Hawkins will stay on despite cancer

By Audrey Young

A familiar parliamentary face will be missing from Labour's renewal-focused conference this weekend - Manurewa MP George Hawkins, who is recovering at home after an operation for bowel cancer.

But the 61-year old said yesterday he still planned to fight next year's election and had put in a nomination.

Mr Hawkins said he found out in early September he had cancer and was operated on fairly quickly.

"I was quite lucky. They got all the cancer. There were no secondaries so I didn't need any chemotherapy or radiation or anything like."

He hoped to be back in Parliament in a couple of weeks but he would not be at the party conference in Takapuna this weekend. "I'm not going anywhere where there are crowds of people at the moment. I just don't want to get knocked."

At least two other present MPs have recovered from bowel cancer: Northland MP John Carter and new Cabinet minister Shane Jones.

Mr Hawkins has had more than his share of ill-health, having suffered a stroke in 1992, two years after he was first elected. "I've had my fair share but what it does is make you a little more resolute and stronger and a bit more determined."

He was a minister for six years but was not reappointed to the Cabinet this term. There had been hopes in some quarters of the party that he would relinquish his seat next election in favour of the Prime Minister's drive for rejuvenation. But he indicated well before his operation that was not going to happen. Mr Hawkins said no one had put pressure on him lately to reconsider, given his recent ill-health.

He did not expect to be challenged; he has the largest electorate organisation in NZ and a majority of 11,707.

"I'm seen as a bit of a workaholic and no one has a go at that."

Mr Hawkins found himself out of favour with the party over submissions by his supporters on electorate boundary changes to the Representation Commission.

The result was that Mr Hawkins' already safe seat was made even safer on paper and the new seat of Botany, provisionally marginal, is now a National seat on paper.

Mr Hawkins said that was not his doing: "I took no part in any of that."

The Botany electorate has a large Chinese population and Labour is trying to attract a Chinese candidate to stand against National's Pansy Wong, who has indicated she would like to stand there.

Auckland lawyer and broadcaster Raymond Huo has been tipped as a contender but this week he would not confirm or deny he wanted to stand.

Helen Clark is expected to make much of her refreshed team in her keynote speech today. David Cunliffe has moved into Health and Chris Carter into Education.

Tribute is expected to be paid to Jim Sutton and Georgina Beyer, who have already left Parliament, and to Ann Hartley, Jill Pettis, Dianne Yates, Dover Samuels, Paul Swain and Marian Hobbs, who have agreed to go in her drive to rejuvenate the party.

But particular tribute will be paid to former education minister Steve Maharey. It will be his last conference before becoming vice-chancellor at Massey University.

Labour's fresher faces next year, in seats or as list-only candidates, are expected to include Andrew Little, Phil Twyford, Grant Robertson, Connor Roberts, Kate Sutton, Clare Curran, Stuart Nash, Paul Chalmers, Don Pryde, Jordan Carter and Hamish McCracken.

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