Robertson relishing new responsibilities

Grant Robertson
Grant Robertson
The Labour Party's deputy leader, Grant Robertson, is preparing for a busy year ahead as Labour starts its rebuilding process. Mr Robertson, formerly of Dunedin, sits down with Otago Daily Times political editor Dene Mackenzie.

Labour Party deputy leader Grant Robertson (40) is certainly not trying to spin any lines about the defeat the party suffered at the election last year.

In fact, he is brutally honest about the way the party failed to connect with its core supporters during a campaign that many commentators wrote off from the start.

Following the election, a contested leadership process took place, with David Shearer replacing Phil Goff as leader and Mr Robertson replacing Annette King as deputy.

Both Mr Goff and Mrs King have chosen to stay on in Parliament, something Mr Robertson welcomed because of the experience he and Mr Shearer could tap into as the parliamentary term progresses.

"We have a leadership team with five and a-half years' experience. I think that is an advantage, as it shows a fresh face for the party. But we can use the experience of Phil, Annette and Trevor [Mallard]."

The obvious job for Mr Robertson is supporting Mr Shearer but the Wellington Central MP also has the job of ensuring the 34-member caucus works effectively.

Asked if the leadership battle had been divisive and factional, Mr Robertson said it had been a long time since leadership had been contested - when former prime minister Helen Clark took over from another former Labour prime minister, Mike Moore.

"There will be people who are disappointed, but I am confident we all have the same goal of returning to government in 2014.

"We will get on with that quickly."

Mr Shearer worked hard in the allocation of portfolios to ensure the best talent in caucus was promoted.

Mr Shearer had retained science and innovation as his portfolios to show the emphasis Labour was putting on those areas to drive economic growth.

Mr Robertson had a tertiary education role but had also asked for skills and training, as he saw them being part of the same areas to help drive the economy.

With the expectation Mr Shearer would be visiting New Zealand communities to reconnect with Labour supporters, Mr Robertson was expecting to take on a increased role in the parliamentary debates - something he enjoyed.

"We have a responsibility to be in Parliament to hold the Government to account."

Labour intended working with other Opposition parties in areas of common ground. Asset sales were one area where the Government's majority was "wafer thin" and a chance for Labour to apply pressure with the help of other parties, Mr Robertson said.

That would establish in the minds of voters an alternative Labour-led government, but Labour needed to be seen as the driving force, something Messrs Shearer and Robertson were determined to do. Each of the 34 MPs would be encouraged to work to the limits of their capacity to push the Labour message out to voters, Mr Robertson said.

dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz.

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