Bill Birch

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Sir William Francis Birch (born 9 April 1934), usually known as Bill Birch, is a former New Zealand politician. He served as Minister of Finance for several years in a National Party government.

Birch was born in Hastings, although gained his qualifications in Hamilton. He was trained as a surveyor, and established a business in Pukekohe (a small town south of Auckland). Birch quickly became involved in various Pukekohe community organizations. He served on Pukehohe's borough council from 1965 to 1974, and was deputy mayor from 1968 to 1974.

Birch first entered parliament in the 1972 elections, in which he was the National Party's candidate for the Franklin electorate (which included Pukehohe). After holding a number of internal National Party positions, he was made Minister of National Development, Minister of Energy, and Minister of Science and Technology in 1978. In 1981, he swapped the Science and Technology role for the Regional Development portfolio.

When National lost the 1984 election, Birch's ministerial career was interrupted, but he remained in parliament. After National regained power in the 1990 election, Birch re-entered cabinet. Over the next three years, he was to hold a number of ministerial roles, including Minister of Labour, Minister of Immigration, Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, Minister of Employment, Minister of Health, and Minister responsible for the ACC.

During this period, Birch clashed a number of times with the controversial Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson. The Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, had never been a supporter of Richardson's strong laissez-faire policies, and preferred the more conservative Birch for the Finance portfolio. At the 1993 election, Richardson was removed from her Finance role, and Birch was elevated in her place.

After the 1996 election, National needed to form a coalition with the New Zealand First party in order to govern. New Zealand First's leader, Winston Peters, insisted on control of the Finance role as part of the coalition agreement, and National eventually agreed. The Minister of Finance role was split into two separate offices, one given the title "Treasurer" and the other still called "Minister of Finance". Treasurer, the senior title, was given to Winston Peters, while Birch retained the (lessened) role of Minister of Finance. Some, however, have voiced the opinion that whatever the official arrangement may have been, Birch still performed most of the job's key functions. Mike Moore of the Labour Party commented that "we are always impressed when Winston Peters answers questions, because Bill Birch's lips do not move."

When the coalition with New Zealand First broke down, Birch took over the role of Treasurer. He was both Treasurer and Minister of Finance for several months before Bill English was promoted to Minister of Finance, leaving Birch with the senior role. In the middle of 1999, however, Birch and English were swapped, with Birch becoming Minister of Finance again. Birch retired from Parliament at that year's election.

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