David Cunliffe. Photo NZ Herald
Senior Labour MP Grant Robertson says he has "no
intention of challenging" David Cunliffe before the election
and told Mr Cunliffe he had his full support this morning.
Mr Robertson was one of several Labour MPs who met with Mr
Cunliffe this morning along with Annette King, Clayton
Cosgrove, Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins.
None had supported Mr Cunliffe in the leadership contest last
Mr Cunliffe is due to address media just before 2pm, and a
spokesman said that was not to announce he was resigning.
Speculation of a challenge has centred on Grant Robertson but
after meeting with Mr Cunliffe, Mr Robertson said Mr Cunliffe
had not asked him to rule out a challenge and he had not
offered any assurance "because it was not necessary to have
that as part of the conversation."
"It's not an issue. I assured him .. that I absolutely
support him. I have no intention of challenging him before
He said nobody in caucus had asked him to head a challenge.
The meeting with Mr Cunliffe was "a catch up on events of the
last 24 hours."
Mr Cunliffe has spent most of the morning defending his
leadership in the media this morning after a further bad poll
result putting Labour at just 23 per cent in Fairfax papers
this morning and news of his 2003 letter on behalf of Donghua
The Fairfax poll comes just after a Herald Digipoll in which
Labour was at 30.5 per cent.
Mr Cunliffe told Radio NZ this morning he had the support of
his caucus. He said he had checked after media speculation
about his leadership, but would not specify who he had
checked with. He was confident he could still take out the
election, saying all leaders faced turbulence at times.
Speaking to media, he also accused National of a "smear
campaign" against him.
"What New Zealanders are seeing here is clearly an operation
by the Government to discredit the Labour Party."
That followed Mr Key confirming in the United States this
morning that he had known of Mr Cunliffe's immigration letter
for Liu for some weeks.
Mr Cunliffe said it appeared to be a remarkable coincidence
that it subsequently came out in the media. It was released
to the Herald under the Official Information Act yesterday.
Mr Cunliffe also challenged Mr Key to put up any evidence he
had that Liu had made significant donations to Labour after
Mr Key said from Washington that he had heard there were
potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars involved.
Labour has said it has been unable to find any record of
donations from Mr Liu or his known companies, but they could
have been made via a third party.
Ex-party president: Too late to change leaders
A former Labour Party president says it's too close to the
election to think about any change in the party, following a
controversy involving leader David Cunliffe and businessman
Mike Williams said this morning the letter in support of Mr
Liu's residency application that Mr Cunliffe forgot he wrote
was "forgivable, but this close to the election it's not
The revelation of the letter came just a day after he said he
had never advocated for the businessman.
"It's not good, but it's too close to the election to do
anything about it, he's just got to fight back," Mr Williams
told Newstalk ZB.
The issue was "a storm in a teacup", he told Radio New
He said an MP shouldn't be expected to remember every letter
he had written on behalf of a constituent, especially in west
Auckland where immigration and housing were ongoing issues.
However, he said if the polls continued to lag in the low 20s
then a shake-up could be a possibility.
"At that point you've got people losing their seat, and
nothing focuses the mind of an MP more than the thought of
losing their seat."
Acting Prime Minister Bill English told Radio New Zealand it
was up to Mr Cunliffe's caucus to decide if he should remain
as the party's leader.
"It's not a criminal offence but it is a test of trust in his
Mr English said he might not remember a letter he had written
10 years ago on behalf of a constituent, but this was no
"The issue here is that Mr Donghua Liu is not someone who's
just popped up suddenly in the public environment.
"There's been discussions for a number of months. Mr
Cunliffe's been involved in that discussion, it's been pretty
vigorous because a minister resigned over matters related to
the declaration of a donation from Mr Liu.
"So you would expect that someone who wants to be prime
minister would be reasonably thorough about getting on their
Mr English said he had no knowledge of the letter, and as far
as he knew the National Party was not involved in making it
Key: 'Rumours' of more to come
Prime Minister John Key said he believes Labour has had a lot
more than $15,000 in donations from Mr Liu.
He also acknowledged he had known for some weeks that Mr
Cunliffe had written a letter supporting Mr Liu's application
Speaking from the East Lawn at the United Nations this
morning, Mr Key said he had heard rumours that Mr Liu had
give more that $15,000.
"I've heard the rumours and we'll see what actually comes out
but I'd be very, very amazed if the amount is $15,000," he
told New Zealand reporters.
"That's for the Labour Party to make clear to the New Zealand
Mr Key said he believed that people made mistakes in
political life "but the realty is that has never been the
proposition he has been prepared to accept".
Mr Cunliffe had been asked the question about Donghua Liu on
numerous occasions, not just once.
"It is very incumbent on you once the question has been asked
once to go away and turn over every piece of paper and make
sure the answer is right and if it not right, to correct and
you've seen me on a number of occasions have to go and
Talking about Mr Cunliffe's leadership, Mr Key said that "on
a number occasions in his leadership he has come up against
the hurdle of trust and he seems to manage to be able to
career into the hurdle rather than jump over it".
"He is going to have to reconcile his answers to the New
Zealand public with the facts and the two of them aren't
Cunliffe issues warnings to Labour scabs
Mr Cunliffe has issued a veiled warning to his caucus against
any move against him, saying he has the support of Labour
Party members and affiliates and any who break ranks could be
viewed as scabs - workers who break a strike by crossing the
Some senior Labour MPs are understood to be weighing up
mounting a coup against Mr Cunliffe following the latest
nightmare to hit his leadership.
From tomorrow, Labour's caucus can change its leader by
majority. Sources said if there was a move against Mr
Cunliffe, it would not be immediate and could depend on the
next round of polls.
But he issued a warning aimed at anyone considering such a
move last night: "I've tested directly and through others
with a large number of my caucus colleagues that I have the
support of my caucus and my party and our affiliates, and
that we are driving to the line," he said on Campbell Live.
"And in the Labour movement, you know, there are some words
we use for strike breakers."
It was a reference to "scabs" - a very a strong word in
Labour circles, and effectively a warning caucus could face a
backlash from the party's membership and affiliates who had
given strong support to Mr Cunliffe.
Earlier in yesterday, he told reporters: "I did not tell a
lie, I absolutely did not. I did not intervene in support of
Mr Cunliffe, whose party on Monday said it had no record of a
$15,000 donation from Liu which was also revealed by the
Herald this week, said neither he nor his staff could recall
the letter. It was one of thousands he'd written for
constituents, and he did not recall meeting Liu. He later
said he had asked his electorate office staff to check
whether they had any record of the letter.
"It was on file it turns out," he told RadioLive. It was
discovered in the electronic records of a now-retired staff
"To the best of my knowledge that letter came through my
office and an immigration agent on his behalf."
He believed he had put his name to the letter "because it
checked out on paper and it was a very low-level request
about how long the processing would take".
Poor poll result won't be helping
A poor result on a new political poll has added to Labour's
Labour has dropped six percentage points to 23 per cent in
the stuff.co.nz/Ipsos political poll. National rose to 56 per
cent -- a result that would let them govern without a
The polling took place early in the week before the
revelation over Mr Cunliffe's letter in support of Mr Liu's
The poll showed results for Mr Cunliffe as preferred prime
minister slipped two percentage points to 11 per cent, while
results for Prime Minister John Key to remain as prime
minister rose three points to 51.4 per cent.
In February, 81.6 per cent of respondents to the same poll
who had voted for Labour in 2011 said they would vote for
them again in September.
In the latest poll this number dropped to 61.3 per cent, with
the greatest drop in support affecting 30- to 44-year-olds.
Ipsos managing director Matt Benson told Fairfax that
previous Labour voters were now unsure who to vote for.
"An increase in alternate party activity on the Left side may
have traditional Labour voters weighing up their options and
thinking again about Labour. On the other side, as the party
options for conservative voters reduce, we are seeing them
flock to National."
Commenting on the poll, Mr Key believed the fact National was
polling more strongly was a reflection of the fact that
middle New Zealand looked at a very left wing opposition
grouping of Labour the Greens, and Mana and was becoming
"The stark reality this election will look like potentially
on one side David Cunliffe, Metiria Turei, Russel Norman,
Hone Harawira, Laila Harre, Kim Dotcom and on the other side,
A lot of New Zealanders were concerned about what a left-wing
agenda would mean for growth, job and the future of the
country, he said.
Adam Bennett, Audrey Young in New York, Claire