Key Points:

Helen Duncan, MNZM, teacher, MP. Died aged 65.

Helen Duncan entered Parliament in 1998 as a Labour list MP to replace Jill White who had won the mayoralty of Palmerston North.

But her entrance to the House was delayed as she waited in the public gallery while MPs debated whether she could take her seat while Parliament was under way, rather than waiting for a recess. The debate was resolved and she was issued with her warrant.


Duncan left Parliament in 2004 because of terminal cancer. She died on Waitangi Day.

Born in Greymouth in 1941, she attended Auckland and Canterbury universities before getting her teacher's qualification at Christchurch Teachers' College.

She became involved with the New Zealand Educational Institute (the primary school teachers' union) early in her career and in 1993 was elected president.

It was not an easy time, with teachers striking in support of a claim for pay parity with secondary school teachers.

The action dragged on for 15 months, eventually being settled in June 1995.

Duncan said at the time that her work in special education at the Auckland Hospital School stood her in good stead to deal with the 24,000- member union.

She described herself as a socialist, with a keen and active interest in women's affairs.

She contested the Epsom seat in the general election in 1996, losing to Christine Fletcher, who retained the seat for National. In 1999 she stood for Labour in North Shore, losing to National incumbent Wayne Mapp. Duncan was appointed a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005.