New Labour leader Cunliffe attacks Key

TRACY WATKINS AND ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 08:08 16/09/2013
Fairfax NZ

David Cunliffe speaks after being announced as the Labour Party's new leader.

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New Labour leader David Cunliffe has taken the fight to Prime Minister John Key before his feet are even under the desk, saying Key has got "form" for "sleazy" deals that would be exposed under his leadership.

Cunliffe said Key might be funnier than him, "but I think he's much lighter than the Labour team that's coming at him".

"He's going to have to be well briefed across a wide range of portfolios and he's going to have to be prepared to defend a lot of sleazy deals that he's done with his big-business mates that have been selling everything from our movies to our TVs, to our problem gambling, to our smelters, to our broadband," he said.

"He has got form and we're going to tell people about that form and he's going to have to defend himself."

But Key said Cunliffe would need to check his figures if he wanted to keep in the fight.

The prime minister told Breakfast that Cunliffe's costings for a living wage were out of whack - costing $2.5 billion to $4b rather than the $20 million to $30m Cunliffe said on the campaign trail.

Meanwhile, Cunliffe's first task will be shoring up his support in caucus after the Labour leadership vote was divided along party-parliamentary lines.

He flies to Wellington today to start the ball rolling on selecting his front bench and putting in place a new team.

The new rules under which Labour elected its leader have thrust Cunliffe into the unprecedented position of leading a caucus in which a majority of MPs do not back him - the MPs' preference was for leadership-rival Grant Robertson, and it was the support of the unions and rank and file that got him over the line.

Cunliffe has extended an olive branch to Robertson supporters by suggesting some would be awarded senior positions and Robertson is likely to be in line for the deputy leadership if he wants it.

Cunliffe confirmed, meanwhile, that a senior position would be offered to former leader David Shearer, whose resignation sparked the leadership race.

He has not said what position might be on the table but foreign affairs is one possibility - a move that would see former leader Phil Goff dumped. That would probably be popular among Cunliffe supporters who want Labour's "old guard" shunted out of the limelight.

Shane Jones, who picked up a block of caucus support, will also get a senior role.

Cunliffe's leadership is expected to move Labour to the left - and he did not reject that today.

He has already vowed to raise taxes and introduce a capital gains tax.

"If putting a warm dry home around every Kiwi child and making sure their tummies are fed and they have shoes on their feet is suddenly far-left, well go ahead with that tag," he said.

"Because at the end of the day Kiwis are pretty fair-minded sensible people. They want to live in a country where the size of your parents' wallet, where they came from, doesn't determine all your opportunities in life.

"If people get a fair chance, a fair share that's what were on about."

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