Labour proposes 'women only' rule

Some Labour Party members are baffled by a push to introduce new party rules that could lead to individual electorates running "women-only" candidate selections.

The proposed rule changes, to be decided at the party's annual conference in November, would force the party's list selection committee to ensure women would make up 45 per cent of the party's caucus in 2014 and 50 per cent by 2017.

Labour deputy leader Grant Robertson said the aim was to achieve gender balance and the rule changes were proposed mechanisms to achieve that.

But Josie Pagani, who stood for Labour in the Rangitikei electorate in 2011, was baffled by the move.

"I can't understand why the Labour Party would be emphasising something like this when they're trying to get the focus on jobs and power prices and the need to get wages up, so strategically it doesn't make sense to be talking about this right now."

She did not feel a need to be pushed forward as a candidate based on her gender.

"Certainly I wouldn't stand in a seat where I felt like the implication was I couldn't win it on my own accord without some 'special help'," she said.

"That's the thing about quotas - for me they are short-term measures, they're a kick-start when needed."

While there could be a need for quotas in countries such as Afghanistan - where women have been excluded from the political process - that was not the case in New Zealand.

"We absolutely need more women represented in Parliament - but we need a diverse section of women represented in Parliament - and I think that's more effective.

"I feel there needs to be a diverse range of women represented in political processes and in the Labour Party, but I think this is a blunt instrument."

West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor said he was confident his electorate would "not ask for something so stupid" as a women-only candidate selection.

List MP Clayton Cosgrove joked that he had been a Labour member for a long time and would do most things for the party but not "have the operation".

In putting the list together the moderating committee would also have to take into account the electorate MPs who were likely to be elected, to ensure that balance.

A local electorate committee would be able to request that the party's New Zealand Council decide "only women may nominate for the position of Labour candidate for their electorate".

That approval would override the right granted elsewhere in the rules for any member to be eligible for nomination.

The rules would also require a list that had a mix of ethnicity, gender, geographical spread, sexual orientation and disability representation.

Party secretary Tim Barnett said the 50 per cent target through the moderating committee was the big change, because everything flowed from that.

Its aim was to ensure a more equitable gender mix in caucus, which had been stuck at 35 per cent to the low 40 per cent for the last 20 years.

He said the proposed rule changes were circulated to members yesterday, and were to have been released to the media later today but were provided early after a copy was obtained by Right-wing blogger Cameron Slater.

Candidates for Maori electorates, and list-only nominees who were Maori, would be eligible to nominate for a separate Te Kaunihera Maori list that would be ranked in bands of two and would be incorporated into the final list selection process.

Meanwhile, Labour added to its woes today, with an embarrassing gaffe claiming in a press release it had 15 women MPs in its 34 MP lineup. It actually has only 14, even after the addition of Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri.