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 Trade and Export Growth, Minister for Land Information 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

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)
13th Minister for Trade and Export Growth
Assumed office
6 November 2020
Prime MinisterJacinda Ardern
Preceded byDavid Parker
17th Minister for Land Information
Assumed office
6 November 2020
Prime MinisterJacinda Ardern
Preceded byEugenie Sage
Minister for Rural Communities
Assumed office
26 October 2017
Prime MinisterJacinda Ardern
Preceded byOffice Created
Minister for Food Safety
In office
26 October 2017  6 November 2020
Prime MinisterJacinda Ardern
Preceded byDavid Bennett
Succeeded byAyesha Verrall
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 63)
Westport, New Zealand
NationalityNew Zealand
Political partyLabour
RelationsGreg O'Connor (cousin)
Alma materLincoln University

Early years


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 Parliament


New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate List Party
19931996 44th West Coast Labour
19961999 45th West Coast-Tasman 32 Labour
19992002 46th West Coast-Tasman none Labour
20022005 47th West Coast-Tasman none Labour
20052008 48th West Coast-Tasman none Labour
20092011 49th List 37 Labour
20112014 50th West Coast-Tasman none Labour
20142017 51st West Coast-Tasman 22 Labour
20172020 52nd West Coast-Tasman 18 Labour
2020present 53rd West Coast-Tasman 14 Labour

Fourth National Government, 19931999

He was first elected to Parliament in the 1993 election,[2] recapturing the West Coast seat for Labour after the upset victory of National's Margaret Moir in the 1990 election.[2]

When Helen Clark successfully challenged Mike Moore for the party leadership after the election, O'Connor supported Moore. Later, 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.[citation needed]

He won the reconfigured West Coast-Tasman seat in the 1996 election, and was the MP for the electorate until he lost it to National's Chris Auchinvole during the 2008 election.[3]

Fifth Labour Government, 19992008

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.[4]

After the 2005 election, in what would become the final term of the Fifth Labour 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[5] and a scandal where he was found to have brought a suspended prison officer on a parliamentary rugby tour.[6][7]

Fifth National Government, 20082017

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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

In Opposition between 2009 to 2017, O'Connor held various spokesperson roles including agriculture, biosecurity, fisheries, food safety, primary industries and rural affairs.[11]

Sixth Labour Government, 2017present

When the Labour Party formed a coalition government with New Zealand First 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.[12][13]

During the 2020 general election, O'Connor was re-elected in West Coast-Tasman by a final margin of 6,208 votes, defeating National's candidate Maureen Pugh.[14] In early November 2020, O'Connor maintained his Agriculture, Biosecurity, and Rural Communities while become the lead Minister for Trade and Export Growth and assuming the Land Information ministerial portfolio.[15]

In late January 2021, O'Connor drew media attention when he stated during an interview with CNBC's Asia Squawk Box "Australia "should follow us [New Zealand] and show respect to China." His comments came at a time of heightened Australian-China tensions relating to Australian legislation targeting foreign investment and Chinese trade sanctions against Australia. O'Connor's remarks were criticised as unhelpful to Australia and "at odds with reality" by Liberal MP Dave Sharma.[16] While the Chinese state-owned newspaper Global Times praised Wellington's perceived openness towards Beijing, O'Connor's remarks were criticised by Victoria University of Wellington academic Robert Ayson, International Service for Human Rights director Phil Lynch and Human Rights Watch director Elaine Person for implying that New Zealand was prioritisng trade with China over human rights.[17]

Political views


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."[18] In 2012, he was one of four Labour MPs who voted against the Marriage Amendment Bill, which permitted same sex marriage in New Zealand.[19]

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.[20]

O'Connor opposes euthanasia. He voted against Michael Laws' Death with Dignity Bill in 1995,[21] Peter Brown's Death with Dignity Bill in 2003[22] and David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill in 2019.[23] He also opposed the Abortion Legislation Bill in 2020.[24]

