Key Points:

  • Metiria Turei resigns
  • Scrutiny of family over Benefit fraud "unbearable"
  • Greens plummet to 8.3% in polls
  • Co-leader James Shaw will be single leader at election - first time in party's history

Metiria Turei has resigned as Green Party co-leader, saying scrutiny of her family over her past welfare history had become unbearable.

While she was at pains to say her decision to resign was not the result of learning bad poll results, a Newshub-Reid Research poll released tonight showed the Greens had lost a third of its party vote.

It plummeted 4.7 points to 8.3 per cent. National was down .8 to 44.4 per cent, Labour was up 9 points to 33.1 per cent and New Zealand First was down 3.8 points to 9.2 per cent.

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Turei has been under growing pressure after she admitted to historical offending while on the benefit 20 years ago.

She will retire from Parliament at the election, leaving the Green Party to go into a general election with a single leader for the first time in its history.

Turei will not be replaced until the party's AGM next year and co-leader James Shaw will lead the party alone until then.

Speaking to media this evening, Turei said that if she continued as co leader it would undermine all the Green Party's hard work over many years.

The scrutiny, which had "become unbearable, frankly" was the main reason for standing down, and she was not expecting further damaging revelations which would have forced her to resign.

Turei has been under growing pressure after she admitted to historical offending while on the benefit 20 years ago. Photo / Getty Images
Turei has been under growing pressure after she admitted to historical offending while on the benefit 20 years ago. Photo / Getty Images

Since opening a conversation about the reality of poverty in New Zealand and the solutions to it, she and her family had been under extreme scrutiny.

"I knew that by telling my personal story, it would help people hear and understand the reality of poverty," Turei said.

"And that has happened - thousands of people have contacted the Green Party with their stories, and many have come forward to tell these in the media as well.

"I also knew that it would open the way for people to criticise me - and I knew the risks of that - but the intensity of those attacks has become too much for my family, and they are now getting in the way of our ability to communicate our solutions - not just for poverty, but for water, climate change and the environment."

She said that resigning was her decision and it was not in response to the incoming poll, saying that it was "not that bad" for the Greens.

"The party did not ask me to resign and as recently as last night the executive gave me a vote of confidence."

She had said just yesterday that she would stay on as co-leader until the election even if the Greens plummeted in the polls.

Co-leader James Shaw said Turei will no longer be on the Green Party list but will campaign for the party vote only in Te Tai Tonga, Shaw said.

He thanked her for her years of service to the Green Party.

"Metiria has been a servant for the party, the environment and for our people for many years. Her dedication and commitment have been unparalleled. As I have said, she chose to tell her story in order to open a conversation - and she has done that.

"I urge everyone who believes in the environment and our people, including those who have come forward in the last few weeks, to continue with their support. It is more important than ever that we change the government."

Co-leader James Shaw said he will be the sole co-leader for the election. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Co-leader James Shaw said he will be the sole co-leader for the election. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Yesterday, he backed Turei despite the disarray caused by her confessions and her subsequent handling of it.

He rejected suggestions that Turei had also brought the party into disrepute, saying her problems were historical.

"We felt that resigning for something that happened 25 years ago was totally disproportionate.

"Frankly, I am kind of over the level of interrogation she has received," he said, adding that she appeared to be treated more harshly because she was poor.

Parties react

Reaction has started rolling in from Green MPs and other parties in reponse to Turei's resignation.

Julie Anne Genter, tipped as a future party leader, wrote on Facebook that Turei's downfall was partly the result of "dirty politics".

"There has also been a fair amount of personal vitriol directed at her, and intense scrutiny of her family. Make no mistake, this is the work of dirty politics. Our political enemies were willing to dig deep and make unfounded accusations - and Metiria knew this would not stop. The continued pressure on her family was untenable."

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern - who in tonight's poll is only 1.4 per cent behind Bill English for preferred prime minister - acknowleged her "enormous contribution".

"In my nine years in Parliament I have seen MPs from almost all parties resign under tough circumstances. Behind almost every single one has been a history of working hard and championing the people they have represented.

"I want to acknowledge Metiria's enormous contribution to politics and important causes during the fifteen years she has been in Parliament.

"We have worked together both as Parliamentary colleagues and also as members of our respective senior leadership teams."

She said Turei has always had a steadfast commitment to social justice, especially championing the rights of children, and changing the Government.

National minister Paula Bennett said it was a sad end to Turei's political career.

"I imagine it's really disappointing for her. It's kind of nice to pick your own time in this place so I bet it's disappointing for her."

National's campaign chair and Finance Minister Steven Joyce said Turei's resignation "probably had to happen".

"It was going to cause even more trouble for the Greens. But it is just a sign it is a real mess on the left at the moment, and a lot of change is occurring. And I think that will be something people will weigh up as we head into the campaign."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said Turei's admission had been compounded by "seriously bad PR and decision-making".

"It was seeking to justify what had happened. And if you know people who have known real poverty and how tough it is out there, and go online and look at some of those comments - there were a whole lot of very poor people who were not falling for that line.

They didn't find it forgiving because they hadn't done that thing themselves.

"And I suppose that is a commentary on the good character that still remains in this country. In the end that's what happened here."

Peters said politics was "awfully tough" and he didn't want to be one of the "vultures" that gathered around people's demise.

"It's tough to see anyone go from here in that way, nobody wants that to be part of their legacy."

ACT leader David Seymour said it was "a major victory for taxpayers, for honest beneficiaries, and for decency in politics".

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, announcing she will stand-down as leader immediately. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, announcing she will stand-down as leader immediately. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"Metiria Turei has finally done the right thing by the public and her party, but also her family who are now spared the intense scrutiny they would have faced as media investigated the undeclared support she received while on a benefit.

"This means we can now move on to a campaign that focuses on policy, not personality."

He said the party had massively damaged its brand.

"Many beneficiaries struggle to survive and they go to jail for doing what she proudly flaunted that she had done. I think it is disgraceful and I think many more of the facts that were going to come out as her story kept changing are probably best left unsaid now."

Green MP Denise Roche and Kennedy Graham, who had pulled out of the party because of disapproval over Turei's handling of the welfare issue refused to comment.

New allegation

Radio NZ reported this afternoon that a person close to Turei had alleged that the MP had received significant support from her daughter's grandparents while she was on the benefit in the 1990s.

The source said this contradicted Turei's narrative about being in poverty at the time.

Turei said these allegations were not her reason for standing down, and she decided to resign before being asked about them by Radio NZ.

Turei admitted last week she enrolled at a Mt Albert address where she did not live in 1993 so she could vote for a friend.

Enrolling to vote at an address you do not live at is an offence.

Turei also confirmed her mother was a flatmate for part of the period she claimed the benefit in the 1990s. She said they were financially independent at the time.

She revealed last month that she did not disclose to Work and Income in the 1990s that she had extra flatmates while she was a solo mother on the domestic purposes benefit.

But she did not reveal then that one of them was her mother.