United Future MP quits party over smacking bill

By Maggie Tait

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Gordon Copeland said today felt like his wedding day but it actually marked his divorce from United Future.

At a press conference today Mr Copeland posed for the cameras before saying he was leaving United Future because of his opposition to the bill being passed tonight changing the law around smacking.

He quipped that the cameras going off reminded him of his wedding before stating he was re-forming the Future New Zealand Party which United Future was previously allied with.

He would co-lead the party with former colleague Larry Baldock who has been running a petition against the Bradford bill.

Mr Copeland said he would vote for the budget but was keeping his options open for the 2008 budget and other legislation.

The Government has security on confidence and supply because of its agreements with the Greens -- who abstain -- and NZ First and United Future's remaining MPs.

"I have made this decision following careful thought for a number of reasons and, in particular, because I desire to be involved in a party which listens to the people and has a clear commitment to the repeal of the anti-smacking bill that will become law tonight," he said.

In Parliament on the party list Mr Copeland said he had the right to remain in Parliament as an independent before running for the election under the new party because he felt that was what United Future supporters wanted.

Mr Copeland cited polls which found 80 per cent of people opposed the bill removing reasonable defence but admitted he did not know what people thought of the amendment that Labour and National agreed on to enshrine police discretion on prosecutions.

He had felt "hemmed in" and wanted to be able to follow Christian principles rather than follow the party-line.

There was no relationship with the Destiny Church nor Independent MP Taito Phillip Field.

Mr Copeland revealed he had been thinking about leaving for six months but only told party leader Peter Dunne today, timing his announcement with the Bradford bill's third reading.

His departure leaves Mr Dunne with only one MP Judy Turner.

Mrs Turner said she was devastated by Mr Copeland's decision and was close to tears as she pledged support to United Future.

"I am a bit devastated, really sad... 24 hours from now you are going see the impact that three people can have on the outcome for a government and he is prepared to walk away from that."

Mr Copeland did not believe his announcement would undermine United Future's achievements in tomorrow's budget.

"I have worked privately with Peter for quite some time trying to find another solution and that hasn't been possible... I wish Peter Dunne all the very best in the future with his political career."

Mr Copeland told Mr Dunne by phone and said he did not want to tell him earlier because he thought the announcement would be leaked to media.

The party needs 500 members before it could be registered and Mr Copeland said some members, including people on the board of United Future, would be joining him.

Earlier, National Party deputy leader Bill English questioned Prime Minister Helen Clark in Parliament about Mr Copeland's decision.

"What assurances can she give as the leader of the current coalition of Labour, United Future and New Zealand First that the Government commands a majority in this House?" he asked.

The Government's only formal coalition partner is the Progressive's Jim Anderton. It has support agreements with New Zealand First and United Future and a cooperation agreement with the Greens under which that party abstains on confidence and supply issues.

The Government may find it harder passing some legislation but its confidence and supply arrangements are secure as they were when Taito Phillip Field became an independent.

Miss Clark said that the Government continued to enjoy the confidence of the House.

More soon.

- NZPA

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