Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Labour leader candidates kick off

Shane Jones, David Cunliffe, and Grant Robertson are campaigning for the leadership of the Labour PartyPhotos / NZ Herald
Shane Jones, David Cunliffe, and Grant Robertson are campaigning for the leadership of the Labour PartyPhotos / NZ Herald

Labour's leadership candidates have kicked off the first of a series of 12 hustings meetings in Levin today.

More than 200 party members attended to hear the contenders - Grant Robertson, Shane Jones and David Cunliffe speak. While no hoardings or banners were allowed, candidates were allowed to give out fliers as people walked in.

Shane Jones emphasised the need to build up the regions and recapture Labour's vote, saying he was the best chance of getting votes back from National.

"When I go the regions of New Zealand, I struggle find people at marae, workplaces, hotels, RSA's who say 'Jonesy, the first vote of choice for us is Labour. Yet there economic circumstances mean they should be Labour. Their dreams for their kids mean they should be Labour. So I ask, why are those people not naturally choosing the red waka?"

He also defended claims "that because I have a sense of humour, I have no ballast or

He said Labour should not be satisfied with polling in the 30's and his aim was to lift it to well into the 40s.

He said his contenders were worthy "but if you want the best messenger who can get people to cross the aisle... I genuinely believe I am that person."

David Cunliffe focused on "Kiwi families doing it tough" under National, saying it did not care about the income gap. "Well, we mind the gap. We mind that laissez-faire has turned out to be laissez-unfair."

"We are on track to become the first deficit generation, where people's children are worse off than their parents." He said whatever the outcome of the contest, "Labour has got better days ahead."

"We are going to go forward. The red tide is rising."

He said Labour would prioritise a living wage and had a strong economic record. "We've got a track record to be proud of." He would not rule out buying back partially privatised state assets. "We reserve the right to defend those assets, and to do that, we will rule out no option."

Grant Robertson warmed up the crowd with a joke, saying PM John Key had described Labour's contest as a reality show. "Well, here's a reality show for him: John Key, you are the weakest link."

He said Labour had to set full employment and a living wage for all as its goal, and pledged to set a timetable within which all government workers and contractors would be paid a living wage.

He also said he would reject a neo-liberal agenda, or the Third Way agenda and instead set out an agenda in which people were more important than money. He also pledged that in future his caucus would have a 50/50 split between men and women. He said he had put Mr Key on the back foot before and could do so again. "Let's win back New Zealand."

After the speeches, the media and non-members were asked to leave for a closed question session.

Members can vote at the meeting or by postal ballot.

Other interested observers also rolled up for a peek, including National Party aligned blogger David Farrar, who was asked to leave.

Party President Moira Coatsworth thanked all three for taking part.

It is the first time the party has given its wider membership and affiliates a vote on the leadership, and Ms Coatworth described it as a "historic day for democracy in New Zealand."

The next meetings are in Auckland tomorrow.

The contenders told us just how they'd run things. Read more here.

- NZ Herald

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