Editorial: Tainted candidate a Labour liability

Four months from a general election, and David Cunliffe and Labour needed Shane Taurima. But not as much as they need untainted candidates. The TV presenter and former head of TVNZ's head of Maori broadcasting would have made a good run for Tamaki Makaurau, one of the seven Maori seats and currently held by retiring Maori Party stalwart Pita Sharples.

Labour traditionally attracted significant support among the Maori electorates, at least until the Maori Party's emergence. Now, with the Mana Party on the rise and potentially splitting the Maori "protest" vote, strong Labour candidates could pick up some crucial support for Labour come September 28.

However, Taurima has blotted his copybook significantly. In breaching one of the most sacred newsroom rules - failing to disclose to his employer extensive activity on behalf of the Labour Party - along with other issues of trust, he has shown up the state broadcaster in a bad light and let himself and his profession down.

The party has not ruled out another chance for Taurima in three years. But with electioneering already gathering steam, he would have been far too hot for Labour to handle this time around.

Its ruling council, of which Cunliffe is a member, had no option but to "de-select" him, after holding up nominations for the seat. It had been waiting for a TVNZ report on his activities while heading its Maori broadcasting unit until he stood down earlier this year amid controversy.

Taurima is by no means the only broadcaster or journalist to have an interest in politics. Paul Henry ran unsuccessfully as the National Party candidate for Wairarapa in 1999. Former parliamentary reporter and Marlborough Express editor Brendon Burns had a stint in Parliament as a Labour Christchurch MP. Current Dunedin MP Clare Curran started working life as a journalist on the Nelson Mail. Kris Faafoi, Deborah Coddington . . . the list goes on.

Given that journalists follow closely the business and dynamics of politics and tend to be articulate, questioning and creative, it is not surprising that a number are shoulder-tapped to stand by the various parties. Where Taurima crossed the line is both in using taxpayer resources to further his private political interests, and failing to fully disclose to his employer his aspirations and party activities.

Cunliffe, in refusing to rule out a return of some sort in the future, says that we can all make mistakes and Taurima's crimes are not so great that he could never come back.

However, no matter how gifted, intelligent or tapped in to Maoridom Taurima might be, his lapses suggest a lack of judgment so significant that voters would be justified asking if this is the sort of leader we want or need in the House. MPs - and Ministers - never rate highly in the area of credibility, and Taurima faces a long journey before he'd be seen as anything but a liability to a party that has long been struggling to regain traction.

The Nelson Mail