Dissent as Mana and Dotcom draw nearer

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 10:31 13/04/2014
Kim Dotcom and Hone Harawira,
DRAWING CLOSER: Kim Dotcom and Hone Harawira, standing on a chair, at the Mana

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Mana Movement members have walked out on the conference after the party voted to progress talks with Kim Dotcom's Internet Party.

A five-hour discussion on the merger went late into last night after Dotcom managed to win many of the 250 members over with a speech about his own experience of poverty and push for "social fairness".

In a release from the party last night, Mana claimed the decision to progress talks was unanimous though party president Annette Sykes clarified that position this morning.

She said each of the movement's seven voting blocs had supported the move though there was significant dissent within them and many members were not expected to return to the meeting today.

"There's a number, I'm not going to name them all but there's quite a number. We're not talking hundreds but we're talking people who I think are leaders young and old and they are principled individuals who I have great respect for."

Those members had gone back to further discuss the move with their branches, she said.

"We have to respect that dissent so there are some limits on the next steps and the way they negotiate forward."

This related to negotiations with all parties.

Sykes said discussions had been drawn out and admitted there was a clear recognition of gaps between the two parties that needed to be fleshed out before any final decision was made.

Mana members had discussed which forms the alliance might take and what their bottom lines in any negotiations would be.

"We haven't spent three years developing step-change policies for them to be put to the side."

Sue Bradford left before the end of last night's hui, though she says it was not as a result of the debate, although she was disappointed by the decision.

"Many, many people spoke against any alliance with the Internet Party including myself so there's a lot of concern within Mana about the direction this is taking and the fact that the party has agreed to go forward with negotiations with Dotcom."

She said dozens of people had spoken against it, mainly raising concerns about Dotcom's "capitalist agenda", including increased foreign investment in New Zealand, and the damage to Mana's credibility.

While she praised the process around the decision, she dismissed Dotcom's story of growing up in poverty before making his own fortune, saying Prime Minister John Key had done the same.

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She would remain with the party at least until a decision was made though it was possible she and others could walk if it went ahead.

Mana Movement leader Hone Harawira said he had huge respect for Bradford and her decision would not change that.

But the flipside to the proposed alliance had been a spike in membership and profile and the members had to consider those benefits.

"Will there be resignations? Quite possibly, there haven't been to date so I'm not that fussed about it, what I'm saying is, in taking the ups and downs, there are always going to be people coming in and out for various reasons and that's fine but we have to be consistent with out policies and if our policies are generating hundreds in membership signings in the past few weeks you've also got to take that into account."

The final decision would likely be made by the party executive who would canvas support with their members.

Mana co-vice president John Minto said there was a "clear consensus" to go ahead in spite of the many objections.

He admitted there was a risk this could cause a rift in the party but did not expect it to be significant.

The major concerns were over the potential damage to the Mana brand though Minto said this could be managed.

DOTCOM'S SPEECH

Dotcom's speech yesterday, which he began with a story of his own impoverished upbringing, laid the foundation for the unlikely political partnership between the brainchild of a German multi-millionaire with a famously extravagant lifestyle, and a grassroots movement of the people.

Joe Trinder, chairman of the Mana Tamaki Makaurau branch, said yesterday that Dotcom had "nailed it".

"It's a go, there's no doubt about that," he said of the merger.
Mana's socialist faction had previously said there was no way they could work with a multi-millionaire "but what he did is he defused that entire debate because he said he was brought up in poverty that probably a lot of the people here haven't experienced themselves".

Mana Rangatahi Aotearoa chair Ishae Waetford said things looked to be falling in Dotcom's favour after the speech.

"Last night we were sitting on the fence but I think we might be tipping over into support."

Members now had more of an idea about what Dotcom could do for Mana and empathised with his experience with New Zealand's surveillance network as many had whanau involved in the Tuhoe raids, she said.

In his speech, Dotcom disputed "outside" perceptions that Mana and the Internet Party had little in common, saying he was committed to "social fairness".

"Just because I live in big, flash house doesn't mean that I don't care about people who are disadvantaged. I think we need a fairer society."

In a speech which drew regular applause, he said growing up he was "a poor young boy living under hard circumstances", with an alcoholic father and a mother working three jobs to make ends meet.

"That is where my drive and my motivation came from because I wanted to create a better life, especially for my mother."

Success was not a bad thing provided those who achieved it remembered where they had come from, he said.

Dotcom pledged support for Mana's "struggles" such as alleviating poverty and stopping fracking though he admitted there were Mana policies - such as on foreign investment and taxes - he did not agree with.

Perhaps his biggest cheer came when he spoke of the need for Maori to unify.

Afterwards he said a merger was a win-win and "more likely than unlikely".

Harawira said Dotcom had addressed many of the issues which members were wary of.

 "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."

Mana members debated the merger late into the night.

While it has the initial rubber-stamp any final decision would still depend on issues such as the Internet Party's candidates which Dotcom said they were moving "at internet speed" to address.

It is unlikely that having come this far he would do anything to jeopardise the alliance, however.

The pair were at odds over party funding, however.

Dotcom said such an arrangement would be fair though Harawira said Dotcom had the means and should be putting up the bulk of the funding.

Dotcom wants the merger so his party could potentially enter Parliament on the back of a Harawira victory in Te Tai Tokerau while Harawira says Dotcom brings attention, finances and technological know-how to the table.

- Stuff

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