Labour Party membership protest Willie Jackson's selection

A discord is growing among Labour Party members following the selection of broadcaster Willie Jackson for the list in this year's general election.

An open letter is circulating among the membership, calling on councillors to reject Mr Jackson's membership and to vote against him.

Speaking to Newshub at Waitangi, Labour Party leader Andrew Little said the membership have raised "valid concerns".

"I just hope they have an open mind about Willie – the full breadth of what he brings, every dimension… and the value he would bring in terms of our Māori representation, cos that's what he's going to be doing."

The letter, written by opponents of Mr Jackson, says he represents the "past, not the future of Labour."

Four main concerns are raised in the letter: His "abhorrent" Roast Busters interview, a lack of "courage to fight homophobia", his advocacy for charter schools and a lack of gender balance in Labour's caucus should Mr Jackson obtain a high position on the list.

The Roast Busters

Mr Jackson found himself in the centre of controversy in 2013, when he and RadioLIVE co-host John Tamihere interviewed "Amy", a young woman allegedly victimised by the Roast Busters.

He was accused of victim-blaming after he said girls shouldn't be drinking and asked whether, because some of the young women had consented, the men couldn't be considered rapists.

The 'Roast Busters' were a group of young men who allegedly attempted to intoxicate and sexually assault underage girls. The men would then name the young women on a Facebook page.

Mr Jackson's conduct during the interview was "abhorrent and totally at odds with Labour values," the letter reads.

"Allowing Jackson to represent our Party flies in the face of survivors of sexual violence, and the policies Labour seeks to put in place to improve justice system processes for complainants," the letter goes on to say.

It echoes sentiment expressed by Poto Williams, Labour Party spokesperson for family and sexual violence.

Posting publicly on Facebook, Ms Williams wrote she is "yet to hear that he understands his attitudes and views are highly offensive to many New Zealanders. I'm yet to hear that he wishes to work on putting that right and apologise for his behaviour".

"White Ribbon calls for us to support people who wish to change their abusive behaviour, so I welcome the opportunity to support Mr Jackson in apologising and making those change," she wrote.

"Until then, as someone who speaks for the victims of family and sexual violence, and as a survivor of such abuse, I can not in good conscience support him as my colleague."

Both Mr Jackson and Mr Tamihere were suspended following the interview with Amy. Mr Jackson returned to air with Alison Mau as co-host in 2014.

Mr Tamihere is a former Labour Party MP.

Speaking to media on Sunday at Waitangi, Mr Jackson said he has apologised a number of times and is happy to apologise again for any hurt.

He said they were "in the role of talkback hosts, and sometimes as talkback hosts, your job is to put both sides, and things get taken out of context".

"If I'm going to get done for the different interviews over the years, which is your job as a talkback host, you may as well hang me now, because you can take out of context a lot of things," he said.

Mr Jackson on LGBTI New Zealanders

The letter accuses Mr Jackson of being homophobic, despite seeking to join the party that introduced marriage equality reform.

The letter states that Mr Jackson "interrogated" Labour Party's Grant Robertson about his sexuality during an interview in 2014. 

During the interview, Mr Jackson asked Mr Robertson how long he has "been gay" and asked whether he was "pushing his own agenda", defending his line of questioning as "placating" south Auckland voters.

"I'll probably vote for you, because I like your politics", Mr Jackson said during the interview, "but [why] do we need to have this conversation? To placate my colleagues or my brothers there in south Auckland who apparently, if you listen to the speculation, will never vote for Grant Robertson, because you are gay."

In response to that, the letter reads: "Labour should not want a person to be an elected member of Parliament that lacks the courage to fight homophobia, let alone exhibiting comfortability with prejudice against LGBTI New Zealanders".

Speaking to Newshub's Patrick Gower at Waitangi, Mr Jackson said he thought people were getting him mixed up "with a certain person who used to work with [him] before." He wouldn't say whether he was refering to former co-host John Tamihere.

"Let's put it on record. I supported homosexual law reform. I supported same sex marriage. I supported the Civil Union Bill. I'm a big supporter of homosexual rights; equal rights," Mr Jackson said.

Advocacy for Charter Schools

The letter raises concern over Mr Jackson's public endorsement of charter schools, a National Party policy fiercely opposed by Labour.

As chief executive of the Manukau Urban Maori Authority, Mr Jackson has helped open two charter schools.

Mr Jackson has promoted charter schools as a viable alternative for those children - especially Māori children - who struggle to adapt to mainstream schooling.

Speaking to Gower, Mr Little reiterated Labour's opposition to charter schools.

"In the end, we don't like charter schools. We don't like the law around charter schools that says teachers don't have to follow the curriculum. But we want schools that work… and address the educational gap that Māori are suffering, so we will find the solution to that," Mr Little said.

Mr Jackson said he supports "any school that will help turn around the lives of our kids." 

Lack of renewal and women in caucus

The final issue raised in the open letter is concerns that too many high-ranked list positions are being promised to men.

The letter refers to a Labour Party requirement that decisions on the party list are made so that equal numbers of men and women make it to caucus following the election.

"Very high places on the list must be given to women for it to be constitutional, and a promise to give Mr Jackson a high position would threaten this," the letter says.

Mr Little said the Party has not put the list together yet, and woman are being actively encouraged into Labour safe seats.

Mr Jackson says he is happy to have his critics at his marae to address the concerns raised.

"Sit down, have a cup of tea. Let's work it through," he said.

The open letter is written on a Google form and was "created inside Young Labour."


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