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Feisty Employment Relations Forum Hits Nerves

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

ACT and National candidates walked into the lion's den trying to defend their policies at the Council of Trade Unions employment relations forum in Wellington today.

National MP Kate Wilkinson was the centre of attention and fielded most questions from the floor while ACT's David Garrett lost his temper with hecklers.

He was not the only one moved by the tense atmosphere. United Future candidate Robin Gunston set bottom lines that would scuttle National's tax policy.

His leader Peter Dunne later said Mr Gunston had gone too far.

New Zealand First MP Peter Brown wasn't going to be left out -- he called National leader John Key the devil.

Addressing the 100-odd people in a Wellington church hall, Mr Gunston said United Future was proud of securing the 15 percent tax credit for research and development.

"Which we are not prepared to under any circumstances to see disappear nor are we are prepared to see any aspect of KiwiSaver compromised."

Mr Dunne told NZPA neither were bottom lines for post-election negotiations.

"We don't see the need for any change to either the KiwiSaver scheme or the R&D tax credits, but we are setting out our view at this stage, we are not talking about these being bottom line issues. They are just things we don't support changes to."

Mr Brown told the forum that his party would not cosy up to National nor Labour before the election and he did not think much of Mr Key's pledge not to work with New Zealand First after it.

National came knocking after the 2005 election: "Well I've got to tell you the door knocker has not been removed."

However if Mr Key came to the door there would be no deal on legislation to set up a trial period for new workers or changes to the holiday law or privatisations.

"I want to be absolutely categorically clear we are not going to let any party take this country back to the 80s and early 90s and if we have to dance with the devil to stop that and move this country forward both socially and economically then we're up for it."

Mr Garrett tried to warm up the crowd by telling them he used to be a union delegate.

That caused a bit of an uproar and saw him get into a tit-for-tat with the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union's Paul Tolich.

Mr Garrett tried to rip through ACT policies -- including scrapping the minimum wage and abolishing specialist courts and tribunals -- saying he thought if he spoke fast he'd keep the booing to a minimum.

It didn't work.

When Mr Tolich yelled out that Mr Garrett was a red neck he struck a nerve.

Mr Garrett said he thought that word was as insulting as nigger.

"What you are implying is that I am stupid, uneducated bigoted and racist. Well I am none of those things my friend."

Then he garbled a few sentences.

"You've tangled me up you've got me passionate."

At the end Mr Garrett thanked the audience for a relatively fair hearing.

"Thank you for a relatively fair hearing, we get a couple of party votes out of it all -- no one's watching you when you tick."

Ms Wilkinson did not suffer so much heckling as a series of serious questions which she did her best to answer.

Green MP Sue Bradford sympathised, saying it was like her going to a Business New Zealand meeting.

Labour Minister Trevor Mallard also got a heckle.

He was in the middle of accusing National of secretly planning to sell off state owned enterprises when someone yelled at Labour sold off Telecom.

Mr Mallard said that was right but it was a Labour Party with Roger Douglas pulling the strings and he'd be back in a National cabinet if that party won the election.

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