Elizabeth McLeay

A profile image of Elizabeth McLeay.


  • BA Victoria University of Wellington
  • Postgraduate Diploma of Teaching, Auckland Secondary Teachers’ College
  • PhD University of Auckland


Between 1990 and 2009 I taught comparative government and politics, including New Zealand politics, cabinet government and research methods, in the Political Science and International Relations Programme, VUW. Before that I taught at the (then) City of London Polytechnic and the University of Auckland.

My particular interest has been in institutional rules – how they originate, evolve, change, and how they affect, and are affected by, the interaction between organisations, groups and individuals. I have published on the impact of MMP, political representation, legislative behaviour, women and politics, the relationship between the executive and Parliament and comparative public policy. My PhD on parliamentary careers and cabinet selection in New Zealand led to writing a range of articles and books on the this topic, including Cabinet and Political Power in New Zealand (Oxford University Press, 1995).

My most recent book is In Search of Consensus: New Zealand’s Electoral Act 1956 and its Constitutional Legacy (Victoria University Press, Wellington, 2018), where I tell the story of one of our most influential, yet seldom recognised as such, legislative measures. Recent presentations include ‘Women and the Struggle for Political Equality 1893-2018’, the Inaugural Knowledge Seminar organised by the Parliamentary Library of the New Zealand House of Representatives, October 2018; and ‘Who Won (and Lost) New Zealand’s 2017 General Election?’, Centre for Change Governance, University of Canberra, March 2018.

Between 2010 and 2012 I was Visiting Senior Research Fellow, School of Law, VUW, working with Claudia Geiringer and Polly Higbee on the use of urgency in the New Zealand House of Representatives. This project was funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation. In 2011, the findings were published in What’s the Hurry? Urgency in the New Zealand Legislative Process 1987-2010 (Wellington, Victoria University Press).

As well as the Law Foundation grant I have been awarded the Auckland University Annual Prize in Political Studies, the Rhodes Visiting Fellowship to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, a VUW Research Grant and a Foundation for Research Science and Technology grant to study MMP (with Jonathan Boston, Stephen Levine and Nigel Roberts).

I have been a Senior Associate, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, VUW, and have held visiting research fellowships at the University of Mannheim and the Australian National University. In 2001 I was Fulbright Visiting Professor in New Zealand Studies at Georgetown University. I have been the joint recipient of Wallace Awards and was delighted to be granted lifetime membership of the New Zealand Political Studies Association.

Particular highlights in my career were my invited addresses to the two Canadian citizens’ assemblies on electoral system change (Vancouver, 2005; and Ottawa, 2006). More recently I was invited to take part in a Wilton Park Conference organised by the UK Ministry of Justice, when I spoke on: ‘Electoral Processes: Managing Successful Transition and Change (2010). I have also worked with members of the Constitution Unit, University College London, on various projects.

In 2016 I visited Samoa with two other scholars to contribute to Samoan parliamentary development, organised and sponsored by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. For several years I co-edited (with Paul Harris) New Zealand’s journal Political Science. I have served on international editorial boards, been involved in organising many conferences, been an active member of the New Zealand Chapter of the Australasian Study of Parliament Group, and have frequently met with visiting parliamentary delegations from overseas. Often working with other political scientists and constitutional lawyers, I have made submissions to public inquiries and to Parliament on issues relating to the New Zealand constitution. Early in my career I twice served as a director on the board of the Housing Corporation of New Zealand.

My contributions to university governance include serving as Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and chairing and participating in a range of programme reviews, mostly recently in 2013 as a member of the Panel for the Massey University Arts Qualification Review. I have also frequently served on selection panels for Fulbright New Zealand. Among my particular goals in my academic career has been to advance the position of women in universities and in political science in particular.

Selected recent publications

  • In Search of Consensus: New Zealand’s Electoral Act 1956 and its Constitutional Legacy (Wellington, Victoria University Press, 2018)
  • Career, Culture and Character: New Zealand’s Three Women Prime Ministers,' Broad Agenda Blog (University of Canberra, 8 May 2018).
  • With Claudia Geiringer and Polly Higbee, ‘Urgent Legislation in the New Zealand House of Representatives and the Bypassing of Select Committee Scrutiny’, Policy Quarterly, 8:2 (2012), pp. 12-22.
  • With Claudia Geiringer and Polly Higbee) What’s the Hurry? Urgency in the New Zealand Legislative Process 1987-2010 (Wellington, Victoria University Press, 2011).
  • With Keith Dowding, ‘The Firing Line’, in Paul ’t Hart and John Uhr, eds., Rites of Passage: Studies in Leadership Succession (Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, 2011), pp. 157-73.
  • ‘Building the Constitution: Debates; Assumptions; Developments 2000-2010’, in Caroline Morris, Jonathan Boston and Petra Butler, eds., Reconstituting the Constitution (Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidleberg, 2011), pp. 3-33.
  • With Kate McMillan and John Leslie, eds., Rehinking Women and Politics: New Zealand and Comparative Perspectives (Victoria University Press, Wellington, 2009).
  • ‘The Public Interest in New Zealand’, in Mark Francis and Jim Tully, eds. In the Public Interest: Essays in Honour of Professor Keith Jackson (Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, 2009), pp. 19-34.
  • ‘”A Wonderful Lot of Chaps”’: Observations on New Zealand Army Culture in War Letters from Rod to Molly McLeay, 1940-1942’, Journal of New Zealand Studies, 2009, pp. 61-83.
  • With Jack Vowles, ‘Redefining Constituency Representation: the Roles of New Zealand MPs Under MMP’, Regional and Federal Studies, 17:1 (2007), pp. 71-95.
  • With John Uhr, ‘The Australian and New Zealand Parliaments: Context, Response and Capacity’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 41:2 (2006), pp. 257-72.
  • ‘Buckle, Board, Team or Network? Understanding Cabinet’, New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law, 4:1 (2006,) pp. 37-54.
  • ‘Scrutiny and Capacity: An Evaluation of the Parliamentary Committees in the New Zealand Parliament’ Australasian Parliamentary Review, 21:1 (2006), pp. 158-177.
  • ‘Climbing On: Rules, Values and Representation in the New Zealand Parliament’, in Marian Sawer, Manon Tremblay and Linda Trimble, eds., Representing Women in Parliament: A Comparative Study (Routledge, London, 2006), pp. 67-82.
  • ‘Leadership in Cabinet under MMP’, in Raymond Miller and Michael Mintrom, eds., Leadership and Political Change in New Zealand (Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2006), pp. 92-112.

Forthcoming publications

  • ‘Robert McDonald Chapman’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.
  • With Don Hunn and John R. Martin, ‘The New Zealand Public Service: Reflections on the Past Century’, in Jonathan Pincus and Henry Ergus, eds., John Nethercote: Festschrift.

Current project

The politics of prisoners’ voting rights.