Kim Dotcom 'to win over' Mana at AGM
Mana Movement members have voted to continue talks with the Internet Party.
The decision follows a well-received speech from Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom yesterday, with Mana members announcing the decision late last night - claiming a unanimous decision though there has previously been dissent.
"The MANA AGM has decided unanimously tonight to continue negotiaitions with the Internet Party," the party said in a statement.
"Within a month further negotiations, further consultation with MANA branches and a final decision on whether to proceed with a relationship is expected."
Dotcom, who arrived in three black SUVs, spoke to the Mana movement at their conference near Rotorua on Saturday morning and was subjected to a 20 minute question and answer session afterwards.
After arriving to a largely silent welcome from the 250-odd members, Dotcom was introduced by his champion, party leader Hone Harawira, before attempting to paper over concerns about the lack of compatibility between the two parties.
He admitted that "from the outside" there appeared to be little common ground between the two parties, but said this was not the case.
"Mana is about social fairness and who in his right mind could not be for social fairness? I'm for social fairness."
In a speech which drew regular applause, he spoke of his own impoverished upbringing, saying he was "a poor young boy living under hard circumstances" with an alcoholic father and a mother working three jobs to make ends meet.
"Even though my mother was working all these jobs there was hardly enough money to have enough food so I would go to bed hungry often and I would eat toast with sugar and I would eat toast with ketchup and that is where my drive and my motivation came from because I wanted to create a better life, especially for my mother."
Dotcom spoke about his ability to help lead New Zealand into a digital age and about how young New Zealanders were being unfairly burdened by student loans.
He would also apply his technology know-how to help Mana boost its membership and support.
Mana members asked questions ranging from whether or not he would support "struggles" such as anti-fracking protests and the feed the kids campaign - he would - and whether he supported all Mana policies - he did not.
He was also asked about his knowledge of the Treaty of Waitangi though he admitted it was poor.
He said that before he got to know Harawira and the Mana Party "the New Zealand media told me that you were some bunch of extremists who were just crazies who want to burn down the rich man's houses".
"So I came in here with an open mind and I listened to what Hone had to say and it's nothing like that and it makes total sense - it's about fairness, it's about getting rid of inequalities."
Afterwards he said he was confident of a merger.
"I think it's a win-win so I think it's more likely than unlikely."
Mana leader Hone Harawira said Dotcom had cleared up a number of issues and indicated he thought Dotcom had won people over.
"I'm not supposed to be pushing one way or another, but I didn't get into this just for the fun of it I think there's the opportunity here for some form of relationship that will help grow Mana's presence in the House and also grow the role that the Internet Party will have as well."
He said what happened next was up to party members.
He said he would expect Dotcom to add financial support to the relationship saying he was in a position to provide more funding than Mana, though Dotcom said any funding arrangement would be fair.
"It would be ridiculous to assume we could contribute equally to it."
Earlier, a Maori broadcaster had urged members to okay the deal.
Dotcom may have already found favour with Mana leader Hone Harawira, but others have threatened to leave the party should a merger go ahead.
A formal deal could give the Internet Party a shot at seats in Parliament by riding on the coat-tails of Harawira as he attempted to hold Te Tai Tokerau electorate in September's election.
Harawira joked he was looking forward to the conference with some trepidation.
''It's going to be a challenging weekend, but I think that that's the heart of Mana, that's the heart of our people, that's the heart of our kaupapa and it's to be up for challenge and not to shirk from it.''
While interest in Dotcom's speech was ''huge'', the internet entrepreneur, whom the US wanted to extradite to face charges of copyright infringement, would have to win the party members over himself, Harawira said.
''I'm just comfortable that we have seen an opportunity and taken it. If it doesn't work, I'd be comfortable with that decision if that's the feeling of the membership, but I have to say that while there are those opposed there has been a spike in our membership that we haven't seen in quite some time.''
No final decision would be made today, as the Internet Party still had to provide clarity around matters such as its list of MPs.
Harawira has said the merger was not about money, but broadening his party's appeal. The two parties shared common goals, such as ousting the current Government and curbing the Five Eyes surveillance network.
Party members would have the opportunity to question Dotcom before a discussion on the merger. Harawira said they would also look at their relationships with other parties.
There was a chance they could approach other parties to set up a deal to campaign together, like that posed by the Greens to Labour.
''The strategic thing would be to focus on building numbers of seats opposed to National rather than attacking one another. So we could just concentrate on tearing the Left apart or we could look at trying to build the numbers.''
This could also involve discussions around electorate deals or an agreement not to attack each other.
The invitation to economist Gareth Morgan to speak was also aimed at broadening the party's appeal and opening up new ideas.
''Both of them bring ideas which mark out the fact that in my view Mana can no longer be pigeonholed as a party for Maori, the disaffected and for the radical fringe.''
Former Labour MP Georgina Beyer was scheduled to speak today and applauded Harawira's approach.
''Politics is about risk and it's about the art of the possible and it's about compromise and all of those sorts of things.''
Many people were fed up with politics and the major parties and were looking for a new champion, she said.
Former ACT MP Donna Awatere-Huata was also due to speak today.