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Q+A: Corin Dann interviews Moira Coatsworth

Published: 2:50PM Sunday August 25, 2013 Source: Q+A

  • Labour Party president, Moira Coatsworth (Source: Q+A)
    Labour Party president, Moira Coatsworth - Source: Q+A

Corin Dann interviews Moira Coatsworth

CORIN DANN
Good morning, Moira.

MOIRA COATSWORTH - Labour Party President
Morning, Corin.

CORIN What do you make of these results [snap poll of who should lead the Labour Party]? Does this suggest to you that we will have a contest on our hands?

MOIRA Well, were unclear at this stage whether well have a contest. I think its pretty early to be looking at results. We havent heard who the candidates are, we havent heard them speak about what theyre standing for, and we havent actually seen them campaigning.

CORIN Quite a diverse range of support, though, amongst New Zealanders for potential Labour leaders.

MOIRA Yeah, look, I mean, I work outside the beltway, and I think its pretty hard out there, and I dont think people will have given this much attention so far. So lets wait and see when we know who the candidates are and theyre really up and campaigning.

CORIN Is this unchartered territory for Labour? We havent had a primary election like this, really. ACT did one, but not one this scale.

MOIRA Mm. Its the first time for us in NZ. Its actually the first time for a major party in Australasia, so people are really getting excited about it. But its not unchartered territory at all internationally. Its pretty usual practice internationally in progressive parties.

CORIN Is there a risk, though, that this is going to expose divisions that are within that Labour Party at the moment, that these are going to be laid bare for the public in a three-week roadshow, effectively?

MOIRA I dont think so. I think people are so committed to the need for a change of government and to pick the right leader that I think people will engage really actively in it, and then that person will have a mandate, and people will get in behind the new leader and go for it.

CORIN Because there is a feeling around Parliament, certainly, that there is a divide between the caucus MPs who have now lost their ability to elect their leader, effectively, and the party, which has been demanding more say. There seems to be some tension there. You dont think thats going to be exposed now?

MOIRA I dont think so at all. I think, as I said, that people want to choose the right leader and actually get in and campaign. And, actually, caucus havent lost the right. What theyve actually got is probably a greater say than other countries that do it. Weve left caucus with 40 per cent of the say, so thats taking account of the fact that theres a pretty important relationship between the new leader and caucus.

CORIN Are we going to get a real contest here, though? Because youve put in place a code of conduct, I understand, which will effectively put some rules on these MPs. Are they going to really be able to speak their mind and take each other on and really get in some rough and tumble?

MOIRA Yeah, on the issues. I think if you look at any campaign, theres campaign guidelines that cover some basic things so that you run a campaign ethically. Thats what that will cover, but were anticipating and looking forward to robust debate.

CORIN Because you can imagine, I mean, David Cunliffe, for example, has had a couple of cracks at the leadership already. You can imagine that that caused some rifts, that those sort of things might come out in the campaign. Is that the type of thing thats fair game?

MOIRA I think that people will be wanting to campaign on the issues, and I think what party members will be looking for is the kind of qualities that they want to see in a leader. So have they got Labour values, have they got leadership potential, can they communicate, are they really going to go hard and implement the kind of transformative policies we have?

CORIN Is that what they really want? Or do they want someone that can win, that can beat John Key?

MOIRA Yeah, it needs to be a person who can win. Absolutely.

CORIN But is that necessarily, at this time in Labours life, the right person?

MOIRA Well, I trust the maturity of that group of people to have a really good think, and its all going to be out there for a democratic process, and people are pretty pleased about that.

CORIN Well, thats interesting, because the message coming from the unions is that they very much want whoever the person is who can win the next election and beat John Key.

MOIRA Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Everybody wants that, yeah.

CORIN Are you worried that people are going to think, and they already are thinking, that this is going to be a contest decided by the unions?

MOIRA Um, yeah, Im a bit puzzled at that. In the UK, thats the narrative, but in the UK, the caucus get the same vote as the unions. And the way that weve done it, as I said, caucus get 40 per cent, party members who are individuals or family members get 40 per cent, and, you know, party members who are the working people of NZ - the tanker driver, the aged care worker, who are also legitimate members - they get 20 per cent. So I would have thought that, actually, the most privileged in this are caucus.

CORIN Yeah, but, you know, the way its potentially shaping up is that some would argue Grant Robertson has a strong support base in caucus. David Cunliffe has a bigger support base in the party. They cancel each other out, and then youre left with the unions that could decide it.

MOIRA Well, I think everybodys got a say, and it all gets put together into one single total, and that will be the decision.

CORIN You must be worried, though, because Tim Barnett did say there will be restrictions on block voting for the unions. Can you explain?

MOIRA Yeah, no, Im not worried at all. We have, right from-

CORIN But that suggests the party is a little bit concerned.

MOIRA No, no. I mean, what we want is the principles of this, one of them is democratic integrity, and so were wanting it to go as broadly as it can. Some unions have chosen to take that right out to individual members, and some unions have taken it out as far as their national conference delegates, which is, again, international practice. So Im not worried at all. Im excited by it.

CORIN But how do you stop unions block voting? Because that is what Tim Barnett said.

MOIRA How do you stop them block voting? Well, the things theyre saying theyre doing, as I said, the Service Workers (union) are inviting their individual members to come to all the meetings and vote at the meetings. The others have got their national conference delegates. Its a postal ballot. It will be sent out by the company whos doing it for us. Theyll get the vote individually. Its a secret ballot, and it will go back to them, and well get the results. So&

CORIN Will you come out and back anybody?

MOIRA No. Im the president. Im going to trust in the judgement of everybody, and Ill work with that new leader.

CORIN What about MPs? Do you have a problem with them endorsing potential candidates?

MOIRA No. The people that we expect neutrality from are from myself and Tim, and weve got whats called a leadership advisory group overseeing the process so that other people like the NZ Council can participate in this as vigorously as theyd like to. So its a small group of people who are expected to maintain that neutrality.

CORIN And when we see this roadshow, we wont see a ticket, will we? We wont see a leader and deputy go out, will we?

MOIRA No. The deputy leader is still elected by caucus, so this is a straight leadership.

CORIN Would you expect potential candidates, though, to perhaps anoint a deputy early on, or does that have to wait?

MOIRA Caucus decide on the deputy leader, so thats a matter for caucus to decide, yeah.

CORIN And do you believe at the end of this process that you can come out with a unified party?

MOIRA Absolutely, and I think that the international experience is that people who participate in leadership selections have some skin in the game and they participate more. So I think anything that increases the strength of democracy in NZs a really good thing, yeah.

CORIN Moira Coatsworth, Labour Party President, thank you very much for your time.

MOIRA Thank you.

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