Damien O'Connor

Damien Peter O'Connor (born 16 January 1958) is a New Zealand Labour Party politician who currently serves as Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity, Minister for Food Safety and Minister for Rural Communities in the Sixth Labour Government. He previously served as a cabinet minister in the Fifth Labour Government. He has been a member of Parliament since 1993 and currently represents the West Coast-Tasman electorate.


Damien O'Connor

Damien O'Connor (cropped).jpg
34th Minister of Agriculture
Assumed office
26 October 2017
Prime MinisterJacinda Ardern
Preceded byVacant (last held by David Carter)
Minister for Biosecurity
Assumed office
26 October 2017
Prime MinisterJacinda Ardern
Preceded byVacant (last held by David Carter)
Minister for Food Safety
Assumed office
26 October 2017
Prime MinisterJacinda Ardern
Preceded byDavid Bennett
Minister for Rural Communities
Assumed office
26 October 2017
Prime MinisterJacinda Ardern
Preceded byOffice Created
33rd Minister of Tourism
In office
19 October 2005 – 19 November 2008
Prime MinisterHelen Clark
Succeeded byJohn Key
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for West Coast-Tasman
Assumed office
26 November 2011
Preceded byChris Auchinvole
In office
12 October 1996 – 8 November 2008
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded byChris Auchinvole
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Labour Party list
In office
5 May 2009 – 26 November 2011
Preceded byMichael Cullen
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for West Coast
In office
6 November 1993 – 12 October 1996
Preceded byMargaret Moir
Succeeded bySeat abolished
Personal details
Born (1958-01-16) 16 January 1958 (age 62)
Westport, New Zealand
NationalityNew Zealand
Political partyLabour
RelationsGreg O'Connor (cousin)
Alma materLincoln University
CommitteesPrimary Production Committee

Early yearsEdit

O'Connor was born in Westport in 1958.[1] He attended primary school in his home town before going on to St Bede's College, Christchurch, a Roman Catholic school, and Lincoln University.[2]

Before becoming an MP, he worked in a variety of jobs in farming and tourism. During a five-year stint in Australia, he worked as a machinery operator and in sales. On his return to New Zealand he established Buller Adventure Tours, an adventure tourism company, which he owned and operated in a partnership.[2]

Member of ParliamentEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate List Party
1993–1996 44th West Coast Labour
1996–1999 45th West Coast-Tasman 32 Labour
1999–2002 46th West Coast-Tasman none Labour
2002–2005 47th West Coast-Tasman none Labour
2005–2008 48th West Coast-Tasman none Labour
2009–2011 49th List 37 Labour
2011–2014 50th West Coast-Tasman none Labour
2014–2017 51st West Coast-Tasman 22 Labour
2017–present 52nd West Coast-Tasman 18 Labour

He was first elected to Parliament in the 1993 election, recapturing the West Coast seat for Labour after the upset victory of National's Margaret Moir in the 1990 election.

He won the reconfigured West Coast-Tasman seat in the 1996 election, and was the MP for the electorate until 2008.

When Helen Clark successfully challenged Mike Moore for the party leadership after the election, O'Connor supported Moore; he said in 2018 that this had set his career back.[3] Unlike other MPs who entered Parliament in 1993, O'Connor was not named a minister in Clark's first ministry in 1999. He was, however, appointed as chair of the Primary Production select committee. After the 2002 election he was appointed an associate minister in four portfolios: agriculture, health, racing and rural affairs. He succeeded Annette King as Minister for Racing in a 2003 reshuffle.

After the 2005 election, in what would become the final term of Clark's government, O'Connor was promoted to be Minister of Corrections and Minister of Tourism. He lost the Corrections role in 2007, following calls for his resignation over the previous year over the murder of Liam Ashley in a prison van[4] and a scandal where he was found to have brought a suspended prison officer on a parliamentary rugby tour.[5][6]

At the 2008 general election, the Labour government was defeated by the National Party and O'Connor lost the West-Coast Tasman electorate to National Party list MP Chris Auchinvole by 971 votes.[7] At this election O'Connor also stood as a list candidate for the first time since 1996; however, his position of 37 was too low for him to return to Parliament as a Labour Party list MP immediately. O'Connor eventually returned to Parliament after the retirement of former deputy leader Michael Cullen in May 2009.[8] He retook West-Coast Tasman for Labour in 2011 and has held the seat since, defending challenges from former Westland District Mayor Maureen Pugh in 2014 and 2017.[9]

