Cunliffe seeks chief of staff

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 05:00 12/02/2014

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Labour leader David Cunliffe is looking for a new top adviser after ill-health saw his current chief of staff quit after just four months in the job.

Lawyer Wendy Brandon, who was previously the general counsel at Auckland Council and deputy chairwoman of state-owned communications company Kordia, was a surprise appointment last October after Mr Cunliffe won the run-off to replace David Shearer as leader.

Despite her lack of parliamentary experience, she had not been ‘‘moved on’’ and there was no dissatisfaction with her performance, Labour sources said.

She was diagnosed with shingles late last year and had been on leave since then. She resigned after advice her hearing and sight could be at risk if she continued in such a high-stress job.

However, sources said she had been unhappy at the end of 2013, though at the time she denied any plans to step down when approached by Fairfax Media.

Those who worked closely with her said she was frustrated by managing the competing agendas of the caucus and the party, which in November saw uneasy compromises hammered out at the party’s annual conference over the state pension age and free trade talks.

However, it was her illness that finally tipped the balance.

Problems after Cunliffe’s ‘‘state of the nation’’ speech crystallised the urgent need to have someone actively filling the crucial chief of staff role in election year.

In the speech Cunliffe claimed all households earning under $150,000 a year would get a $60 a week baby bonus for the first year of their baby’s life, when in fact only about half would qualify because they would not get the payment while receiving paid parental leave.

Labour said Karl Beckett was acting chief of staff and the party was seeking a replacement for the job that has been a revolving door since 2012 with five filling the role during two leadership spills: Gordon Jon Thompson, former MP Stuart Nash, Alastair Cameron, former chief press secretary Fran Mold and  Brandon.

It is understood Labour is interviewing two prospective replacements.


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