Metiria Turei has stunned her supporters and electrified an already tumultuous election campaign by resigning as Green Party co-leader less than 45 days before the election. Bernard Hickey reports from Parliament.
After days of rejecting calls for her to resign, a set of questions from RNZ's Checkpoint about the support her daughter's extended family gave Turei when she was a young mum on the benefit appeared to be the final straw.
Her resignation on the black and white tiles of the foyer outside the Parliamentary debating chamber came less than an hour before the release of a poll showing a collapse in the Green Party's support after it emerged Turei had committed both welfare fraud and electoral fraud in the early 1990s and may not have revealed all the support she received from the family of her daughter's father while she was a solo mum on a benefit.
"I can deal with the political scrutiny, I’ve been doing that for a very long time now, but that scrutiny of family members and broad family members is unacceptable," Turei told reporters after her co-leader James Shaw had announced she was resigning and he would be the Green Party's sole leader for the rest of the election campaign.
“I made the decision actually in travel between meetings in Wellington today, that the right thing to do for my family and the party was to step aside,” she said.
Shortly before the news conference, Turei had said on RNZ's Checkpoint she would be resigning.
A relative of her daughter's father had told RNZ that the child's grandparents had provided significant support to Turei while she was on the domestic purposes benefit and said her story of poverty was at odds with what they had seen. The family member had said it was "galling" to hear Turei talk of her dire situation of poverty forcing the welfare fraud when she was being supported by the grandmother of her child and did not need to commit the fraud.
RNZ had submitted questions about the allegations to her this afternoon.
Gone after days of turmoil
Turei and fellow Co-Leader James Shaw made the announcement shortly after 5 pm in Parliament, ending days of speculation about her leadership and the resignation of two MPs from the Green caucus in protest at her continued defence of her frauds.
Turei said she made the decision this afternoon while in a taxi driving between meetings after considering the pressure on her family and the party.
The resignation came shortly before Newshub published the results of a Reid Research poll taken over the last week, covering the period that included Jacinda Ardern's elevation to the leadership of the Labour Party and the new revelations calling into question Turei's mid-July story about welfare poverty.
The Reid Research poll found Green support fell 4.7 percentage points to 8.3 percent, while Labour support rose nine percent to 33.1 percent. National support fell 0.8 percent to a 10 year low of 44.4 percent. The NZ Herald reported that a poll by UMR for the Labour Party had found Green support had almost halved to 8 percent from 15 percent over the last two weeks, while Labour's support rose from 23 percent to 36 percent.
But the biggest shift was in the preferred Prime Minister support levels. Ardern rose 17.6 percentage points to 26.3 percent and just below Prime Minister Bill English on 27.7 percent, up 1.9 percent. Winston Peters fell 1.9 percent to 10.0 percent.
"I do think if I continue as co-leader I will hinder the success of the kaupapa, and the kaupapa is to change the government and make sure the Greens are at the very heart of that new government," Turei said.
"That’s what I’ve been working 15 years for," she said.
Turei had repeatedly said in recent days she would not resign as leader after revealing on July 16 that she committed welfare fraud in the early 1990s while raising her young daughter, a move she said was aimed at sparking a debate about the punitive nature of the welfare system.
However, it also emerged on Sunday she had falsely declared she was living in an Auckland electorate to vote for a friend, and had flatted with her mother while on the benefit. Kennedy Graham and David Clendon resigned from the caucus yesterday morning and the remaining members of the caucus declared their unanimous support for her.
Shaw to be sole Green Party leader
Shaw said the Green Party would select a new co-leader after the election and he would run as the sole leader ahead of the September 23 election. A new co-leader would be selected by party members after the election.
“I’d like to pay tribute to Metiria for all the work that she has done in her time as co-leader…for the battles she has fought, for the sacrifices she has made, and for the lives she has changed," Shaw said in opening the news conference.
He stood by her decision in the July 16 speech to the Green Party's annual conference to use her own story of poverty as a single mum to challenge the welfare system's approach to cutting the benefits of solo parents and unemployed people if they worked or had partners. She announced a Green Policy to end this approach to welfare and increase benefits 20 percent.
“It started a conversation that made people uncomfortable, including members of our own party and our own caucus. We have paid a heavy price for that, and Metiria has paid a particularly heavy price for that," he said.
"I did not ask her to resign."