In Opposition from 2009 to 2017, O'Connor held various spokesperson roles including agriculture, biosecurity, fisheries, food safety, primary industries and rural affairs. When the Labour Party formed a coalition government with the New Zealand First Party in 2017, O'Connor was appointed Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity, Minister for Food Safety, Minister for Rural Communities and Associate Minister (later Minister of State) for Trade and Export Growth. An early challenge for O'Connor in the Agriculture portfolio was managing the 2017 Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.[10]

Political viewsEdit

O'Connor is regarded as an "economic dry" on the right of the Labour Party.[2]

In April 2011 O'Connor attracted criticism from Labour Party leader Phil Goff after describing the list MP selection process as being run by "self-serving unionists and a gaggle of gays."[11] In 2012, he was one of four Labour MPs who voted against the Marriage Amendment Bill, which permitted same sex marriage in New Zealand.[12]

In 2014, O'Connor voted with the governing National Party (and against the Labour Party) to support the West Coast Windblown Timber Bill, which allowed the Government to recover storm-blow timber on the West Coast following Cyclone Ita.[13]

O'Connor opposes euthanasia. He voted against Michael Laws' Death with Dignity Bill in 1995,[14] Peter Brown's Death with Dignity Bill in 2003[15] and David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill in 2019.[16] He also opposed the Abortion Legislation Bill in 2020.[17]

Business activitiesEdit

O'Connor is past president of the Buller Promotion Association, a member of the West Coast Tourism Development Group, a member of the West Coast Business Development Board and a founding director of Buller Community Development Company. He also won West Coast Young Farmer of the Year.[10]

Personal lifeEdit

O'Connor separated from his wife Vicky after twelve years of marriage in 2004. The couple had four children.[18] He has a daughter with his new partner, Sharon Flood.[3] Labour Party MP for Ōhāriu and former Police Association president Greg O'Connor is his cousin.[19][20]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "New Zealand Official Yearbook 1997". Statistics New Zealand. Archived from the original on 1 May 2012. Retrieved 27 October 2012.
  2. ^ a b c "Damien O'Connor - a Coaster through and through". NZ Herald. 30 March 2001. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Helen Clark coup set my career back". Stuff (Fairfax). 9 June 2018.
  4. ^ Berry, Ruth (11 February 2007). "And no time off for good behaviour for Damien O'Connor". NZ Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  5. ^ Jacobson, Julie (8 September 2007). "Minister's rugby trouble". NZ Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  6. ^ "Clark's cabinet reshuffle - big, but not bold". Newshub. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  7. ^ "Official Count Results – West Coast-Tasman". Chief Electoral Office, Wellington. Archived from the original on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2011.
  8. ^ "O'Connor to return to Parliament". Radio New Zealand. 13 April 2009. Archived from the original on 14 April 2009.
  9. ^ Mathewson, Nicole; Stylianou, Georgina; Fulton, Tim (21 September 2014). "Election 2014: Canterbury decides". The Press. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  10. ^ a b "Coaster and new minister has farming in his blood". Stuff (Fairfax). 25 October 2017.
  11. ^ Basham, Laura (28 November 2011). "Time for action to stop asset sales, says O'Connor". Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  12. ^ "Marriage equality bill: How MPs voted". The New Zealand Herald. 29 August 2012. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
  13. ^ "Coast MPs cross floor on timber bill". Stuff. 26 June 2014. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  14. ^ New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (16 August 1995). Volume 549
  15. ^ "Death with Dignity Bill — First Reading - New Zealand Parliament". www.parliament.nz. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  16. ^ "End of Life Choice Bill final reading: How your MP voted". NZ Herald. 13 November 2019. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  17. ^ Cheng, Derek (19 March 2020). "How MPs voted on abortion law reform". NZ Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  18. ^ "MP Damien O'Connor and his wife separate". NZ Herald. 28 July 2004. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  19. ^ "Labour approaches former Police Association president Greg O'Connor about running in 2017". Stuff. 16 January 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  20. ^ "'Every little thing got you over the line'". RNZ. 24 September 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2020.

External linksEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Margaret Moir
Member of Parliament for West Coast
1993–1996
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament
for West Coast-Tasman

1996–2008
2011–present
Succeeded by
Chris Auchinvole
Preceded by
Chris Auchinvole
Incumbent
Political offices
Preceded by
Paul Swain
Minister of Corrections
2005–2007
Succeeded by
Phil Goff
Preceded by
Vacant
David Carter
(2008–11)
Minister of Agriculture
2017–present
Incumbent
New office Minister for Biosecurity
2017–present
Preceded by
David Bennett
Minister for Food Safety
2017–present
New office Minister for Rural Communities
2017–present