Being male cost me my position: Woodhouse

Soon to be former National MP Michael Woodhouse contemplates his future. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Soon to be former National MP Michael Woodhouse contemplates his future. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Being male has cost him and many other National MPs a high slot on their party list, outgoing Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse believes.

In his first interview since quitting his party’s list, National’s Dunedin candidate said he feared New Zealand’s sixth-largest city was being abandoned by his party, and the way National was behaving meant it was shedding party votes to Act New Zealand.

"Firstly, there was a contest between diversity and experience, and in my case diversity won," Mr Woodhouse told the Otago Daily Times when asked why he was given such a low position on National’s list.

"Secondly, I think that there was a bit of naivety about using the list rankings as a process to send messages, and thirdly I think that there were other factors at play working against me that I won’t elaborate on, but I wasn’t part of the caucus club, that’s for sure.

"I have a habit of saying things without fear or favour."

Mr Woodhouse’s political world came crashing down at 1.15pm on Saturday.

While delivering flyers in Waverley, he received a call from the party’s regional electorate chairperson to tell him where he was situated on National’s list.

While he would not specify what number he was given, Mr Woodhouse said it was well below what he had expected, even as a worst case scenario.

"It was pretty clear to me that on the number that I was given that it was probably no better than a 45% chance of getting back into Parliament, much less being in the thinking of the leadership for a ministerial post.

"Really, the decision was made for me by that decision by the leadership."

Mr Woodhouse said he would refuse that ranking and withdraw from the list, and asked to speak to party president Sylvia Wood.

Before she could call him, Mr Woodhouse received a call from National leader Christopher Luxon, who attempted — but failed — to change his mind.

"I think he had confidence that he would be able to change my mind and he was quickly disavowed of any notion of that.

"He did say ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ and my reply was ‘It’s not me doing it, it’s you and the list-ranking committee’.

"If you want to give someone bad news, don’t do it through the list-ranking process ... it is generally done through other methods."

Mr Woodhouse said he now had to plan for a new career in a matter of weeks — "I’ve got a mortgage to pay" — and said it was regrettable that if the party had decided it no longer wanted him as an MP it did not say so several months ago so he could make plans and deliver a valedictory.

"It is a pretty untidy end and not one that I had anticipated, but I don’t leave with anything other than sadness about the circumstances, and being able to look back fondly on 15 years of a huge privilege to support the community of Dunedin ... but I think I need a bit of time to get that in perspective yet."

Mr Woodhouse said it was too early for him to decide what he would do next, but as he still had a child in secondary school he would probably remain based in Dunedin.

Mr Woodhouse was first elected to Parliament in 2008.

In the John Key and Bill English governments he served in several senior roles, including whip, minister of immigration, minister of transport, minister of police and minister of revenue.

Mr Woodhouse felt he had been a capable minister and did not believe "the details side of politics was valued as much as I think it needed to be" when National collated its list.

"That’s the way it is.

"I know that there are others who are capable, but I think that people have different attributes: some are better at the retail politics, some are better at getting things done and policy work — I was known as being annoyingly interested as a minister in the policy details — and I didn’t always get it right but I felt that I was effective in that."

"Whether I was as effective as an opposition MP is for others to speculate," Mr Woodhouse said.

"I don’t think much attention was paid to the skill set that would be required once we get over the line, but that’s for others to judge."

It is expected Gerry Brownlee will be speaker if National win the election and Judith Collins will be foreign minister.

That would leave politicians with limited years of experience to fill senior ministerial roles, Mr Woodhouse said.

"We have lost a lot of experience in the past six years and we will have to rebuild that."

Christopher Luxon has been a frequent visitor to the South and Dunedin in particular this year.

Although National is most unlikely to win what is a safe Labour seat, Mr Woodhouse felt his party had gathered considerable momentum in the city and it was probably now mostly gone in the wake of his dumping.

"Even amongst National supporters, I’ve already received indications of a swing to Act, but I don’t think Dunedin is the biggest risk in that regard.

"Frankly, there is a group of hard-working male MPs with secure seats who have been given positions in the mid-50s which puts them at a very very significant disadvantage.

"Firstly, it’s an indication that National isn’t that worried about those seats because they are going to win them and that could lead to drifting further over to Act ... those guys have been given a big serve but can’t do what I did because they are going to win their seats."

Assuming Southland MP Joseph Mooney held his seat and Waitaki National candidate Miles Anderson won his seat, they would likely be asked to look after Dunedin, he predicted.

He said that was an unfair burden to put on two MPs with just three years experience between them and two of New Zealand’s largest electorates by geographic area to represent.

Dunedin had many important issues it needed local representation for, and the progress of the new Dunedin hospital needed local scrutiny, he said.

Mr Woodhouse said he had now largely lost his enthusiasm for campaigning and was yet to decide if he would take part in debates or make speeches.

"I have had some excellent support locally, but I have encouraged all the members and volunteers to continue to work the way they have," he said.

"Yes it’s a disruption, but this is bigger than me.

"It’s about changing the government and I am still determined that we do that."