Business activities


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.[12]

Personal life


O'Connor separated from his wife Vicky after twelve years of marriage in 2004. The couple had four children.[25] 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.[26][27]

References


  1. "New Zealand Official Yearbook 1997". Statistics New Zealand. Archived from the original on 1 May 2012. Retrieved 27 October 2012.
  2. "Damien O'Connor - a Coaster through and through". The New Zealand Herald. 30 March 2001. ISSN 1170-0777. Archived from the original on 20 October 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  3. Vance, Andrea (9 June 2018). "Helen Clark coup set my career back". Stuff. Archived from the original on 31 August 2020.
  4. Scott, Annette (27 October 2017). "O'Connor's 24-year wait is over". Farmers Weekly. Archived from the original on 1 March 2018. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  5. Berry, Ruth (11 February 2007). "And no time off for good behaviour for Damien O'Connor". The New Zealand Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Archived from the original on 29 October 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  6. Jacobson, Julie (8 September 2007). "Minister's rugby trouble". The New Zealand Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Archived from the original on 29 October 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  7. "Clark's cabinet reshuffle - big, but not bold". Newshub. 31 October 2007. Archived from the original on 29 October 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  8. "Official Count Results – West Coast-Tasman". Electoral Commission. Archived from the original on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2011.
  9. "O'Connor to return to Parliament". Radio New Zealand. 13 April 2009. Archived from the original on 14 April 2009.
  10. Mathewson, Nicole; Stylianou, Georgina; Fulton, Tim (21 September 2014). "Election 2014: Canterbury decides". The Press. Stuff. Archived from the original on 27 October 2019. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  11. "Hon Damien O'Connor". New Zealand Parliament. 16 June 2020. Archived from the original on 7 July 2020. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  12. "Coaster and new minister has farming in his blood". Stuff. 25 October 2017. Archived from the original on 9 July 2020.
  13. "West Coast-Tasman - Official Result". Electoral Commission. Archived from the original on 17 January 2020. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  14. "West Coast-Tasman - Official Result". Electoral Commission. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  15. "Ministerial List for Announcement on Monday" (PDF). Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 2 November 2020. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 November 2020. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
  16. Manch, Thomas (28 January 2021). "Trade Minister Damien O'Connor says Australia should 'follow us and show respect' to China, causing trans-Tasman tension". Stuff. Archived from the original on 30 March 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  17. Macdonald, Joshua (8 February 2021). "New Zealand Steps into Australia-China Dispute". The Diplomat. Archived from the original on 27 February 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  18. Basham, Laura (28 November 2011). "Time for action to stop asset sales, says O'Connor". Stuff. Archived from the original on 8 July 2015. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  19. "Marriage equality bill: How MPs voted". The New Zealand Herald. 29 August 2012. Archived from the original on 12 August 2020. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
  20. "Coast MPs cross floor on timber bill". Stuff. 26 June 2014. Archived from the original on 29 October 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  21. New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (16 August 1995). Volume 549
  22. "Death with Dignity Bill — First Reading - New Zealand Parliament". New Zealand Parliament. Archived from the original on 9 August 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  23. "End of Life Choice Bill final reading: How your MP voted". The New Zealand Herald. 13 November 2019. ISSN 1170-0777. Archived from the original on 29 August 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  24. Cheng, Derek (19 March 2020). "How MPs voted on abortion law reform". The New Zealand Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Archived from the original on 22 June 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  25. "MP Damien O'Connor and his wife separate". The New Zealand Herald. 28 July 2004. ISSN 1170-0777. Archived from the original on 29 October 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  26. "Labour approaches former Police Association president Greg O'Connor about running in 2017". Stuff. 16 January 2017. Archived from the original on 14 November 2019. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  27. McSweeny, Jacob (24 September 2017). "Every little thing got you over the line". Radio New Zealand. Archived from the original on 28 May 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.