Claire Trevett

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

Women MP target misses mark

Poll shows little enthusiasm among voters for policy of gender equality in Labour's caucus by 2017

Josie Pagani says she believes the caucus issue doesn't figure in many people's lives. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Josie Pagani says she believes the caucus issue doesn't figure in many people's lives. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Labour's target of selecting candidates to ensure women make up at least half of its caucus by 2017 has been given the thumbs down in the latest Herald-DigiPoll survey - and more than half of the women polled said it was too restrictive.

The survey asked respondents whether they believed Labour's target of achieving 50 per cent by 2017 was a good idea, or too restrictive.

Overall, 54 per cent said it was too restrictive, while just 38 per cent believed it was a good idea. Among the women respondents, 52 per cent said it was too restrictive while 42 per cent believed it was a good idea.

About 57 per cent of men did not like it, compared with 33 per cent who said it was a good idea.

A spokeswoman for Labour leader David Cunliffe said it was a matter for the party. Party president Moira Coatsworth and secretary Tim Barnett were overseas and could not be contacted.

Ms Coatsworth has previously said the target of 45 per cent of women in 2014, and 50 per cent in 2017 would be achieved by structuring the party list so the goal was reached if there were enough women candidates in safe seats.

The target was adopted by the party at its annual conference in November but a related proposal, dubbed the "man ban" was dropped before the conference. That would have allowed electorates to run women-only selections.

Most MPs have backed the 45-50 per cent targets in public, although the women-only selections were openly opposed by several, both women and men.

When asked the same question as the poll had asked, Labour MP Shane Jones laughed at length before answering: "The Labour Party conference debated this issue. The Labour Party is fighting the next election on the basis of gender equity. There is no wriggle room here - the party has settled the policy and it is now up to the electorate to assess Labour on the full range of kaupapa."

Former Labour candidate and party member Josie Pagani said she was not surprised at the poll result because it was not an issue that affected most people's lives. She believed the targets had drawn attention from other, more universal gender equity issues such as equal pay which Labour had strong policies on.

"The Labour Party doesn't have a problem particularly with female representation in its caucus. It just put the focus on something that people aren't sure is a problem at all."

Pagani - who was an outspoken critic of the proposals for a target - said she would not stand for Labour again in the 2014 election, and had not been asked to.

She is a regular political commentator and has a blog, on which she had endorsed Mr Jones in the leadership contest against Grant Robertson and Mr Cunliffe.

Labour has so far selected only about eight candidates, all in electorates held by other parties. So far four are males and three are females - but in the three more marginal seats of Otaki, Napier and Te Tai Hauauru the candidates are all male - Robb McCann, Stuart Nash and Adrian Rurawhe respectively.

The others selected include Deborah Russell in Rangitikei, Hamish McDouall in Wanganui, Kieran McNulty in Wairarapa, Elizabeth Craig in Clutha-Southland, and Glenda Alexander in Waitaki.

The poll of 750 voters was taken from December 9-17 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 per cent.

- NZ Herald

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