23 Aug 2023

Michael Woodhouse denies claiming gender was behind demotion

12:38 pm on 23 August 2023
Michael Woodhouse

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Outgoing National MP Michael Woodhouse denies he said his gender was the reason his place on the National Party list dropped.

Party leader Christopher Luxon says a range of factors were at play.

The veteran former Cabinet minister found out at the weekend he had plummeted down the National Party's list for the October election, giving him "probably no better than a 45 percent chance of getting back into Parliament", in his own words - so he asked to be taken off it.

He told the Otago Daily Times there "was a contest between diversity and experience and in my case, diversity won".

Woodhouse has stood for National in either Dunedin or the former Dunedin North electorate in every election since 2008, but lost every time to the Labour candidate. He was ranked 12th on the list in 2020, guaranteeing his fifth term in the House.

Woodhouse would not say what list ranking he had been given this time, except that it was low enough to send a message he would not be considered for a ministerial job.

"I felt that I had a set of skills and experience that would have made a contribution, and the list place I was given suggests that the value that was placed on that wasn't as high as I [thought]," he told Morning Report on Wednesday.

Woodhouse was still down as National's candidate for Dunedin, but was not expected to win - campaigning mainly for the party vote. Labour's David Clark won it in a landslide in 2020, and the former Dunedin North and South seats have been safe Labour territory for decades.

Monday's 1News-Verian poll had National in a position to achieve 46 seats in the House. At least half of those will likely be taken by MPs that won their electorates - there were presently 23 of them, with polls suggesting National might pick up a few more, leaving limited spaces for list MPs like Woodhouse.

Woodhouse said his comments were mischaracterised in the Otago Daily Times article.

"It's simply not accurate to say that what I told the ODT was that it was a male-female issue - in fact I never even mentioned my being male as a factor.

"I did talk about diversity versus experience and diversity won, but that said, look, National did need to have a team that better reflects the country it serves and I think we have some fantastic new candidates with diverse backgrounds and I applaud that."

He said the reason so many "hard-working male MPs" had been given low rankings was because of the party's failure to get "more diverse candidates in winnable blue seats".

Of National's 23 MPs representing electorates 16 are men, mostly pākeha.

Combined with ACT's rise in the polls, Woodhouse said there was a "challenge of mathematical alchemy to fit in a greater amount of diversity within perhaps fewer spots than they thought".

"That's going to be a function in part of the fact that ACT will probably have about 15 or 16 MPs."

Woodhouse called the Otago Daily Times' conclusion that he was blaming his demotion on his gender "wrong and disappointing".

"It's a shame that my reflections have been portrayed as some kind of broader reflection on the party or society - that's not the case."

Instead, the party was just doing what it could to appeal to centre voters, he said.

"It's a tightrope really, and I don't think we've got it wrong at all."

National's list for 2023 includes 12 men and eight women in its top 20. Woodhouse was ranked 17th in its January reshuffle.

"I did ask the leader whether he saw me as a member of a Cabinet he leads - now I know that he can't make any firm commitments - but the answer was 'yes, we need your experience', so it was on that, that I launched myself into the year and offered myself for candidacy."

Woodhouse believed Luxon was genuine at the time.

"A number of things may have been in his head at that time... and they changed. He can't make a commitment. But if that had changed along the way, it would have been nice to have known a little earlier."

Christopher Luxon

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Asked if the former minister for ACC and immigration was demoted for being a man, Luxon told Morning Report there were a "range of factors" considered by the party when putting together its list.

"Look, there's a lot of men above Michael… and there's a lot of women below, but there is always a range of factors that our 31-person committee considers," he told host Ingrid Hipkiss.

"And it's really about finding the right balance of experiences and new skills, and also people frankly that can communicate to all communities across New Zealand."

Repeatedly asked whether gender was one of those factors, Luxon notably did not directly confirm nor deny it - instead talking up the list's balance of "great new talent with new skills and abilities and experience".

"We have a lot of talented people in the National Party and unfortunately not everyone can be at the very, very top of that list.

"When I go back through the history of the National Party and you say, when have we been at our best? Well, we've been at our best when we actually are what I call a national National Party - and that means that we communicate our values and our beliefs and our policies and our plans to all communities across New Zealand.

"And so, I think we've got a fantastic team. I'm really, really proud that we've actually got a team that's really well-balanced with that seasoned experience, but also new talent and new skills."

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