Robertson: 'The whole thing has got a bit silly'

Tuesday 10 Sep 2013 4:22 p.m.

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The Labour leadership battle got nasty today, with David Cunliffe sacking a worker for comments she made about Grant Robertson's sexuality.

It comes as the last meeting is about to get underway in Christchurch.

Many have been expecting a last-minute policy lolly scramble, but nobody saw Mr Cunliffe's curveball, delivered at lunchtime today, coming.

It was otherwise just another routine day on the campaign trail until Mr Cunliffe dropped his surprise move during an online debate.

Camp Cunliffe loyalist Jenny Michie was sacked for an answering a question about whether Mr Robertson's sexuality could be an issue, two days before Mr Cunliffe announced he'd be standing.

"It would be naive to imagine no resistance to a gay prime minister – some people might have a problem," Ms Michie told The Nation.

But she says she doesn't have a problem with Mr Robertson.

"I made a decision on balance that in order to protect the perception and the party, the right thing to do was to ask Jenny to stand aside," says Mr Cunliffe.

"I'm not interested in having a conversation about my private life," says Mr Robertson. "I don't think that's what New Zealanders want and actually I think the whole thing has got a bit silly."

Robertson supporter and Dunedin South MP Clare Curran went on a Twitter attack yesterday, claiming Camp Cunliffe was deliberately raising the gay issue to scaremonger.

"She's demonstrating to us what's wrong with our caucus," says Mr Jones. "Either the moon in Dunedin was in the wrong phase or she's casting around for a new job."

Mr Robertson's keen to keep the focus on policy and will tonight announce a major proposal to cap rent rises in Christchurch.

"We've got a situation here where the market has failed," says Mr Robertson. "We've had 5,000 houses disappear under the earthquake. We need to make sure there is affordable rent for people."

And Mr Jones is keen for a headline too. He wants to restrict migrant workers in the Christchurch rebuild and, in some cases, make beneficiaries do it instead.

"I don't see why if there are jobs available and someone is on the benefit they're not picking up a shovel and working," says Mr Jones. "People are going to learn that the word Labour means work."

And for the three candidates, there's still a hard slog ahead.

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