Prebble was born in Kent, England, and raised in Auckland. His father, Ken Prebble, was an Anglican priest, and a leader in the Charismatic movement as archdeacon at St. Pauls. Richard attended the University of Auckland, gaining a BA degree in 1970 and an LLB (Hons.) degree in 1972. He was admitted to the Bar in 1971, and practised law in both New Zealand and Fiji.
Prebble was originally a member of the Labour Party, and stood as its candidate for the Auckland Central electorate in the 1975 election. His candidacy was successful. Once inside Parliament, Prebble became aligned with Roger Douglas, leader of the right-wing faction within the Labour Party. Douglas supported the privatization of state assets, the deregulation of the economy, and the removal of trade barriers such as tariffs and subsidies. The party's traditional left-wing faction strongly opposed all these policies.
When Labour Party won the 1984 election, Douglas became Minister of Finance, and began implementing his economic policy. Prebble, along with David Caygill, proved one of his greatest supporters, Douglas, Prebble, and Caygill becoming sometimes known as "the Troika".
Prebble's ministerial roles granted him significant opportunities to pursue his policies - from 1984 to 1987, he served as Minister of Transport and Minister of Railways. In these roles he promoted the privatization of state-owned transport infrastructure. He also served as Associate Minister of Finance during this period, allowing him to support Douglas more closely. In 1987, he became Minister for State-owned Enterprises, Postmaster General, Minister of Works, and Minister of Broadcasting, portfolios in which he continued to advance Douglas's policies. During his ministerial career, Prebble was effectively placed in charge of the ongoing privatisation of government assets.
Prebble's position became troubled, however, because of growing tensions between Douglas and the Prime Minister, David Lange. While Lange had supported Douglas's reforms in the beginning, believing that they were necessary to end the economic problems that the government inherited, he became increasingly hostile to the scale and pace that Douglas demanded - Lange tended to see the reforms as a means to an end, while Douglas considered deregulation and privatisation as important goals in and of themselves. In November 1988, after a long period of bitter dispute, Prebble was fired from Cabinet, and Douglas was forced to resign.
Prebble retained his Auckland Central seat in the 1990 election, which Labour lost, arguably because of public dissatisfaction with the reforms. In the 1993 election, however, Prebble lost his seat to Sandra Lee-Vercoe, deputy leader of the left-wing Alliance. For the next three years, he worked as a consultant.
New Zealand's switch to the MMP electoral system, which made it easier for smaller parties to enter Parliament, provided the means for Prebble to return to national politics. When Douglas established the ACT New Zealand party, dedicated to the same laissez-faire economic policies he had promoted while in power, Prebble quickly became involved. In March 1996, Douglas stepped down as the new party's leader, and Prebble took over.
Views vary over whether he won Wellington Central on his own merits or because of an implied endorsement from National Prime Minister Jim Bolger. ACT had by this time started billing itself as a natural coalition partner for National, and if Prebble won Wellington Central, it would be able to enter Parliament regardless of its party vote.
Two days before the election Jim Bolger admitted in an interview with Paul Holmes that the polls pointed to a Prebble victory in Wellington Central although he thought it a pity because he liked the National candidate, Mark Thomas. Some argue that Prebble won because of this implied endorsement. Others argue that Prebble had already won, independent media polls already having put him in the lead a week out from the election. In the end, it proved to be moot, as ACT won 6.1% of the vote of the nationwide party vote, above the 5% threshold necessary to have seats in parliament.
Prebble lost his Wellington Central seat (the boundaries of which were significantly changed by the Electoral Commission, to Prebble's disfavour) to Labour's Marian Hobbs in the 1999 election, but remained in Parliament as a list MP and leader of ACT. After the 2002 election, speculation grew that Prebble would be replaced as leader, but a challenge failed to eventuate.
In February 2004, after a particularly poor poll result, speculation about Prebble's position appeared once again, with second-ranked Rodney Hide cited as a potential challenger. No challenge eventuated. On 27 April 2004, however, Prebble announced his voluntary retirement from the leadership, saying that "there comes a point in politics when there's a time for a change, when there's time for a fresh face". After a so-called "primary" contest, Hide took over as ACT leader on 13 June 2004.
Prebble initially made no announcement about whether he would remain in Parliament beyond the following election but indicated that he was "leaning towards" leaving. In mid-July 2004, however, he announced that he would seek the office of Speaker upon the retirement of Jonathan Hunt. However, he did not stand for election when the new Speakerwas elected in March 2005 as he had decided to retire at the next election.
Since the 2005 election Prebble has increasingly been involved in print media and on television as a political commentator. He continues to hold directorships with a number of New Zealand companies, including freight transport firm Mainfreight.
Prebble's latest book, Out of the Red, was released on October 23rd (Labour Day), 2006.
New Zealand Opposition Leader Slams LAV III Acquisition.(Richard Prebble says armored vehicles are too expensive, too heavy and too numerous)(Brief Article)
Jul 24, 2001; Richard Prebble, the leader of the New Zealand opposition party ACT, has criticized the country's acquisition of 105 LAV III...
Asking the Tough Questions: Richard Prebble Argues That Security Is the Number One Issue in New Zealand's Foreign Policy and Warns That We Ignore It at Our Peril
Jul 01, 2002; New Zealand's foreign policy under both National and Labour has lacked any coherent intellectual framework. This is because both...