Chlöe Swarbrick has likely won the Auckland Central seat, becoming only the second Green MP to win an electorate. She tells Michael Neilson about their historic campaign and being underestimated, her priorities for the city and, of course, setting up an electorate office on K Road.
As Chlöe Swarbrick enters Pink Neon Sign, a new vegan cafe in Auckland Central, the patrons erupt into cheers, and gather warmly around the 26-year-old.
It is nearly a week after her historic election result, yet she’s still being mobbed.
“It’s been wild,” Swarbrick said.
Her after-party was at Whammy Bar’s Backroom off Karangahape Rd.
And she’s only just getting her voice back.
She nearly lost it when a week ago, during a victory lap of sorts along her “home” of K Rd, passers-by couldn’t stop yelling out – “nice things” – and, of course, she’d yell back.
“It’s really cool to have fought our ground, and been vindicated,” she told the Herald on Sunday, reflecting on her historic campaign that will likely make her
only the second Green MP to win an electorate seat.
In 2016, aged 22, she was widely mocked for running for the Auckland mayoralty.
She came third, but gained a huge amount of respect and paved the way to enter Parliament in 2017 on the Greens list.
Then this year she was criticised by some and her Labour opponent Helen White, for running and “splitting the vote” and potentially denying a left-wing candidate the seat left open after National’s Nikki Kaye retired.
Despite that, Swarbrick and her team were committed to turn Auckland Central from blue to green.
They had hundreds of volunteers, door-knocked thousands of constituents and “stuck our heads in” nearly every single small business and community organisation.
On election night her lead over White was just 492 votes, or 34 to 32 per cent.
With several thousand special votes likely still to be counted, White hasn’t conceded defeat. National’s Emma Mellow has, sitting a further 1000 votes behind.
During her first Parliamentary term Swarbrick developed a huge profile, particularly among younger voters, thanks in part to her “okay Boomer” quip in Parliament that brought her global meme fame, but more importantly her staunch advocacy for drug law reform – leading the cannabis referendum conversation – and mental health.
She also commands a huge social media presence, second only to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Swarbrick said her election night win showed younger voters truly did care about what was possible.
“We don’t have to accept politics that is uninspiring, non-transformational, blase and boring. It should not be a chore. It should be something we are excited by and is genuinely representative.”
Swarbrick has been critical of Parliament, the adversarial nature and Westminster style rooted in the patriarchy.
“Politics is f*****,” she recently said.
Did this campaign change her view?
“No. But what this has shown is the power of community, and of what is possible,” she said.
The new Parliament, New Zealand’s most diverse and perhaps one of the world’s most diverse, offered some hope though.
“There are so many newbies, with fresh eyes, and are not beholden to the way things have been done for so long.”
Asking for a short list of priorities – she literally carries a notebook around with ideas – is a difficult task for Swarbrick.
Asked to narrow them down to three tangible outcomes for this term, Swarbrick nominated: addressing homelessness, and particularly ending youth homelessness, protecting the Hauraki Gulf and backing Waiheke Island residents.
She has been working closely with Lifewise and the City Mission on a strategy, and says she will advocate for funding to realise it.
She’s particularly keen for action on restoring the health of the treasured Hauraki Gulf with iwi and the Hauraki Gulf Forum.
She’s also sticking up for Waiheke Island constituents, vowing to champion their concerns around ferries.
Her wider priorities include working with small businesses around tenancy concerns; and advocating for the arts, nightlife and music scenes.
She also wants to see action on restoring some of the city’s most famous heritage sites, such as the St James Theatre and Crystal Palace Theatre.
Swarbrick’s looking to set up her electorate office on K Road.
“I don’t want to be out of sight, out of mind, and I want to be confronted by the challenges every time I am there.”
At a national level she vows to continue in mental health and drug reform, along with advocating for students, and of course, the environment, with climate change action a main area.
On drug reform an “easy win” would be legalising or at least decriminilasing drug testing at festivals, which NZ First had blocked.
With them out of the way she hoped legislation could be passed before the summer holidays.
It could also be a term of high-profile wedding bells, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and fiance Clarke Gayford likely to marry, and Swarbrick engaged to Nadine Walker, the Greens’ chief press secretary.
But she’s not giving anything away, saying: “My private life is my private life”.
She admits there are “a lot of moving parts” in her political life, but refrains when asked of any ministerial ambition.
“I’ve had a lot of people with a lot of reckons about what I am doing in politics,” she said.
“I joined the Greens as I believe in fighting for something bigger than myself.I am not fussed what role I have, just what change I am able to bring about.
“I am not wedded to the job – I am wedded to the idea of change.”
Representing Auckland Central, her home, gave her a new opportunity.
“I have now the privilege, potentially, to represent my home, my community, and that provides an anchor unlike anything I have had before,” Swarbrick said.
“I am here to serve the people of Auckland Central, and I will continue as long as I am being useful, doing my job well and sticking true to my principles.
“What people can expect is they will get the full, all of me.”
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