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Labour leader David Shearer has come out against proposed party rule changes that would ensure half of all its MPs were women by 2017 and would allow "women-only" candidate selections in some seats.
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.
However, Shearer said targets, not quotas, was a better way to go.
He absolutely supported having more women MPs in Parliament and it was important that their number increased.
"But as to the mechanism, and this mechanism in particular, I am not supportive of it."
He said 100 years after women got the vote it would be good to see women MPs making up 50 per cent of Parliament. People accepted that as fair and right.
"The bottom line here is that we have set targets to do that, we should work towards that ... the question is how we do that."
"I don't like the idea that we are going to be forcing something like that."
It was better to get behind good women to ensure they got into Parliament.
He expected the issue to be debated hotly at the party's annual conference, but he said he did not see it as a challenge to him by the left wing rank and file.
The party had under the current system selected an excellent woman candidate in Meka Whaitiri who won the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election on Saturday.
PLAN 'DEMEANS WOMEN'
The proposed quota was slammed by Minister of Women's Affairs Jo Goodhew, who said it cheapened the legacies of the country's successful women.
Her Labour counterpart Sue Moroney was forced to defend the proposal, saying it was one of several options to be debated by the party's membership and noted that National had targets of its own including 45 per cent representation by women on statutory boards.
Goodhew told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report: "What really bothers me about this is New Zealand has got an amazing history of women who have been in amazing position - chief justice, governors-general, we've also had prime ministers . . .
"I think it demeans them for any suggestion that women should be there because the time is right for a woman - they were there because of their merit."
While National was not satisfied with the number of women in its caucus - 25 per cent - "we're not going to institute quotas to make it higher".
Maroney, Labour's women's affairs spokeswoman, said her party's proposal was "one of the options" up for debate at Labour's annual conference in November.
"Now the National Party may be satisfied with their 25 per cent of women in their caucus but we're actually more ambitious than that," he said.
"We've got 41 per cent of women in our caucus currently and we know we can do better."
Moroney said she had an alternative selection process where the strongest candidate in each electorate was chosen regardless of gender but if it was a close race between a man and woman the woman would be preferred "because that's where we lack representation".
Moroney said National had a target of 45 per cent of women on statutory boards.
"There is no problem with setting a target, and an ambitious target, and saying we will get there," she said.
"In the Labour Party we're really clear that we want to be more representative of the New Zealand society at large. We think that's going to lead to better decision-making and a better Parliament if we have better gender representation."
Goodhew said fewer women were seeking selection within the National Party than men and the party was looking at ways to raise the number.
"We need to work out the reasons why women are not coming forward and in some cases it's because they don't realise they actually have the skills and can match it with the men," she said.
One possibility was setting up a buddy or mentor scheme aimed at encouraging more women to come forward, she said.
Goodhew said there was a difference between a target and a quota.
"We've got to the stage in New Zealand where we are doing well but we've got to do better," she said.
- Fairfax Media