New MP has message for Labour

Last updated 00:00 14/06/2009

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New Mt Albert MP David Shearer has wasted no time in sending a clear message to his party that it must move with the times, generate new ideas, recruit fresh talent, take risks and listen to New Zealanders.

With all the votes counted, Shearer had 62 percent, Melissa Lee trailed with 17 percent and the Greens' Russel Norman had 12 percent.

"Labour needs fresh ideas and needs to reconnect with the people. As you stay in government there's a tendency to lock down and not take risks as you go on," Shearer said.

"I think what you've got to be constantly doing is refreshing and taking time to get new ideas and continuing to listen. I think otherwise you end up hunkering down and fighting battles, and then people get tired.

"Some of the policies we were pushing in our third term we probably would have had no problem with in our first term, but by the third term came around people were just growing a bit tired of it.

"With me coming in, there's about 14 new Labour MPs, that's about a third of the Caucus, so there is a lot of new, enthusiastic blood there."

But Shearer, whose margin of victory (9187 votes) was only 1400 fewer than former Prime Minister Helen Clark's majority, said he was not about to start throwing his weight around in the Labour Caucus.

He would sit back, observe and learn. "Just getting past Saturday [the by-election] was the first hurdle," he said.

"A rather wise person said to me the best thing to do for the next few months is to just breathe through your nose, and that's probably what I'll be doing."

Shearer, who has an impressive CV that includes co-ordinating emergency and relief efforts for the United Nations in the Middle East and Africa, said he was not interested in getting on to the frontbench too quickly.

"I just want to make sure that I am a good electorate MP, build up a good support base and fulfil my promises. It's really important that I don't get too ahead of myself.

"It will be a totally new environment and I'm going to be, in a sense, at the bottom of the class so I'm going to have to learn the ropes; breathe through my nose for a while and watch others and learn."

There was some hope at the start of the byelection campaign that the National Party might cause a dramatic upset in the Labour stronghold, given the close proximity to the last election and because the Key government was still enjoying a honeymoon with the electorate nationally.

But the National candidate, Melissa Lee, ran a troubled campaign that included two major blunders: admitting she was unlikely to win and suggesting a new motorway extension between Waterview and Mt Roskill could stop criminals coming from South Auckland and committing crime in Mt Albert.

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Lee said last night she had "hoped for the best possible result."

"I believe I put in the maximum effort possible, as has everyone on my campaign. I've worked as hard as possible."

When asked if the campaign could have gone better she replied: "Campaigns are ultimately about the energy and activity that people put in but then it's up to the voters."

Shearer believed the shine was starting to wear off the Key Government.

"I think the Mt Albert byelection has helped that.

"In Mt Albert there were a lot of local issues but they were impacted by national issues, for example the motorway going through a community; whether the community has a real say in the Super City.

"These are regional, national policies but they are impacting on communities. I think one of the reasons we were quite successful was because we listened and chimed into local communities and we pushed that message very hard; communities in effect were being done over."

He says his priority is to rebuild trust with voters.

"It's listening and reconnecting with New Zealanders, that is going to be the key activity for the Labour Party in the coming months."

- Sunday Star Times

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