Claire Trevett

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

I'm ahead on points, says Jones

Cunliffe and Robertson's living wage policy sparks a challenge from Jones and derision from National.

Shane Jones appeared to impress his audience the most. Photo / Natalie Slade
Shane Jones appeared to impress his audience the most. Photo / Natalie Slade

Labour's leadership rivals were in David Cunliffe's territory of Auckland yesterday, but it was Shane Jones who appeared to impress his audience the most - even if he did say so himself.

Mr Jones, Mr Cunliffe and Grant Robertson spoke to about 300 members and unionists at the Otahuhu events centre - known locally as the "Housie Hall" - before moving last night to the more central location in Western Springs, where about 700 came along to hear the pitches.

And after a series of uncosted policy announcements, National accused the contestants of "spending like drunken sailors".

Although Mr Cunliffe was clearly the favourite to win at the South Auckland event, Mr Jones got some momentum with a rousing speech in which he flattered the workers, lambasted John Key for having "hands that smell like lavender, but his money is dirty" and slotted in his customary humour.

David Cunliffe was clearly the favourite to win the South Auckland event. Photo / Natalie Slade
David Cunliffe was clearly the favourite to win the South Auckland event. Photo / Natalie Slade

He said he had gone from being described as the underdog on Friday, to being called "authentically berserk" on Saturday, to being called the street fighter in the contest.

"I am the street fighter."

Afterwards he said he believed people had been impressed by "the Jones boy".

"The reality is it's a 12-round boxing match and I happen to believe I'm ahead on points. Whether that translates to votes, time will tell."

Mr Robertson stuck to much the same material as the day before, promoting the "living wage" policy.

Mr Jones has also made an effort to distinguish himself as the economically responsible one after both his rivals pledged to introduce an $18.40 an hour "living wage" across the Government sector. Instead of joining in, Mr Jones got in a dig at his opponents' for making uncosted promises, saying while he did support a lift in the minimum wage, "I will not write cheques that we cannot cash".

Instead, he has promised to take on the duopoly in the supermarket industry by reviewing and possibly regulating it, describing the chains as "the brown shirts" in New Zealand business. He has also proposed a Pacific TV channel - a proposal his rival Mr Cunliffe swiftly moved to match, and tax breaks to foster regional business and projects such as rail links in Northland.

Grant Robertson stuck to much the same material as the day before, promoting the "living wage" policy. Photo / Natalie Slade
Grant Robertson stuck to much the same material as the day before, promoting the "living wage" policy. Photo / Natalie Slade

The policies have gone down a treat among those at the meetings, which had a strong union presence. However, they have drawn flak from Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce who said the three were "spending like drunken sailors".

"If there is another fortnight of this, then what is left of their economic credibility will be shot to bits. It's like they went to sleep in 2008 and have woken up not realising the world has changed so they're back to the old borrow and bribe ways."

Mr Cunliffe said yesterday he believed the cost of extending the living wage across the public sector would be about $20-$30 million in its first year.

Mr Joyce said Mr Cunliffe was pulling numbers out of thin air. "It would be a lot more than that. They're talking about every agency of Government." Many of those at the meetings said Mr Jones was the most impressive although they would not say if they would vote for him.. Former Auckland City deputy mayor Bruce Hucker said he supported David Cunliffe but said all three had been impressive.

- NZ Herald

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