Bruised Cunliffe bounces back

Labour leader David Cunliffe came out swinging in Hamilton after weathering an onslaught of criticism over repeated gaffes that threaten to derail him in an election year.

He was in Hamilton to push his Best Start policy to the education and social service sectors and the party faithful after a week-long scandal he said was just a storm in a teacup.

"Mate, that is just Wellington beltway politics," he said yesterday. "Government has been trying to throw the kitchen sink at me in the last couple of weeks just to discredit me."

In Hamilton, people the Waikato Times spoke to said the pressure on Cunliffe and criticism of Justice Minister Judith Collins' Chinese tea date was just a sideshow.

Cunliffe has been on the political ropes after the late disclosure of a savings investment trust and a secret trust that took donations for his leadership bid.

Three donors to the leadership trust agreed to be identified but two others remained anonymous and their donations would be refunded, he said this week.

Critics have slated Cunliffe as disingenuous and bumbling.

Earlier in the week the Labour leader admitted the late disclosure was a lapse of judgment but yesterday he said: "They are threatened by the ideas that we are bringing to New Zealanders. Everybody gets a chance, not just the few at the top. I guess the guys at the top, they don't like that because they think they are going to pay for it and so they are really trying to take me out.

"Well, they can try but I am tougher than that."

Cunliffe was criticised for his failure to disclose the full details of the Best Start policy when it was launched in January.

At the time, he promised a $60 a week baby payment to all parents of newborns until they are 1-year-old, but he backtracked days later.

Yesterday he visited Hamilton's Little Waikato Scholars Educare and met several early childhood providers and told them about Labour's ante-natal care package for new mothers and plans to increase hours for pre-schoolers from 20 to 25 hours.

Labour will announce the details after the budget but Cunliffe said it would come at a cost of about $150 million in the first year and up to $550m after five years.

"It's not cheap but it's really worthwhile and will lift thousands of families and thousands of kids out of poverty."

Capital gains tax was back on the agenda because "they work" and he had the "discriminatory loan-to-value ratio" in his sights.

"Bidding up each other's property prices makes the bank manager rich and makes the country poor - it's dumb."

Maori social service provider Te Runanga o Kirikiriroa completed a social housing project last year and Mr Cunliffe said it could be involved in the rollout of Labour's Kiwi Build policy to flood the market with 100,000 new homes over 10 years.

"They'll be targeted at first-home buyers but there is no reason that a social housing provider could not partner into that programme to help with that provision," he said.

He said one in four New Zealand children grew up in poverty and the country would be better off with a focus on youth.

"You have to have the investment up front - good healthcare, warm dry roof over your head, good schools to go to."

Waikato Times