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Sir William Francis Birch GNZM PC (born 9 April 1934), usually known as Bill Birch, is a former New Zealand politician. He served as Minister of Finance for several years in the fourth National government.

Sir William Birch

Bill Birch.jpg
38th Minister of Finance
In office
November 1993 – 31 January 1999
Prime MinisterJim Bolger (1993–1997)
Jenny Shipley (1997–1999)
Preceded byRuth Richardson
Succeeded byBill English
In office
22 June 1999 – 10 December 1999
Prime MinisterJenny Shipley
Preceded byBill English
Succeeded byMichael Cullen
2nd Treasurer of New Zealand
In office
14 August 1998 – June 1999
Prime MinisterJenny Shipley
Preceded byWinston Peters
Succeeded byBill English
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Franklin
In office
25 November 1972 – 26 October 1978
Preceded byAlfred E. Allen
Succeeded byconstituency abolished
In office
14 July 1984 – 1987
Preceded byconstituency created
Succeeded byconstituency abolished
In office
1993 – 1996
Preceded byconstituency created
Succeeded byconstituency abolished
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Rangiriri
In office
25 November 1978 – 15 June 1984
Preceded byconstituency created
Succeeded byconstituency abolished
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Maramarua
In office
1987 – 1993
Preceded byconstituency created
Succeeded byconstituency abolished
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Port Waikato
In office
1996 – 1999
Preceded byconstituency created
Succeeded byPaul Hutchison
Personal details
Born (1934-04-09) 9 April 1934 (age 85)
Hastings, New Zealand
Political partyNational
Spouse(s)Alice Rosa Mitchell (d. 2015)

Early lifeEdit

Birch was born in Hastings on 9 April 1934, the son of Charles and Elizabeth Birch.[1] He was educated at Hamilton's Technical High School and through Wellington Technical Correspondence School. He was trained as a surveyor, and established a business in Pukekohe, a small town south of Auckland.[2] Birch quickly became involved in various Pukekohe community organisations. He served on Pukehohe's borough council from 1965 to 1974, and was deputy mayor from 1968 to 1974.

In 1953, Birch married Rosa Mitchell, and the couple went on to have four children.[1]

Member of ParliamentEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate List Party
1972–1975 37th Franklin National
1975–1978 38th Franklin National
1978–1981 39th Rangiriri National
1981–1984 40th Rangiriri National
1984–1987 41st Franklin National
1987–1990 42nd Maramarua National
1990–1993 43rd Maramarua National
1993–1996 44th Franklin National
1996–1999 45th Port Waikato 3 National

Birch first entered parliament in the 1972 election, as the National Party's candidate for the Franklin electorate;[3] Pukekohe was located roughly in the centre of the Franklin electorate.[4] National won the 1975 election, and formed the third National Government,[5] whilst Birch was re-elected in Franklin.[3] The Franklin electorate was abolished in the 1977 electoral redistribution and the electorate's area divided between several different electorates.[6] Pukekohe was the northernmost settlement in the new Rangiriri electorate,[7] and Birch won the 1978 election in that electorate.[3] Birch was re-elected in Rangiriri in 1981,[3] but the electorate was abolished through the 1983 electoral redistribution. For the 1984 election, Pukekohe was again located in the reconstituted Franklin electorate, and Birch won that election and the subsequent one in 1987.[3][8] Through the 1987 electoral redistribution, Pukekohe belonged to the new Maramarua electorate from 1987 to 1993, and Birch served that electorate for two parliamentary terms.[9] For one term beginning in 1993, he represented the reconstituted Franklin electorate, before transferring to the new Port Waikato electorate in 1996. Birch retired in 1999 after 27 years in Parliament.[10]

Cabinet ministerEdit


After holding a number of internal National Party positions, Birch was made Minister of National Development, Minister of Energy, and Minister of Science and Technology in 1978. In 1981, he swapped the Science and Technology role for the Regional Development portfolio.[11] As Minister for National Development, Birch was closely involved in the Think Big project, a series of high-cost programmes designed to reduce New Zealand's dependence on imported fuel. When National lost the 1984 election, Birch's ministerial career was interrupted, but he remained in parliament.[3]


After National regained power in the 1990 election, Birch re-entered cabinet as part of the fourth National government. Over the next three years, he was to hold a number of ministerial roles, including Minister of Labour, Minister of Immigration, Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, Minister of Employment, Minister of Health, Minister of State Services, and Minister responsible for the ACC. As Minister of Labour, Birch introduced the Employment Contracts Act, which radically liberalised the labour market, most noticeably by reducing the power of trade unions.

