Labour History

New Zealand’s Fifth Labour Government (1999––2008): A New Partnership with Business and Society?

Labour History (2010), 98, (1), 39–53.


New Zealand’s fifth Labour Government, in power from 1999 to 2008, offers a telling case study of a nominally social democratic party re-defining its relationship with business. On the basis that the government is, to a large extent, a linguistic activity, this article focuses on the Government’s political discourse, contrasting it with those of the two previous Labour administrations (1972-75 and 1984-90). Drawing on a critical analysis of the three Governments’programmatic public statements, it describes how the fifth Labour Government addressed and constructed business interests in a new way. From 1999 to 2008, Labour presented economic globalisation as the fundamental challenge facing the country, and urged all New Zealanders to work together. Within a rhetoric of partnership, business was represented as a vital contributor towards a putatively shared national purpose in a way that denied the tensions between labour and capital allowed for under earlier local incarnations of social democracy.

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Author details

Skilling, Peter