Claire Trevett

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

Fishing line saves Cunliffe

David Cunliffe. Photo / Brett Phibbs
David Cunliffe. Photo / Brett Phibbs

David Cunliffe's attempt at marae-style humour might have fallen a bit flat at the Labour leadership meeting in Whangarei last night, but he managed to rally by talking about fish.

Dispensing with his usual round up of Pacific greetings, he used a Maori mihi instead. He then greeted his rival Shane Jones' mother in the audience.

"I've got bad news. I know you're special, but last night your son told us he was your daughter. The further I go on, the more confused this gets."

He went on to call a kuia, Kay Taylor, Kay Jones instead. His reference to a Maori proverb, that the kumara does not sing of its sweetness, also fell a bit flat after Mr Cunliffe said he hoped to be able to persuade the audience he should be "the kumara you want to be munching on".

But he rallied when he moved on to talk about fisheries and snapper bag limits - a topical issue in the North. "We should be a fishing superstar, and I'm not just talking about Dover Samuels."

He said although he was aware he was on the turf of "the boy of the North" - Shane Jones - he was a friend of the North.

His pledge for government partnerships with regional communities, such as extending the rail link to NorthPort, also went down well.

Fellow candidate Grant Robertson said his priority was putting jobs at the centre of all Labour did - and he believed industries such as wood processing should be supported.

He also won loud applause when he mentioned the success in getting the asset sales referendum.

Mr Jones said that if he was Prime Minister he would ensure Auckland helped the regions.

He said he had been criticised by Northlanders for his opposition to the Puhoi "holiday highway". But he said the road would never reach Northland proper because it would end "where all the Aucklanders go, the flash baches in Leigh and Matakana".

The contenders have come under fire for committing to uncosted policies in the bid to secure the votes of party members and union delegates.

Yesterday Prime Minister John Key questioned the price tag of Mr Cunliffe and Mr Robertson's pledge to introduce a "living wage" of $18.40 an hour in the public sector, and for all government contractors.

Mr Cunliffe said the first step would cost $20-$30 million in its first year. But Mr Key said lifting the wage to the lower level of $15 an hour for workers in the ministries of health, social development, education and ACC alone would have totalled $68 million a year.

"So I'm pretty sceptical about the $20-$30 million.

"It sounds great in principle until you put 26,000 people on the dole queue and cost the economy somewhere round $2 billion."

Mr Cunliffe said his figure was only to introduce the living wage in the core public service in the first year.

- NZ Herald

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