Speed wobbles hit Christian party plan

Last updated 00:00 20/09/2007

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Wrangling over the co-leadership of a yet to be formed Christian party has taken another turn as both leaders accuse the other of breaching good faith.

Independent MP Gordon Copeland said he could not work with Richard Lewis from the former Destiny New Zealand party just two days after it was announced the two would co-lead a new pan-Christian political party.

Mr Copeland said he had been "blindsided" by the leadership announcement on Tuesday as he had not known was going to happen.

But Mr Lewis said the co-leadership had been decided by a council and he was surprised to see Mr Copeland spurning its decisions.

Both said they still wanted to get a new Christian party off the ground.

Mr Copeland said that while Mr Lewis could still be involved, the two could not be co-leaders as they were not on the "same page politically".

"It's better to break down now than three months out from the election.

Mr Lewis said he would be "happy" to be in the party and contribute towards its development.

"But as I say, the co-leadership was made by a collective of people outside of Gordon and myself who felt that was the appropriate leadership model and that's the one that for several months we have been working towards."

The marriage turned rocky on Tuesday when Destiny Church head Brian Tamaki and Mr Lewis announced they were de-registering political wing Destiny New Zealand, and also announced the leadership of the new Christian party.

At a press conference in Auckland, Mr Tamaki said Mr Lewis would be co-leader. But the pair left Mr Copeland out of the loop, prompting him to hastily call a press conference in Wellington to say he was the other co-leader.

Mr Copeland said Mr Tamaki and Mr Lewis had got ahead of themselves and breached agreements already reached over the timing of the announcements.

The new party had not been formed yet – it was supposed to have been announced next month – nor had it been registered.

Mr Copeland said he had planned to announce Mr Lewis' involvement after Christmas.

He told Radio New Zealand today that co-leadership was based on mutual trust and it was a very close relationship but he had been "blindsided", hearing the co-leadership news as others did, watching Mr Tamaki's press conference live on the internet.

There had been a "breakdown of trust, not just with myself but for all the others involved in this process".

He had been told by others that he "had no choice" but to cut ties, "since Bishop Brian Tamaki and Richard did not adhere to the plan".

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"I've said to Richard, with some real sadness of heart, that the breakdown here is of such a magnitude from my point of view that we would not be able to work together as co-leaders," Mr Copeland said.

Mr Lewis said Mr Copeland's change of tack had come as a surprise.

"The priority for me has always been to bring about a single vehicle and those Christian political stakeholders obviously will be stronger together than we would be apart," Mr Lewis said.

"Now the agreement on co-leadership between Gordon and myself was set back in July, reaffirmed in August so it does come as a surprise to me about Gordon's announcement this morning because it is a fairly major departure from those good faith agreements that led us specifically to Destiny's de-registration."

A "measured" decision about the co-leadership had been made by people other than Mr Copeland and himself, Mr Lewis said on Radio New Zealand.

"We've been working together to see the launch of this vehicle in four to six weeks time based on that process. I cannot understand why it's now taken this turn."

Mr Lewis said when he had met Mr Copeland yesterday morning they had confirmed an appearance together on Friday night on former MP Willie Jackson's show Eye To Eye.

Former United Future MP Paul Adams, who split from the party to stand as an independent at the 2005 election, today said he was saddened to see Mr Copeland had withdrawn from the proposed new party.

Mr Adams said he had been part of the process for the past 18 months, working toward a unified Christian-based political vehicle.

The process to this point had included Mr Lewis and independent MP Taito Phillip Field, "who were the Christian players in the political scene keen to see this emerge".

Mr Copeland and Future New Zealand deputy leader Larry Baldock, also a former United Future MP, had become part of these discussions when Mr Copeland defected from United Future, Mr Adams said.

The national advisory council had been unanimous in appointing the leadership of the new party several months ago, he said.

Part of the agreed process was that Destiny NZ would de-register to allow the formation of the new, single Christian political vehicle.

Mr Adams said for the sake of transparency, Mr Tamaki and Mr Lewis had been correct in revealing their roles in the new party, while also not revealing the full leadership at a press conference about their party's de-registration.

- NZPA

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