Labour’s General Secretary Tim Barnett has reportedly had to intervene in a row in the Rotorua Labour Party to try and stop it reaching the courts.
The row centres on one of the party’s star candidates, the former TV presenter, Tamati Coffey, who was defeated in his bid for the seat at the last election and in part it was sparked by Labour’s decision to estimate Chinese house buying numbers in Auckland.
The other party is Rotorua bookshop owners and party member Fraser Newman who has been involved in a Facebook, newspaper and blog spat with Mr Coffey.
Mr Newman had been a strong contender for the nomination which was eventually won by Mr Coffey.
Mr Newman has a Chinese-born wife and was critical of Labour’s release of its estimate of the number of Chinese buying houses in Auckland.
Interviewed for a “vox pop” poll on the issue by the Rotorua Daily Post he said Labour was looking for a scapegoat for the housing crisis.
“We need to stop blaming others for complex issues – the housing crisis is a complex issue, it’s just picking out a scapegoat. There are far better ways to manage this.”
He said the comments could exacerbate racism.
“I find it appalling. While I don’t mind the policy per se, it’s the way it’s been framed – it’s a desperate play for attention.
“It goes toward creating racial disharmony, people are now talking about their Asian landlords and how they are having arguments with them and how bad they are and that they are absent but it sounds like they are just ganging up on them because of their race.”
Coffey said in his Face Book entry: “Fraser Newman continues to try to score political points by pitching himself as the former Labour Rotorua spokesperson, speaking out against our party every way that he can.
“It is a known fact that he is now a National Party supporter/member and has been since election night 2014.”
Newman said use of the term “former Labour Party spokesperson” was the paper’s, not his.
Nor was he a member of the National Party.
Newman said though he attended Rotorua MP Todd McClay’s launch last year and voted for him in the October general elections e said he retained links with Labour.
Coffey said Newman was the spokesman “for a very short time, leaving the local Labour organisation in a mess and having achieved nothing”.
Newman said he found Coffey divisive.
Soon after it appeared on the Rotorua website “Steam n’ Mud”, Coffey’s article was removed.
But his fulmination did invite social media comment, which was more offensive than Coffey’s original posting.
It is understood unsavoury remarks also appeared on the Labour Party’s official page, which had since been expunged.
Locally, the Labour Party has privately apologised to Newman but in correspondence with Steam n’ Mud it appears Labour is unrepentant.
Its co-chairman Haydn Marriner said Labour as group was “strongly against media applying the title of ‘former labour spokesperson’ without mentioning his current anti-Labour stance, not mentioning his active participation in supporting the National Party candidate”.
The inference was that the public could assume he remained a “party insider and supporter,” Marriner’s letter said.
Local political insiders say Newman has tried to wring a public apology from Coffey, who left recently for a pre-planned holiday break.
Newman apparently feels the apology should be posted on Coffey’s Face Book page, the site of the original barb.
Mr Barnett was keen to resolve the matter before it reached the courts as Newman sought a public apology from Mr Coffey.
Labour Party interest centres on views that Coffey could be promoted to contest the Mt Roskill seat should its MP and former party leader Phil Goff stand for the Auckland mayoralty.
But yesterday the blogger, Whaleoil, reported that Coffey could be in breach of electoral law for over spending at the last election.
Coffey has added life to the local political scene in a seat held for three terms by Steve Chadwick, now Mayor of Rotorua, who has kept her distance.
But he failed to unseat McClay, who was buoyed by favourable boundary changes and a slick campaign strategy.