Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Gay remark sees Cunliffe aide out

Mr Cunliffe acknowledged Ms Michie hadn't breached the rules with her comment. Photo / Paul Taylor
Mr Cunliffe acknowledged Ms Michie hadn't breached the rules with her comment. Photo / Paul Taylor

The last of Labour's 12 leadership meetings ended in Christchurch last night after a day of controversy in which David Cunliffe stood down one of his closest advisers, Jenny Michie, for comments she made about Grant Robertson's sexuality two weeks ago.

"It would be naive to imagine there would be no resistance to a gay prime minister at this point," she said.

"I think some people might have a problem with it but I certainly wouldn't."

Ms Michie made her comments on TV3's The Nation as a commentator before either Mr Robertson or Mr Cunliffe had announced they were standing, but the clip was repeated by 3 News in a Monday polling story.

Mr Cunliffe justified her dismissal last night, saying while he had sympathy for her, "perception can become reality and the fact is that I have had a rule on this campaign that no one would go anywhere near issues around candidates' personal lives and it is important that that continue".

Mr Cunliffe acknowledged Ms Michie hadn't breached the rules and suggested - without naming her - that Dunedin South MP Clare Curran had broken the non-aggression pact with her tweeting on Monday.

The tweet said: "The 'NZ's not ready for a gay PM' is prob the biggest dog whistle I've ever heard. Extraordinary that it's also coming from within the Party."

Mr Cunliffe said that "if anybody broke the rules it was a colleague who decided to take to Twitter rather than use the established process for raising any questions about behaviour, but nonetheless I have taken the high ground here and said that our campaign is going to maintain the highest standards".

He had asked Ms Michie, a former Beehive press secretary and Labour Party employee, to voluntarily step aside, which she had happily done.

Mr Cunliffe said she would not be automatically excluded from his staff were he to win the leadership, but he had not even begun to think about staff.

Mr Jones weighed into the spat by criticising Clare Curran's tweeting: "Either the moon in Dunedin was in the wrong phase or she is casting around for a new job."

Despite the bickering, the candidates were civil among themselves. Mr Cunliffe believed respect for each other's skills had grown between them over the course of the campaign.

"The winner will be the people of New Zealand if we can bring those talents together into an unstoppable team that can change the Government."

Numbers game

How Grant Robertson could win
20 MP (23.52 per cent of total vote)
50 per cent of the membership (20 per cent of total vote)
35 per cent of the unions (7 per cent of total vote)
Total 50.52 per cent

How David Cunliffe could win
10 MPs (11.76 per cent of total vote)
60 per cent of membership (24 per cent of total vote)
75 per cent of unions (15 per cent of total vote)
Total 50.76 per cent

What happens next
*Private Lobbying continues.
*Voting continues by postal ballot or online voting but not counted.
*Preferential voting closes midday Sunday.
*Counting to be done electronically immediately.
*MPs comprise 40 per cent; membership 40 per cent; affiliated unions 20 per cent.
*If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent outright, the lowest drops off and his supporters' second preferences are allocated.
*Result to be announced by party president Moira Coatsworth Sunday afternoon.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 01 Oct 2014 07:42:31 Processing Time: 596ms