Harre confirmed as Internet Party leader
LAURA WALTERS, STACEY KIRK AND MICHAEL FOX
It took Laila Harre about three weeks to say yes to the offer of becoming the Internet Party leader.
Harre said she was shoulder-tapped by party president Vikram Kumar about a month ago, and she accepted the position last Sunday.
She said her name came up when the Mana and Internet parties started working together.
The more she discussed the opportunity with the Internet Party and friends, the more convinced she became that it was the right decision, she said.
Harre hoped the Internet-Mana alliance, with her at the helm, would bring the spark back to New Zealand Left-wing politics.
The former Cabinet minister and Alliance leader said she planned to make good on her promise to restore free tertiary education.
Harre said she made a promise to restore free tertiary education before she took a break from politics to have children.
Her new role gave her the chance to honour that promise, she said.
"I have unfinished business with tertiary education."
New Zealand had low international government debt but high household debt, she said.
"We don't have a problem with government debt."
However, the party had a problem with young people leaving the country because of a lack of job opportunities and high debt she said.
The party, launched by internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom in March, announced its co-operation with Hone Harawira's Mana Party on Tuesday.
Harre said the Internet Party made no apologies for strategically using MMP to form an alliance with Mana to strengthen its election chances.
"It's time for the people to take MMP back for ourselves," she said.
The Internet-Mana agreement includes a clause allowing Mana to reassess the relationship between the two parties six weeks after the September 20 election.
Harre said the parties would continue their alliance after the elections despite the clause.
It was not clear what form a possible alliance would take after the election, she said.
However, the Internet Party had only ruled out working with a National-led government.
Harre said she had nothing to do with Dotcom's extradition case, and nor would she if she was elected.
Stepping into leadership was a "natural progression" from her "long and rich apprenticeship".
She was ready to pass on her knowledge to Internet candidates and learn from them about the potential of the internet age.
The party was at the "cutting edge" of political reform, she said.
Dotcom said Harre was like Obi-Wan Kenobi and would mentor and lead the young Internet candidates.
Harre's age was not a deterrent, he said, and she was a fast learner when it came to technology and the issues of young people.
He said Harre's leadership role would give him the chance to step back from the day-to-day running of the party.
Harawira said Harre had taken the leadership role because she believed in it.
Harre was last an MP in 2002, when she led the Alliance party after the split with then-leader Jim Anderton over New Zealand's role in the Afghanistan war.
In 2002 she stepped down as leader, replaced by current Labour chief of staff Matt McCarten.
Before he joined Labour, McCarten was a key adviser to Mana.
Since then, Harre has had union-related roles, including a stint with the International Labour Organisation, and from 2012 to 2013 worked for the Green Party.
Labour leader David Cunliffe said he had always regarded Harre as a "very capable organiser" and she had parliamentary experience.
Asked if her appointment would make it easier to work with the Internet-Mana grouping, he said that after the election his door would be open to any party that wanted to change the government.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Harre resigned from the Greens last December.
She was not concerned that Harre had taken trade secrets with her, saying Harre was "a trustworthy person" who had "every democratic right to be part of another party and to lead it if she wants to".
She was not concerned that Harre's defection would take votes from the Greens.
National minister Steven Joyce said Harre would be "crushed between two rather large egos".
NZ First leader Winston Peters called it "match-fixing".
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