ACT leadership coup: Brash 'highly unlikely' to get top Govt post

ANDREA VANCE AND BELINDA MCCAMMON
Last updated 21:07 28/04/2011
Lawrence Smith

At a press conference in Newmarket, Auckland, Don Brash joined Rodney Hide for the announcement of his stepping down as the leader of the ACT party. By Lawrence Smith.

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New ACT leader Don Brash  won't be deputy prime minister or get his hands on the finance portfolio, Prime Minister John Key says.

Key congratulated Brash from the Eurostar train as he returned from London last night.

He will meet with Brash early next week.

Brash  "unequivocally" assured him the confidence and supply agreement with National would remain stable until the election.

But Key would not speculate on an agreement post-election.

He said he would "try and be constructive" and won't rule Brash out of an executive post. But it was "highly unlikely" he would be offered the top jobs.

He could see no need to hold the election than the already declared November 26th date.

"I don't think a lot has changed. ACT has always held extreme views... It will be a matter for ACT if they are returned by the public to decide how they want to engage with National," Key said.

"It's up to them to decide what level of influence they want."

But ACT working with Labour was as likely as him taking a summer holiday on Mars instead of Hawaii, Key said.

He had worked with Brash before and this made it different from Sir Roger Douglas who he previously ruled out of a cabinet post.

He's not concerned that the leadership change would see ACT eat into National's support.

He thanked Hide for his contribution and said he retains his confidence as minister.

Hide telephoned Key, who was in Paris, to tell him of his decision, as he arrived in Paris on Wednesday morning.

Hide was unlikely to want a future role with National, Key said.

He said he "couldn't see anything changing" in National's relationship with the Maori Party. He hasn't talked with its co-leaders yet.

COUP TO SAVE PARTY

Brash said he challenged Rodney Hide for the leadership of ACT in an effort to save the party, as the Epsom MP had tarnished the party's brand too much for it to survive.

Brash is set to become the next leader of the ACT Party this weekend after Hide, in a joint press conference this afternoon, announced the former National Party leader had his backing for the job.

Brash, who became a member of the ACT Party only this morning, making a donation to the party at the same time, will need the ACT board's approval when they meet on Saturday to ratify the leadership takeover.

Brash's takeover means that former Auckland mayor, and National cabinet minister John Banks, will almost certainly stand for ACT in the blue-ribbon seat of Epsom.

Hide, who remained composed but glassey-eyed throughout the press conference, said while he had always put the country first he acknowledged: "I have at times fallen short."

He said he informed Prime Minister John Key, who is in Europe, about his decision to stand aside as leader for Brash last night, but he said whether he remained as a minister would be up to Key.

Hide said he had not canvassed the votes in caucus and claimed not to know which MPs were backing Brash but had asked himself what was in the best interests of the country and the party.

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"In my view that's for Don Brash to be leader and for me not to be, so I guess if you want to know which vote changed, it would be mine."

Hide said he rang his caucus this morning and informed them that Brash had his backing for the leadership.

Brash said the pair had yet to talk about Hide's future in the party but conceded it was common for most leaders who lose the leadership to leave.

BANKS WANTS 'TO PLAY A ROLE'

If the change in leadership raises questions about Hide's future, it appears to give certainty to former National MP and Auckland City mayor John Banks' role in the party.

When asked what role Banks would have in ACT, Brash said the ACT board would select any candidates but said he respected and liked Banks.

"One of things he brings to the table is that he is popular in the seat of Epsom.

"What is crucially important is that people in Eketahuna and Whykickamoocow know that ACT has Epsom in the bag.

"Rodney assures me that he could win Epsom and he could well have been right but what I want is someone standing in Epsom who can not only win it but be seen to win it months in advance and I think John Banks could do that."

Banks today confirmed he wants to play a role in a Don Brash-led ACT party and was "excited about the opportunity to help out in all of this".

But it was too early to talk about him standing in Epsom.

"At this stage I just need to wait for some water to flow under the bridge and sit down with the new leader and ACT board to see how I can best contribute.

"I want to play a role, I want to contribute. I think New Zealand is in a critical financial predicament and ACT and it's policies can substantially help this government get through all of our problems. So I'm putting my hand up to help out, not quite sure where. I live of course in Victoria Ave Remuera. Epsom is of course my electorate. Epsom would be a logical place and platform from which I could make a difference but it would all be far too precipitous to be launching out on that at this stage."

Banks confirmed he still remained a member of the National Party, however, and had not yet signed up as an ACT member.

MEDIA 'WITCH-HUNT'

Brash also wasted no time in sending a message to the media, saying it had been "grossly unfair" in its reporting, saying Hide had "been the victim of a media witch-hunt".

Hide and Brash were at pains to show a united front to the media, talking about their long friendship and Brash rarely took his eyes off Hide when he spoke.

The pair even shared a few lighter moments, when Brash said "let me say a few words about Rodney, with Hide quipping: "you might have said enough Don".

However while the two have a long friendship it remains to be seen whether that is salvageable, with Brash avoiding answering a question about whether he felt he had acted ethically against his friend saying he "acted in the only way I could under the circumstances".

ACT 'NOT FAR RIGHT AT ALL'

Brash defended the leadership coup saying "sometimes in politics you have to put personal relationships aside."

Brash said he wanted to "save the party, not to kill it" and intended to lift ACT's vote "well beyond five per cent" by appealing to a large number of New Zealanders.

"I don't think the ACT party is a far right party at all, unless you call prudent budgeting far-right or one-law for all, far-right.

"ACT to my mind reflects the values that National used to stand for."

Brash said the catalyst to return to the frontline of politics was his concern for the direction of the country.

He said he was irritated that the Government had made no serious attempt to counter Government spending, or closing the gap with Australia and had dismissed the recommendations of the 2025 Taskforce.

"That is of course their prerogative but where is the other cunning plan to achieve the same objective?"

The pair finished the press conference by shaking hands for the cameras so long Brash quipped "people will start to think something is going on".

'THE EXTREME TEAM'

Labour leader Phil Goff labelled the National and ACT deal as "the extreme team" after Hide's resignation.

He said it would have a devastating impact on the lives of middle and low-income New Zealanders.

"John Key has described Don Brash as an extremist. But he has also made it very clear that he is prepared to work with his former boss in a future Government. That would be a disaster for our country." Goff said.

"We know what Don Brash stands for. He wants to slash the minimum wage by $100 a week - putting more New Zealanders into poverty. Superannuation would also be on his hit list.

"Don Brash wants savage cuts to Government spending, including health and education. Working for Families and interest-free student loans would be gone and there would be a wholesale sell-off of our valuable community-owned state assets."

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