In 1992, Birch was made a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, an honour reserved for senior New Zealand politicians.

During this period, Birch clashed a number of times with the controversial Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson. The Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, had never been a supporter of Richardson's strong laissez-faire policies, and preferred the more conservative Birch for the Finance portfolio. At the 1993 election, which National nearly lost, Richardson was removed from her Finance role, and Birch was elevated in her place.

Birch's appointment to the Finance portfolio raised eyebrows, given Birch's association with the Think Big projects. However, he soon developed a reputation for a frugal finance minister, delivering a succession of balanced budgets. He also privatised a number of state assets.


After the 1996 election, National needed to form a coalition with the New Zealand First party in order to govern. New Zealand First's leader, Winston Peters, insisted on control of the Finance role as part of the coalition agreement, and National eventually agreed. The Minister of Finance role was split into two separate offices, one given the title "Treasurer" and the other still called "Minister of Finance". Treasurer, the senior title, was given to Winston Peters, while Birch retained the (lessened) role of Minister of Finance. Some, however, have voiced the opinion that whatever the official arrangement may have been, Birch still performed most of the job's key functions. Mike Moore of the Labour Party commented that "we are always impressed when Winston Peters answers questions, because Bill Birch's lips do not move."

When the coalition with New Zealand First broke down, Birch took over the role of Treasurer. He was both Treasurer and Minister of Finance for several months before Bill English was promoted to Minister of Finance, leaving Birch with the senior role. In the middle of 1999, however, Birch and English were swapped, with Birch becoming Minister of Finance again.


Birch retired from Parliament at the 1999 general election. His wife, Rosa, Lady Birch, died in Pukekohe on 22 June 2015.[12]

Honours and awardsEdit

Birch was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977, and the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal in 1990.[1] In the 1999 Queen's Birthday Honours, he was appointed a Knight Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for public services as a Member of Parliament and Minister of the Crown.[13]


  1. ^ a b c Taylor, Alister; Coddington, Deborah (1994). Honoured by the Queen – New Zealand. Auckland: New Zealand Who's Who Aotearoa. p. 67. ISBN 0-908578-34-2.
  2. ^ "Rt Hon Sir William Birch GNZM". Government of New Zealand. Archived from the original on 17 August 2000. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Wilson 1985, p. 184.
  4. ^ McRobie 1989, p. 114.
  5. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 288.
  6. ^ McRobie 1989, pp. 114–119.
  7. ^ McRobie 1989, p. 118.
  8. ^ McRobie 1989, pp. 122f.
  9. ^ McRobie 1989, pp. 126f.
  10. ^ Birch, Bill (8 October 1999). "House: Valedictory of Rt. Hon. Sir William Birch" (Press release). Wellington. Scoop. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  11. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 95.
  12. ^ "Rosa Birch death notice". New Zealand Herald. 23 June 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  13. ^ "Queen's Birthday honours list 1999 (including Niue)". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 7 June 1999. Retrieved 12 May 2019.


  • McRobie, Alan (1989). Electoral Atlas of New Zealand. Wellington: GP Books. ISBN 0-477-01384-8.
  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First published in 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103.
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Alfred E. Allen
Member of Parliament for Franklin
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Rangiriri
Member of Parliament for Maramarua
Member of Parliament for Port Waikato
Succeeded by
Dr Paul Hutchison
Political offices
Preceded by
Simon Upton
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Jenny Shipley
Preceded by
Ruth Richardson
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Bill English
Preceded by
Bill English
Succeeded by
Dr Michael Cullen
Preceded by
Winston Peters
Treasurer of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Bill English