Former union boss to head New Zealand’s main opposition party

Wellington : Former trade union head Andrew Little was Tuesday named the new leader of New Zealand’s main opposition Labour Party and charged with reversing its fortunes after its historic defeat in September’s general election.

A lawyer by profession, Little, 49, acted as solicitor for the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union before becoming the union’s national secretary in 2000.

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He was elected president of the centre-left Labour Party in 2009, the year after it lost power to a centre-right coalition led by Prime Minister John Key and his National Party.

Little became a member of parliament in the 2011 election when he came in on Labour’s list under the country’s mixed member proportional representation system, and has twice unsuccessfully contested his hometown constituency of New Plymouth, on the west coast of the North Island.

Little thanked his three fellow leadership contenders and said he was privileged to be given the task of ensuring Labour once again became a powerful force to go into the 2017 election, according to Xinhua.

The National Party-led government had shown its disdain for New Zealanders with its attacks on workers’ rights, rights to privacy, its moves to sell public housing assets and its mistreatment of the families of the Pike River coal mine disaster that left 29 men dead in November 2009, he said in a statement.

“It is becoming clearer by the day that this must be their last term and I am confident that by drawing the movement together we can achieve that aim. I look forward to leading the change,” Little said.

He has said that Labour must reconsider core policies, such as a capital gains tax to tackle soaring house prices and raising the age of entitlement to state superannuation, if Labour is to win back support.

Labour’s 15th leader in its 98-year history was elected by an electoral college made up of 40 percent caucus, 40 percent party membership and 20 percent affiliated unions.

Little is also the fourth leader since the party lost power in 2008 and replaces David Cunliffe, who led Labour to an historic defeat with just 25 percent of the vote in September’s election.

Cunliffe, who was elected a year previously, resigned saying that he had to take responsibility for Labour’s worst result since 1922.

The party has reportedly been riven with factionalism and infighting since 2008 and successive leaderships have failed to dent the popularity of Prime Minister John Key.