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Peter Dunne (17 March 1954 - ) is the leader of New Zealand's United Future political party. He sees himself as a centrist, and has served as a Cabinet minister in governments led by both the centre-left Labour Party and the centre-right National Party.
Dunne was born and educated in Christchurch. He gained an MA in political science from Canterbury University before studying business administration at Massey University. He worked for the Department of Trade and Industry from 1977 to 1978 and then for the Alcoholic Liquor Advisory Council until 1984. He was Deputy Chief Executive of the Council from 1980 onwards.
In the 1984 elections, Dunne successfully stood for Parliament, winning the seat of Ohariu for the Labour Party. He held that seat in the 1987 elections, after which he became a Parliamentary Undersecretary. Later, in 1990, he became Minister of Regional Development, Associate Minister for the Environment, and Associate Minister of Justice. He retained his seat again in the 1990 elections, but the Labour government was defeated, causing Dunne to lose his ministerial posts.
In the 1993 elections, Dunne won the seat of Onslow, which covered much the same area as his former Ohariu seat. He was, however, increasingly at odds with the rest of the Labour Party — Dunne tended to support Labour's right-leaning faction rather than the party's more unionist wing, and with the departure of leading right-wingers like Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, and David Caygill, he found himself isolated. In 1994, Dunne resigned from the Labour Party, becoming an independent. A short time later, he established the Future New Zealand party (not to be confused with a later party of the same name).
In 1995, however, a group of MPs from both Labour and National decided to band together and form a new centrist party. Dunne, who had already quit his party for similar purposes, decided to join the larger group. Together, the defectors and Dunne established the United New Zealand party, with a total of seven MPs. The party's leader was Clive Matthewson. United eventually established a coalition with the National Party, with the deal seeing Dunne return to Cabinet as Minister of Internal Affairs and Inland Revenue.
In the 1996 elections, however, United was almost completely wiped out — Dunne, by virtue of his personal support, retained his seat, but all other United MPs were defeated. As the sole surviving United member, Dunne became the party's leader. Towards the end of the parliamentary term, Dunne became part of a varied assortment of minor parties and independents who kept the National Party government in office after its coalition with New Zealand First collapsed. Dunne was re-elected in the 1999 elections. In this contest, he was not opposed by any National Party candidate.
Shortly before the 2002 elections, Dunne's United merged with the Future New Zealand party (not to be confused with Dunne's own earlier party of the same name). Dunne remained leader of the new group, called United Future New Zealand. In the 2002 elections, Dunne retained his seat despite challenges from both major parties. Mostly as a result of a strong performance by Dunne in a political debate, United Future attracted a surprising level of support, winning 6.69% of the vote. In Parliament, United Future came to an agreement to support the governing Labour Party, although did not enter into formal coalition with it. Dunne remains United Future's leader.
Today, Dunne generally describes his policies as being based on common sense, and his supporters promote him as sensible and reasonable. Opponents are more inclined to criticise him as a right-wing conservative, pointing to his opposition to drug law reform, his opposition to the Civil Union Bill (homosexual marriage rights), his support for the tobacco industry, and his party's emphasis on family values. His history in Parliament is also subject to debate — supporters say that his willingness to work with either side of the House is a sign of reasonableness, while critics accuse him of being opportunistic, and of doing deals with anyone who can offer him something.
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