Previous winners

2023 Semi-Finalists

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Sir John Kirwan KNZM

You may know Sir John Kirwan MBE OBE KNZM for his international career in rugby, as one of the highest try scorers in rugby union history. However, since stepping down from the rugby spotlight, Kirwan has openly shared his battles with depression – bringing the then-stigma of mental health into the public arena, and changing lives in the process. In 2022, Kirwan embarked on a two-week road trip across Aotearoa, fundraising and advocating for his initiative, the Mitey Programme: helping children to build age-appropriate skills, knowledge and understanding to look after their own emotional wellbeing. By the end of the tour, the team had raised an ambitious $1m (enabling 11,000 kids to take the programme). Throughout, Kirwan was pivotal in igniting the country in a much-needed conversation, inspiring Kiwi kids and families to take a fresh approach to managing their mental health.

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Dame Jools & Dame Lynda Topp (Topp Twins)

Dame Jools and Dame Lynda Topp – aka the Topp Twins – are New Zealand national treasures. They have performed around the world as an original comedy-music duo for more than 25 years, all the while demonstrating their unique brand of activism imbued with trademark warmth, humility and good sense of fun. Both openly lesbian since the 1970s, their impact on our LGBTQIA+ communities is undeniable. In more recent years, as both women battled cancer, their vulnerability and openness has resonated with New Zealanders from all walks of life. As a duo, and as individuals in their own right, Jools and Lynda have dedicated their lives to making us laugh, making us think, and standing up for what they believe in.

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Mark Law

“If it’s someone’s life, just go.” In the wake of the horrific disaster on Whakaari/White Island in 2019, helicopter pilot Mark Law was first on the scene. As the CEO of Kāhu NZ and a former SAS soldier, Law was in a unique position to offer help. While dispatch orders from the New Zealand’s Air Ambulance Service deemed the Island too dangerous to land, Law flew towards the aftermath. With only a gas mask on hand, he waded through shin-deep ash, single-handedly locating 20 people before another Kahu helicopter arrived. His efforts that day not only saved lives, but also offered much-needed comfort to friends and whānau of those who died. Law was later awarded a New Zealand Bravery Star for his exceptional courage.

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Professor Rangi Mātāmua

Not many people can say they’ve led the formation of a national public holiday; but renowned Māori scholar, Professor Rangi Mātāmua (Tūhoe) is one of them. Shortly after joining Te Pūtahi-a-Toi, School of Māori Knowledge as Professor of Mātauranga Māori in September 2021, he was shoulder tapped by the Prime Minister to be Chief Advisor Matariki and Mātauranga Māori, as the Government explored the creation of a new public holiday. For Mātāmua, this was more than a once in a lifetime opportunity – it was a chance to connect New Zealanders with te ao Māori, and in particular our shared environmental responsibility (each of the stars in Matariki are associated with different parts of the environment). Our first Matariki holiday was a landmark moment for Aotearoa, but also for Mātāmua; who has dedicated his career to sharing traditional Māori astronomy knowledge.

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Dame Robin White DNZM

2022 has been a significant year for Dame Robin White DNZM (Ngāti Awa). Cementing her status as one of New Zealand’s most important artists, her work was the focus of a retrospective exhibition developed jointly by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and Te Papa Tongarewa, showcasing decades of her extraordinary work. In November, she was named one of only 20 Arts Foundation Icons – honoured for her lifetime contribution to the arts. As an artist, White has produced some of the most renowned images of New Zealand art in the later-half of the 20th century. The early focus of her career was spent on her iconic New Zealand landscapes and portraits of the 1970s. Then, while living in Kiribati where she had moved in 1982, a fire unexpectedly destroyed her home and studio prompting Robin to turn toward collaborative art-making; merging the principles and methods of western and Indigenous art practices - an approach that she has maintained since her return to New Zealand in 1999.

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Distinguished Professor Roy Kerr CNZM FRSNZ

In 2019, astronomers captured an image of a supermassive black hole 55 million light years away. In doing so, they also proved a solution that Canterbury University Professor Roy Kerr CNZM FRS FRSNZ came up with almost 60 years ago (2023). In 1963, Kerr (an eminent mathematician) achieved what had eluded others for nearly half a century, solving some of the most difficult equations of physics by hand and uncovering the exact solution of Albert Einstein's equations that describe rotating black holes. His discovery sparked a revolution in physics, and he is now globally recognised for discovering what is now known as “the Kerr solution”. The University of Canterbury awarded Kerr the rare honour of the title Canterbury Distinguished Professor – the highest academic title that can be awarded by UC and has been conferred only twice before in the University’s history.

