Politics

MP and Labour Party face court fight over Manurewa

The Labour Party is staring down the barrel of a court case brought by one of its own MPs over alleged flaws in a controversial selection battle

Labour MP Louisa Wall is preparing to take legal action against her own party over a bid to oust her from her Manurewa electorate, Newsroom understands.

The threat of a court case played out in the public eye stems from the party’s decision to accept a late nomination from lawyer and recently-appointed Waitematā DHB board member Arena Williams, seen as a viable threat to oust the incumbent.

A supporter of Wall said some in the party were upset by how the MP had been treated during the selection process, given her experience and advocacy on LGBT issues.

There was a feeling that Labour’s national headquarters was overreaching into the local selection process to push out candidates who senior MPs did not like, or who were not fully compliant with the messaging from the top of the party.

Newsroom understands Wall’s partner, lawyer Prue Kapua, contacted Labour’s governing body, the New Zealand Council, threatening legal action if Williams’ application was not declined.

After taking advice from a QC over the weekend, the party’s executive has formed the view that its position is defensible, leading to the prospect of a showdown in the High Court.

Such a move is not without precedent: in 2008, Roger Payne took the National Party to court over his failed bid for its Selwyn nomination, claiming the decision breached natural justice and Electoral Act provisions (the High Court ruled against him).

In February, Newsroom reported on Labour’s selection battle for the Manurewa nomination, with Wall facing challenges from Williams and longtime electorate organiser Ian Dunwoodie.

Dissatisfaction from long-serving branch volunteers is understood to lie at the heart of the challenge to Wall. 

The former Silver Fern, who led the charge to legalise same-sex marriage in 2010, is seen as not being active enough locally and lacking sufficient profile at a national level.

The five-term MP does not hold a ministerial portfolio and is understood to be a polarising figure within the Labour Party caucus, some of whom do not regard her as a team player.

Wall has been an MP since 2008, winning the Manurewa seat at the 2011 election and holding it with a margin of over 8000 votes in 2017.

The selection process was put on hold in March, due to what the NZ Herald reported were complaints about the eligibility of newly registered Labour members.

In a response to Newsroom, Wall said: "Some of the issues with this year's Manurewa selection have been reported on to date, including in Newsroom.

"I understand Arena Williams' late nomination was to be discussed by NZ Council last weekend. I have not yet received any advice from the President or NZ Council about that discussion and so it would be entirely inappropriate for me to comment at this time."

Rudy Taylor, the chair of Te Kaunihera Māori (Labour’s Māori Council) declined to comment about the Manurewa selection when contacted by Newsroom, saying: “It’s in the lawyers’ hands.”

Williams also declined to comment and referred questions to Labour Party president Claire Szabo, who told Newsroom the party's governing body had "worked [throughout the selection process] to reflect the spirit of our party's democratic principles, and has taken care to follow the party's constitution, in accordance with our legal advice".

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