Labour MP leaves list to 'gaggle of gays'

MARTIN KAY AND KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 14:39 11/04/2011
Hamish Coleman-Ross

Labour leader Phil Goff took questions relating to comments made by MP Damien O'Connor.

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DAMIEN O'CONNOR
DAMIEN O'CONNOR: "Frankly, I didn't trust the system to give a straight-shooter a fair deal ... It is dominated by self-serving unionists and a gaggle of gays."

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Labour leader Phil Goff says list MP Damien O'Connor will be told to apologise to caucus for saying the party's list selection is run by "self-serving unionists and a gaggle of gays".

The party was the target of a bitter broadside from O'Connor, who opted not to go on the list and instead compete again in November for the West Coast-Tasman seat he lost at the last election.

Goff said this afternoon O'Connor had apologised to him about the comments, and would be expected to say sorry to other MPs tomorrow.

He said the comments were "wrong and inappropriate".

Goff said none of the gay or unionist MPs had spoken to him about O'Connor, but he assumed they would not be happy.

O'Connor was a "hot head" but not a redneck or a bigot.

"I told him that [he was wrong] and he has apologised to me."

O'Connor made the comments because of his disappointment over his list placing, Goff said.

"It is on merit and I will stand by the top five and the top 10 people on the list who are not currently in Parliament."

"What the coasters like about Damien is what you see is what you get, he's a bit rough around the edges."

His terminology was unfortunate and inaccurate.

"I told him off for saying it," Goff said.

TOP SPOTS

Labour yesterday handed former president Andrew Little, who heads the powerful EPMU (New Zealand's biggest private sector union) a certain seat in Parliament, and has given other union-backed candidates winnable slots in its party list for the November 26 election.

Little this morning rejected O'Connor's claims, while Robert Martin, chairman of the Gay Business Association of Christchurch, said the comments were inappropriate and ''redneck''.

Labour president Moira Coatsworth said O'Connor's claims were "unfair and incorrect".

O'Connor said he stood aside because he did not trust the list ranking process. ''Frankly, I didn't trust the system to give a straight-shooter a fair deal ... It is dominated by self-serving unionists and a gaggle of gays.''

He would not name individuals, but said he was disappointed the system did not deliver better results for rural and provincial candidates, such as himself, who were outside the party's power blocs.

''It does not truly represent the rank-and-file members and delivers a list that is not truly representative of those who vote Labour.''

Gay Labour list MP Charles Chauvel said he would "say his bit" about O'Connor's comments at tomorrow's caucus meeting. 

LIST CHOICES FROM MANY BACKGROUNDS

Little said the panel that ranked the list was drawn from a wide range of backgrounds.

''The moderating committee is made up of 36 people. The affiliate unions have two votes on it. The rest are made up of various sectors of the party, including the six geographical regions, including that which West Coast-Tasman forms a part of.

''I think he's wrong in the comments that he's making about the party, but he has been a good MP, he's got a good future as an MP and he should be supported to run a hard campaign to win back West Coast-Tasman and I'm sure the party will do that.''

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Martin said O'Connor's comment was inappropriate.

''I think it's quite disappointing to see someone in this day and age speaking like that,'' Martin said.

''I wouldn't have though that he is representative of the wider population, irrespective of where he comes from.''

O'Connor ran the risk of not only alienating the gay community, but alienating people who had gay children and gay friends and so on, Martin said.

''People have long memories. It takes a long to get past insulting people.''

''And although we hear a lot about political correctness and PC these days, I don't think PC comes into it. As far as I'm concerned he's just being insulting.

''It's a bit redneck,'' Martin said.

Coatsworth said Labour's selection processes were "extremely democratic", with six regional ranking conferences, and suggested O'Connor's criticisms were sour grapes.

"I think that people who are disappointed with the likely outcome sometimes attack the process, and it's unfair and incorrect - it is an extremely democratic and robust process."

She defended the high ranking given to Little, who has leap-frogged several sitting MPs, saying he had significant leadership experience as a former party president and head of the EPMU.

Green list MP Kevin Hague, who is based on the West Coast and gay, said O'Connor did not have a history of popularity with the gay community.

O'Connor was one of three sitting Labour MPs who did not support the Civil Union legislation, Hague said.

"He is not a strong backer of gay rights. In saying that we have worked together on issues that relate to the electorate and I have found him good to work with."

Hague said though he was not personally offended by the comments, he didn't think it was a particularly effective political strategy.

People in the West Coast-Tasman electorate were generally open minded, Hague said.

"I have had nothing but people actually dealing with me without prejudice. People accept me as who I am."

THE LABOUR LIST

Coatsworth issued the list yesterday, with Little at No 15, meaning he is certain to be elected even if he fails to win the New Plymouth seat.

The next highest-ranking non-MP is Deborah Mahuta-Coyle, 31, who is a press secretary in Labour's parliamentary office and a Maori political adviser. She is ranked 26.

Labour's Botany by-election candidate, Auckland Council local board member Michael Wood, is the next non-MP at position 32.

On the basis of Labour's 2008 result and yesterday's One News poll, which at 34 per cent was identical to Labour's 2008 result, the party would win 43 seats.

- Stuff

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