John Weekes

John Weekes is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Act eyeing minister's seat

Defiant Williamson digs in after suggestion that giving up his seat could help National's ally stay in Parliament.

Maurice Williamson. Photo / Getty Images
Maurice Williamson. Photo / Getty Images

The Act Party wants National supporters to save it from oblivion at next year's election, telling them it needs not just one, but two Parliamentary seats.

Act leader John Banks won Epsom at the last election, after the prime minister gave electorate voters the nod at their cup-of-tea meeting.

Now, former Act president Chris Simmons is eying the blue-ribbon electorate of Pakuranga, in East Auckland - but he has a battle on his hands.

National's Maurice Williamson, the local MP since 1987 and now a minister outside cabinet, had considered standing down to contest the Auckland mayoral election.

But yesterday, he said he was not going anywhere and would not stand aside for anyone.

"I welcome any challengers," he said. "Rumours that I won't be standing are completely baseless."

Entrepreneur Simmons told the Herald on Sunday he hoped to stand again in Pakuranga, despite coming sixth with only 816 votes in 2011.

Simmons denied rumours of backroom talks with National to run a soft campaign, allowing Act to take the seat. But he confirmed the party's interest in winning the seat.

"We believe Act has a good story to tell, especially in the Pakuranga electorate," he said.

Banks, Act's sole MP, owes his job to a deal with National in Epsom. National candidate Paul Goldsmith stood in 2011 but lobbied locals to vote for Banks.

Goldsmith was rewarded with a party list seat in Parliament; National was rewarded with a right-wing party to support it in government.

Banks agreed National's backing in Pakuranga would help both parties, but would not say if he was seeking another Epsom-style arrangement.

"I wouldn't even enter into a conversation about that because I have no knowledge of such things and there's no anticipation that would be the case.

"But the National Party leadership clearly understand that if we want John Key after the 2014 election then we need additional Act members in the Parliament."

John Key's possible 2014 coalition partners have had a woeful winter.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples quit after the party's poor showing in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election and was yesterday replaced by Te Ururoa Flavell at the party's conference in Whakatane.

Peter Dunne resigned as a minister after he was accused of leaking a secret report into the Government Communications Security Bureau, and his United Future party was deregistered because it did not have 500 members. Act, too, has had its problems with a civil prosecution in progress against John Banks for accepting "anonymous" donations from Kim Dotcom.

- Herald on Sunday

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