New Zealand's new PM a "specialist in being boring"

Bill English has described himself as specialising in
Bill English has described himself as specialising in "being boring". Mark Mitchell

NEW Zealand's new Prime Minister is a former farmer and literature student from smalltown Southland who once described himself as "specialising in being boring".

Simon William "Bill" English takes on the top job 26 years after entering Parliament in the rural Wallace electorate near the bottom of the South Island.

He was raised in Dipton, Southland, and boarded at St Patrick's Silverstream in Wellington, where he was head boy. After studying commerce at the University of Otago and English literature at Victoria University he moved back south to Dipton to work as a farmer.

He is married to Mary, a GP in Kelburn, who has only rarely made forays into political life to speak against euthanasia and abortion. They have six children. His brother, Conor English, is a former Federated Farmers head who has considered but not fulfilled a shift to politics.

Bill English is 54 years old but his dry demeanour and slow, monotonal speaking voice sometimes make him appear a little older. He recently held a press conference with reporters while holding a steaming Milo.

He is the quieter, more conservative, less populist half of the Key-English leadership team of the past eight years. A practising Catholic, he is opposed - unlike Key - to same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia.

Deputising for Key, he has built a reputation as a steady, conservative Finance Minister, managing eight budgets and achieving his Government's top priority of a return to surplus. In 2011, he sparked a major shift in the Corrections system from punitive measures to rehabilitation after famously describing New Zealand prisons as a "moral and fiscal failure". He has also overseen the biggest reforms of state housing, including an end to a "house for life" and proposed sales of thousands of homes.

More recently, he has led the Government's "social investment" revolution, which looks to use big data to channel funding only into rigorously tested social services. The social investment approach is likely to remain a core part of the Government he leads.

His career has mostly escaped controversy, aside from a spending scandal in 2009 in which he was found to be claiming a $900-a-week living allowance to live in his own Wellington home.

His political career began in National Party branch offices in Southland and Wellington, before he entered Parliament in 1990 in the seat that later became Clutha-Southland, the safest National seat in the country.

After stints in education, health and finance, he took on the National leadership, where he led the party to its worst election defeat in 2002, scraping just over 20 per cent of the vote. He was rolled by Don Brash the following year and later said he had no plans to ever lead again.

On Monday, he will go against that commitment, becoming National's new leader and New Zealand's 39th Prime Minister.

Topics:  editors picks new zealand politics

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