008) have set a distinct new trend in post-leadership activity. Though some have still suffered from the emotional and physical demands of office, many leaders within this cohort have used their time as Prime Minister as a stepping-stone to greater activities upon leaving office. This trend, noticeable in our last five Prime Ministers, is important in that signals that post-leadership activities will now become a significant feature of a leader’s lifetime. Yet these illustrious post-political careers have occurred mainly outside of New Zealand, or behind the closed doors of the business world. This thesis suggests that we are losing a rich societal asset by not drawing upon the distinct skills and experiences of our former leaders and enabling them to become elder statesmen and women. The presence of such a community could contribute greatly to the future, as New Zealand navigates it way through debates of national significance and future crises.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Political Science

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

950505 Understanding New Zealand's Past

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Johansson, Jon