Peter Tapsell (New Zealand)

From Academic Kids

Sir Peter Wilfred Tapsell KNZM MBE (born January 21 1930) was Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives from 1993 to 1996. He was notable for being the first Maori Speaker, and for being the first Speaker since 1943 to hold office while not a member of the governing party.

Tapsell was born and raised in Rotorua. With the help of a scholarship, he studied medicine at Otago University, and graduated in 1952. He worked at several hospitals throughout New Zealand before travelling to the United Kingdom to undertake further study. Upon his return to New Zealand, he took up a position in Rotorua. Highly active in Maori cultural organizations, Tapsell was made an MBE in 1968 for service to the community.

Tapsell stood as the Labour Party candidate for Rotorua in the 1975 election and the 1978 election, but was not successful in entering Parliament until the 1981 election, when he stood as a candidate in the Eastern Maori electorate. At various stages of his parliamentary career, Tapsell served as Minister of Internal Affairs, Minister for the Arts, Minister of Police, Minister of Science, and Minister of Defence.

After the 1993 election, the National Party had a majority of only one seat. The appointment of the Speaker, therefore, presented a problem - if National selected a Speaker from among its own ranks, as was traditional, it would lose its majority, since the Speaker was not permitted to vote at that time. Therefore, Prime Minister Jim Bolger decided to offer the Speaker's position to a member of the Labour Party, thereby retaining the crucial vote. Tapsell was the person chosen by Bolger for this role.

Despite many objections from his Labour Party colleagues, Tapsell opted to accept the position. His elevation was not unchallenged, however, with an objection being raised by Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party. Peters claimed that his objection was on behalf of the incumbent Speaker, long-serving National MP Robin Gray, who had expected to resume his duties but was now being "cast aside" for political reasons. Critics of Peters, however, claimed that New Zealand First merely wanted to leave National and Labour deadlocked, as it would be New Zealand First that held the balance of power in that situation. Robin Gray, however, refused the nomination, and Tapsell took the Speaker's chair unopposed.

In the 1996 election, however, Tapsell lost his electorate seat to a New Zealand First challenger. This was part of a major shift away from the Labour Party by Maori voters, with New Zealand First capturing all of the Maori electorates. Whether Tapsell would have retained the Speaker's role is uncertain, as National (in coalition with New Zealand First) held enough seats that the loss of the Speaker's vote was not important. The loss of his electorate seat, however, prompted Tapsell's retirement from politics, despite Labour's recapture of the Maori seats in the next election.

Since his retirement, Tapsell has been involved in a number of organisations, becoming the Patron of the Monarchist League of New Zealand. He also assists several medical charities.

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