Sandra Lee-Vercoe

Sandra Rose Te Hakamatua Lee-Vercoe QSO (born 8 August 1952) is a former New Zealand politician and diplomat. She served as deputy leader (and briefly leader) of the Alliance party and was later High Commissioner to Niue.

Sandra Lee-Vercoe

Lee in the 1990s
10th Minister of Local Government
In office
10 December 1999  15 August 2002
Prime MinisterHelen Clark
Preceded byJack Elder
Succeeded byChris Carter
7th Minister of Conservation
In office
10 December 1999  15 August 2002
Prime MinisterHelen Clark
Preceded byNick Smith
Succeeded byChris Carter
2nd Leader of the Alliance
In office
10 November 1994  7 May 1995
Preceded byJim Anderton
Succeeded byJim Anderton
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Alliance list
In office
12 October 1996  27 July 2002
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Auckland Central
In office
6 November 1993  12 October 1996
Preceded byRichard Prebble
Succeeded byJudith Tizard
Personal details
Born (1952-08-08) 8 August 1952 (age 68)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political partyMana Motuhake (1979–2002)
Alliance (1991–2002)

Early life

Lee was born in Wellington, and grew up in a two bedroom Māori Affairs house with her parents, grandfather and great grandfather.[1] She was educated at Onslow College. Lee later moved to Auckland, settling on Waiheke Island.[1] Her involvement in politics began with the foundation of Mana Motuhake, a Māori issues party, in 1979. Her political career, however, did not begin until 1983, with her election to the Waiheke County Council. She became chairperson of the Council in 1989. When Waiheke was amalgamated into Auckland proper, Lee became a member of the Auckland City Council.[2]

Lee connects to Poutini Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Toa.

Member of Parliament

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate List Party
19931996 44th Auckland Central Alliance
19961999 45th List 2 Alliance
19992002 46th List 2 Alliance

In 1991, Lee became president of Mana Motuhake. Shortly after this, Mana Motuhake agreed to become a founding member of the Alliance, a coalition of minor parties. At the 1992 Alliance party conference Lee was elected the co-leader of the party alongside Jeanette Fitzsimons.[3]

In the 1993 election, Lee became the first Māori woman to win a general seat[4] (James Carroll being the first in 1893) when she successfully contested the Auckland Central electorate as an Alliance candidate, defeating the incumbent Richard Prebble.[5] Upon the retirement of Mana Motuhake founder Matiu Rata in 1994, Lee became Mana Motuhake's political leader.[6] In November 1994, when Jim Anderton stepped down as leader of the Alliance for personal reasons, Lee took his place but Lee persuaded Anderton to return to the leadership in May 1995. Lee lost her Auckland Central seat to Labour's Judith Tizard at the 1996 election.[7] She lost the position as Mana Motuhake leader in 2001, after a leadership challenge by Willie Jackson.[8] Lee believed that personal matters pertaining to her, such as her relationship with Te Puni Kōkiri staffer Anaru Vercoe, was used to discredit her as leader of Mana Motuhake.[9] Lee stayed on as the deputy leader of the Alliance until 2002 before announcing her retirement.

Cabinet member

When a Labour-Alliance coalition government was formed after the 1999 election, Lee became Minister of Local Government, Minister of Conservation, and Associate Minister of Māori Affairs.[7] She was ranked seventh in Cabinet. During her time as Minister of Conservation Lee was known as an outspoken opponent of commercial whaling.[10] As Minister of Local Government, Lee oversaw significant reform including the development and passage of the Local Electoral Act 2001, and the development and introduction of the Local Government Act 2002 and Local Government (Rating) Act 2002.


In 2002, the Alliance began to split between a strongly left-wing faction (led by Matt McCarten and Laila Harré) and a more moderate faction (led by Anderton), Lee generally backed Anderton, but eventually decided to retire from politics. In the 2002 election, she did not stand for either the Alliance (now led by McCarten and Harré) or Anderton's new Progressive Coalition.

Lee-Vercoe has continued to be politically active by being a guest commentator on issues affecting Māori and New Zealand on Te Karere, Breakfast, Native Affairs and Radio Waatea. Her career as a parliamentarian was honoured and highlighted in the Matangireia documentary series, released in 2019, that documented former Māori politicians and their legacy.


Lee was High Commissioner to Niue, representing the New Zealand and UK governments, from 12 February 2003 to 3 October 2005.[11]

Board member

In September 2006 Lee was appointed to the board of Housing New Zealand.[12] In July 2007 she was appointed to the board of Te Papa Tongarewa.[13]

Political offices

Lee campaigning in central Auckland
  • 1983–1989: Member, Waiheke County Council
  • 1989: Chair, Waiheke County Council
  • 1989–1994 (January): Councillor, Auckland City Council
  • 1993–1996: Member of Parliament (Alliance), Auckland Central
  • 1996–2002: Member of Parliament (List) (Alliance)
  • 1999 (December) – 2002: Minister of the Crown (Local Government, Conservation, Associate Māori Affairs), Labour-Alliance government

Personal life

At age 16 Lee married Mike Lee, giving birth to the older of their two daughters at age 17. They separated in 1992.[14] Lee has been married to Anaru Vercoe since 2002.

Award-winning New Zealand journalist and television producer, Annabelle Lee-Mather, is Lee's daughter.[15]


  1. "Sandra Lee: If you're Māori, you can't help growing up political – E-Tangata". E-Tangata. 12 August 2017. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  2. Bassett 2013, pp. 369.
  3. Laugesen, Ruth (16 November 1992). "Alliance gets three-way leadership". The Dominion. p. 2.
  4. "Māori MPs – Parliament's people | NZHistory, New Zealand history online". Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  5. Fox, Karen (2011). Maori and Aboriginal Women in the Public Eye: Representing Difference, 1950–2000. ANU E Press. ISBN 9781921862625.
  6. Herbert, Patricia (21 March 1994). "Party leader calls it a day". The New Zealand Herald. p. 5.
  7. Young, Audrey (24 August 2001). "Sandra Lee – bad news and proud of it". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  8. "Sandra Lee retires". The New Zealand Herald. 17 June 2002. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  9. "Lee's private life plays part in dumping". NZ Herald. 10 June 2001. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  10. "Sandra Lee's speech to the International Whaling Commission". The New Zealand Herald. 25 July 2001. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  11. "Niue MPs to hear departing NZ representative". Radio NZ. 22 September 2005. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  12. "Changes to Housing New Zealand Corporation Board". New Zealand Government. 22 September 2006. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  13. "Lee and Love appointed to Te Papa Board". Scoop. 1 August 2007. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  14. Hewitson, Michele (16 December 2005). "ARC chairman keeps the reindeer galloping". The New Zealand Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  15. "Annabelle Lee-Mather". NZ On Screen. Retrieved 8 September 2020.


New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Richard Prebble
Member of Parliament for Auckland Central
Succeeded by
Judith Tizard
Political offices
Preceded by
Jack Elder
Minister of Local Government
Succeeded by
Chris Carter
Preceded by
Nick Smith
Minister of Conservation
Party political offices
New political party Deputy Leader of the Alliance

Served alongside: Jeanette Fitzsimons
Succeeded by
Jeanette Fitzsimons
Preceded by
Jeanette Fitzsimons
Succeeded by
Willie Jackson
Preceded by
Matiu Rata
Leader of Mana Motuhake
Preceded by
Jim Anderton
Leader of the Alliance
Succeeded by
Jim Anderton