Four weeks' leave to test Coalition

By AUDREY YOUNG political reporter

The Alliance's new leader, Laila Harre, will create an early test for her relationship within the Government with a campaign for four weeks' annual holiday for all employees.

The campaign will begin on May 1, the international workers' day, May Day, and the aim will be to win Labour's commitment before the election for its introduction.

Laila Harre said Labour knew the Alliance's position, but acknowledged it might cause some discomfort.

The Alliance had to be able to harness public support for its policies.

"If we had not created discomfort over paid parental leave and the Kiwibank, we wouldn't have them.

"One of the reasons there have been differences in the Alliance over the management of the Coalition is the desire not to create discomfort.

"We will get four weeks' leave, I think, because we will mobilise public support in favour of it."

Laila Harre, the Associate Minister of Labour and Women's Affairs Minister, was elected Alliance leader at an Auckland meeting of the party's ruling council.

Founding leader Jim Anderton was expelled at the same meeting because he plans to establish a rival party.

He formed the Alliance, a coalition of parties, in 1991, but has effectively quit under claims the left undermined the party in government with an oppositionist mentality, under the reality that he had lost control of the ruling council and amid suspicions that his leadership might be threatened after the next election.

The council also terminated the membership of other MPs loyal to Mr Anderton - deputy leader and Conservation Minister Sandra Lee, Corrections Minister Matt Robson, Democrat MPs Grant Gillon and John Wright, and former Customs Minister Phillida Bunkle - and members of the Alliance who have pledged to help Mr Anderton set up another party.

MP Kevin Campbell was not expelled because he is still supporting the Alliance through reinstating his tithe to the council. He has yet to declare his longer-term intentions.

Mr Anderton will continue to claim the title of parliamentary leader of the Alliance on the grounds that he has the support of most Alliance MPs, seven out of 10.

If he resigned from the party, he could invoke the anti-party-hopping law and be deemed to have resigned as an MP.

The council elected Mana Motuhake leader Willie Jackson as Alliance deputy and he will stand in the Maori seat Tainui.

The Alliance now has more leaders and deputies than its poll ratings, according to the One News/Colmar Brunton poll, which was taken last week.

The Alliance, unspecified, scored 1 per cent; the Alliance (Jim Anderton's faction) 1 per cent; and the Alliance (Laila Harre's faction) 0.3 per cent.

Laila Harre said Labour had agreed that the Alliance could introduce an amendment for four weeks' holiday to a comprehensive bill on holidays yet to be introduced.

Free tertiary education would be a key focus for the election campaign.

The party was still debating whether to promote a "big-bang" policy of free healthcare funded by a dedicated health tax or whether to promote incremental gains.

She said the council was optimistic and regarded the split as an opportunity to renew and attract new members.

Alliance support had been on a steady decline before the internal hostilities broke out.

Prime Minister Helen Clark is still confident she can deal with a split coalition partner.

Asked how she was going to cope with two leaders, she said: "Is the National Party inviting us to have an early election over it? Please tempt us."

She had no control over backbench MPs but did not believe Laila Harre would overstep the boundaries.

"I don't think she is going to be looking to make great waves, precisely for the reason that an early election wouldn't suit her either."

Mr Anderton could not be reached.

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