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Ruby Tui

Moments after the Black Ferns celebrated their incredible success at the 2022 Rugby World Cup, Ruby Tui led the 42,000-strong-crowd (the largest to have ever attended a women’s sports event in New Zealand) in a rousing version of Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi. The moment encapsulated so much of what New Zealanders have come to know and love about Tui: her energy, her heart, and her passion for Women’s Rugby. Shortly after their nail-biting win, Tui was named the 15s breakthrough player of the year at the 2022 World Rugby Awards in Monaco. No stranger to success, Tui won an Olympic Silver medal in 2016 and a Rugby World Cup Sevens title in 2018, going onto win Gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, her impact goes well beyond international awards – inspiring young players across the world, and fundamentally changing the way New Zealanders think about Women’s Rugby.


Shaneel Lal

Shaneel Lal is many things – an LGBTQIA+ activist, a writer and journalist, a political commentator and a University student. Through it all, they have been a consistent and courageous voice for thousands of people across Aotearoa, calling out injustice and empowering others to stand up for what they believe in. As a survivor of conversion therapy, Lal founded the Conversion Therapy Action Group. Lal spearheaded the movement to end conversion therapy in Aotearoa New Zealand, successfully passing legislation in 2022 after a five-year campaign. Lal is advocating to protect queer people under hate speech laws and change the blood donation policies to ease the process for gay and bisexual men to donate blood. Lal has served as an executive board member of Rainbow Youth and Auckland Pride Festival and is a trustee of Adhikaar Aotearoa. In the face of racism, criticism and bigotry, Shaneel has continued to raise their voice for queer and indigenous communities across Aotearoa.

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Tāme Iti

For over five decades, Tāme Iti (Ngai Tūhoe, Te Arawa, Waikato) has made headlines for his unique brand of activism and artistry. From shooting a national flag on Government grounds to collaborating with some of Aotearoa’s greatest artists, Tāme is a constant innovator: pushing boundaries to tell indigenous stories on a world stage. Once branded as a terrorist, it’s only now – looking back over a lifetime of mahi – we understand the depth of his impact, and widespread calls to recontextualise his contribution have seen him honoured as an artist and change maker across Aotearoa. In 2022 he received a Laureate Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand, co-produced and starred in the film Muru, and presented an art exhibition I Will Not Speak Māori as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the 1972 Māori language petition. For his extensive activism in support of tino rangatiratanga, indigenous rights and the Māori language, he is considered by many to be a national treasure.

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Dr Vincent O'Malley

At the 2022 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, Vincent O’Malley took home the prize for general non-fiction with his latest book, Voices from the New Zealand Wars/He Reo nō ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa. Like much of his work, the book brought together a rich set of sources and voices to tell some of New Zealand’s most important stories – painting a vivid and at times confronting picture of a past that many New Zealanders know little about. Over the course of his remarkable career, O’Malley has tirelessly worked to raise the New Zealand Wars higher in the national consciousness, penning a number of books on New Zealand history and advocating for the New Zealand Wars to become a core part of the school curriculum. In 2022, he was named as the winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Non-Fiction. He is a founding partner of HistoryWorks, a group of historians specialising in Treaty of Waitangi research.



To be eligible for this award, the nominee must have, through their achievements, made an outstanding contribution to the wellbeing of Aotearoa, particularly across the last 12-months.

Nominators should consider talking about the following areas in their nomination:

  • THE NOMINEE: Describe the person you are nominating and what they’ve done to inspire you to nominate them as 2023 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Te Pou Whakarae o Aotearoa.
  • PURPOSE: Who benefits from the work, contribution, or influence of this person - and how?
  • LEADERSHIP: How does this person set a positive example for other fellow New Zealanders and showing them the potential for change.
  • COMMITMENT: Describe the commitment of time, risks, and challenges overcome to create an impact to this point (this may still be ongoing). What have they done that has gone above and beyond to show leadership, create change, and give back?
  • THOUGHT LEADERSHIP & INNOVATIVE THINKING: How thoughtful, creative, and unique is this person’s approach to their challenge, opportunity, or situation?
  • PROVEN IMPACT: How has this person clearly demonstrated a positive impact in their area of influence? How is has this been measured?
  • LONG-TERM IMPACT: If known, how does this person plan to grow and/or adapt their work, contribution, or influence in the future? How would winning this award impact this person and the work that they are doing?

Conditions of Entry

“At Kiwibank we’ve always been here to support the growth and progress of Kiwi. We couldn’t be prouder of our decade long partnership with the New Zealander of the Year Awards. It is our privilege to be a partner of this celebration of those selfless, creative and visionary Kiwi who have put in the hard mahi for the benefit of our communities. These special New Zealanders embody how we can all play a part in contributing to our society and together have a positive impact.”
Steve Jurkovich
Kiwibank Chief Executive