Labour's Cunliffe prepares for first caucus

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 17:47 16/09/2013
David Cunliffe stand
IMMEDIATE ACTION: New Labour leader David Cunliffe prepares for first caucus meeting.

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Labour Party members are on a "war footing" - but not with each other, new leader David Cunliffe says.

His first task is to shore up support in caucus after the leadership vote was divided along party-parliamentary lines.

At his first media conference at Parliament this afternoon he insisted he has "solid" backing from all of his MPs.

The leadership change claimed more scalps today after Labour whips Chris Hipkins and Darien Fenton confirmed they would stand down so new whips could be appointed tomorrow.

Hipkins was last year highly critical of Cunliffe and accused him of disloyalty to former leader David Shearer.

New whips will be elected tomorrow and the frontrunners are expected to be former whip Sue Moroney, and Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway.

Cunliffe said at the media conference he would make recommendations for the whips - but wouldn't reveal who they were.

"Peace is breaking out all over the place and you will see in the next couple of days just how good the detente is," he said.

The party was on a "war-footing" with its election campaign starting from "day one".

"We are taking the fight to the Key government," he said. "They are on notice that their easy days are over."

Cunliffe will meet each MP over the next week and reshuffle his frontbench team next week

While he didn't expect those who didn't vote for him to quit, he did expect their loyalty, he said.

"There is a new train leaving the station and I want everybody on it," he said. "There will be one set of rules for all. It will be a meritocracy, we will do the very best we can for the whole party and for New Zealanders.

"Any history is history. I have no personal prejudices against any of the caucus.

"I am not expecting people to fall on swords, that is a matter for them. What I do expect is if people are on the train that they are obeying a set of rules that will ensure we become the government."

He would not show favouritism. There was an "an honourable and dignified" way of dealing with those who weren't on board, he said.

Cunliffe insisted he had never "leaked on our caucus" and had been loyal to previous leaders.

The current frontbench team will remain in place for his first question time tomorrow.

His leadership will be: "direct considered ... I will play the issues vigorously ... but not to play the person.

"We can improve our processes, structures and system. We are going to do more teaming of MPs around issue clusters."

The New Lynn MP said he had experience in the boardroom and was comfortable in the "smoko room".

Asked about Prime Minister John Key's leadership he said: "It sucks and it's time to change him."

But he said he liked Key, personally.

"I think he has many interesting attributes. And we were backbenchers together in West Auckland before he became prime minister. That means that I am not fazed by John Key. I believe I have his number. And he believes he knows I do."

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Cunliffe will also meet with the leaders of the Greens and NZ First.

At the conference, Cunliffe briefly answered questions on other topics.

He committed to "due diligence" on taxpayer support if New Zealand wins the America's Cup.

And he called on National to make public a negotiating draft of the Trans- Pacific Partnership Agreement. 

- Fairfax Media

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