1979 Christchurch Central by-election

The Christchurch Central by-election of 1979 was a by-election during the 39th New Zealand Parliament. It was prompted by the death of Bruce Barclay, a Labour Party MP, and resulted in Geoffrey Palmer, also of the Labour Party, being elected to replace him for the seat of Christchurch Central.[1] Palmer would eventually go on to become Prime Minister.[2] The by-election was somewhat embarrassing for the National Party, whose candidate was pushed into third place by Social Credit's Terry Heffernan.

1979 Christchurch Central by-election

← 1978 general 18 August 1979 (1979-08-18) 1981 general →
Turnout9,578 (36.00%)
Candidate Geoffrey Palmer Terry Heffernan David Duncan
Party Labour Social Credit National
Popular vote 6,149 1,759 1,634
Percentage 64.20% 18.37% 17.06

Member before election

Bruce Barclay

Elected Member

Geoffrey Palmer



Bruce Barclay, the incumbent MP, died on 28 June 1979. He had been ill for some months prior to his death where it was reported he was suffering from cancer and had already had two surgical operations. His absence was noticed at Labour's first caucus meeting in February 1979 and Labour leader Bill Rowling stated he had visited Barclay earlier and expressed concern at his health after Barclay had become unable to perform his electorate duties earlier in the month.[3]





As Christchurch Central was a safe Labour seat, there was a large amount of interest in the candidacy from the local Labour Party. There were 18 nominated candidates for the nomination. They were:[4]

Despite the large field of candidates, there were three who emerged as frontrunners by the time nominations had closed; McCann, Matthewson and Palmer − and it was widely known that Palmer was Rowling's preferred choice. The selection meeting was held on 23 July at Linwood Intermediate School with over one hundred delegates present. A straw poll of members showed a majority of support for Palmer. The nominees were shortened to three; McCann, Matthewson and Palmer who were invited for interviews with the selection panel. Palmer was chosen and his success as the nominee was announced by party president Jim Anderton to the members present at 2:00 am.[5][6]



National selected 29-year-old insurance consultant David Duncan. He was chairman of National's St Albans branch.[7]

Social Credit


The Social Credit Party selected a high school teacher Terry Heffernan as their candidate. He had stood for the nearby seat of Sydenham in 1978.[8] Heffernan had a high-profile endorsement from former Labour MP and party vice-president Gerald O'Brien, reaffirming his rift with Labour.[9]


  • The Values Party decided not to contest the by-election. Values spokesperson Peter Heal said the party felt its future lay in being a pressure group rather than as a party and was applying its own conservation principles of not wasting resources by not standing a candidate. He said they would concentrate on applying pressure to the Labour Party to adopt Values policy.[10]
  • Suzanne Adelia Sadler campaigned under the name "Tinkerbell" for the Tory Party describing herself as a "slave" of the Canterbury Wizard. She had stood in Lyttelton in 1978.[8]
  • Perennial candidate Michael "Tubby" Hansen stood for the Economic Euthenics party. He described himself as a "gas chopper-offer" and had stood in several parliamentary and civic elections.[8]



The following table gives the election results:

1979 Christchurch Central by-election[11]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Geoffrey Palmer 6,149 64.20 +3.03
Social Credit Terry Heffernan 1,759 18.37 +9.02
National David Duncan 1,634 17.06 -8.55
Tory Suzanne Sadler 26 0.27
Economic Euthenics Tubby Hansen 10 0.10
Majority 4,390 45.83 +10.27
Turnout 9,578 36.00
Registered electors 26,605
Labour hold Swing +11.58

Labour increased its vote slightly but the largest gains were made by the Social Credit Party, who came second in an urban seat for the first time in its history. National were pushed into third place who saw their vote shrink to the point where its candidate only just managed to avoid losing their deposit.[12]


  1. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 182.
  2. ^ "Geoffrey Palmer". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 9 July 2010. Retrieved 19 November 2011.
  3. ^ "Chch Labour M.P. dead". The Press. 29 June 1979. p. 1.
  4. ^ "By-election list closes with 18 vying for Labour seat". The Press. 21 July 1979. p. 1.
  5. ^ Richards 2010, pp. 93–4.
  6. ^ "Labour candidate advocate of Parliamentary reform". The Press. 25 July 1979. p. 2.
  7. ^ "National picks candidate". The Press. 24 July 1979. p. 1.
  8. ^ a b c "Five to try for Central". The Press. 27 July 1979. p. 1.
  9. ^ "O'Brien backs Socred candidate". Auckland Star. 15 August 1979. p. 2.
  10. ^ "Values in but no candidate". The Press. 26 July 1979. p. 1.
  11. ^ Norton 1988, p. 206.
  12. ^ "Poll a record low: Socred heads off National". The Press. 20 August 1979. p. 1.


  • Norton, Clifford (1988). New Zealand Parliamentary Election Results 1946–1987: Occasional Publications No 1, Department of Political Science. Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington. ISBN 0-475-11200-8.
  • Richards, Raymond (2010). Palmer : the parliamentary years. Christchurch: Canterbury University Press. ISBN 9781877257926. OCLC 931068704.
  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First published in 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103.