An agitator for change

Chloe Swarbrick says she’s ready to run hard for Auckland Central.

“It’s one thing to be an awesome local MP who’s good at helping people navigate the system and it’s another to take those issues into parliament to change the system that produces those problems. That’s my proposition,” she says.

It was a particularly dull and cold July day when Green party candidate for Auckland Central, Chloe Swarbrick, was due to visit Ostend Market. When she arrived, sporting a Green party sweatshirt, Chloe greeted waiting party supporters warmly with hugs and smiles.

GulfNews had asked for two minutes of her time and we sheltered from the crisp southerly on plastic chairs, tucked in beside the Ostend War Memorial Hall. Chloe started talking. Fast.

She has had opportunities galore to hone the skill of getting her opinion across quickly.

She worked as a reporter  at student radio station bFM before embarking on the 2o16 Auckland mayoral campaign, which she quickly followed up with the 2012 general election that took her into parliament as a  list MP.

At the time GulfNews met with Chloe, Nikki Kaye was the incumbent and  Chloe was coming to the Ostend market to meet an electorate with a well-regarded constituent MP who had risen to the top rungs of leadership within her party. Conversations were igniting from Onetangi to Oneroa with opinions on the morality and practicality of tactical voting. Would Auckland Central’s Left again split the vote between the Green’s Chloe and La- bout's Helen White and return Nikki for a fifth term?

How things change in a few weeks.

As Gulf News went to press this week, National was still getting its ducks in a row over who would be that party's can- dif}ate for the electorate meaning that in thé intervening weeks since Nikki Kaye withdrew from the election, it has been a two-horse race.

So what can Chloe offer Waiheke people, including business owners, in these very uncertain times?

“What people will get from me as a representative is exactly as I’ve held my- self out to be for the last three years,” she says. “Even when there are controversial issues, I will do what evidence says is the best thing to do. Of course I will change my opinion based on people’s feedback, but, you know, where it’s simply a matter of ideology there is a massive opportunity for us to inspect the way that we’ve always done things and to say that perhaps we can do them a bit better.”

It was a frustration with council planning decisions that drew Chloe into national politics. Late in 2016, the 130-year- old local’ music venue the Kings Arms was sold to a developer who harboured plans to replace the pub, which did not have heritage status, with apartments. Chloe says it was that event that led her to the realisation that “there was a real connection between the decisions that were made around planning and the sorts of places that we valued and ultimately the ramifications on community and young local artists who can no longer get a foot in the door or use those spaces”.

In October 2oi6, aged23, Chloe garnered 29,O98votes (7.33 per cent) in the Auckland mayoral race. At that point, she says she found herself in a “very weird but amazingly privileged” position where people were interested in talking about politics in a new way and her role in that seemed worthwhile.

She didn’t want to go back to being in the “very reactive” space of reporting at bFM on issues she heard about and hoping that someone cared.

“I felt that if I didn’t take up that opportunity to be proactive and to try and pose solutions then I’d be a fool'’

She joined the Green party, she says, because as far as she was concerned bit was, and continues to be, the only party recognising that the wellbeing of people and the planet is inextricably linked. In 2017, Chloe put herself forward for the Auckland Central candidacy against Waiheke’s Denise Roche.

“Obviously the veteran won out on that,’ she says, and that meant she ran in the area where her grandmother lives - Maungakiekie. There, Chloe came in third with 4O60 votes, while  nationwide, the Green party received six percent of votes, enough to take eight members into parliament, including Chloe who was seventh on the party list.

During her first term in parliament, Chloe has been living in Auckland Central, which she describes as fascinating because not only does it include the central city, but the island communities of Waiheke and Great Barrier, too.

“When you look at the issues around the Hauraki Gulf, when you look at the issues of the Fullers monopoly, I think that there’s often a focus on red herrings -  that being the electrification of [ferries] as opposed to ending the monopoly. I have always been far more interested in transformation of the system that serves people and the planet better as opposed to tinkering around the edges.

On issues that are pressing for many Gulf island resitends, ferries on Waiheke and marine dumping on Aotea Great Barrier, Chloe says there are some legislative reforms hat can be persued. She says she is investigating those and putting pressure on Phil Twyford where she can.

"I’ve also found from my position as a first term backbench MP, that there is a lot of power that you can have behind the scenes trying to agitate. But there is also a lot of power in being a public voice for these issues."

She says the issues such as ferry timetables that don’t serve commuters come back to a systemic problem of the monopoly.

'As far as I’m concerned the only way that we’re going to resolve that is through breaking down that monopoly'’

As a member of a small party, Chloe says she has held about a dozen intersecting portfolios and, in doing so, has come to recognise that there is an overlap of issues which, she says, can only properly be addressed through a multi-faceted approach.

With regard to the contentious marina approved for Kennedy Point, she says it seems like a very messy situation around consenting and planning and “this kind of bizarre waving through”.

“There's actually a lot of parallels with Ihumâtao and the situation where there wasn’t a great cognizance of the historical, environmental, cultural importance and the potential environmental degradation. It meant a consent was granted without too much fed in from the community, which is now being pushed back massively*’

Although, she says that legally the marina has   gone through the procedures, her current position is one of continuing to investigate what outcomes can be achieved.

"People power has saved the day before, particularly if you look at pushing back against developments. The parallel has been drawn between Ihumâtao and Bastion Point and that kind of occupation is totally a potential and I know that there are some Waihekeans who are going to fight that fight and I’ll back them on that'’ For large employers on Waiheke such as the wineries and businesses navigating the fallout from the global pandemic, Chloe says the most important thing is that decision-making on the local economy and the international economy comes from an evidence-based standpoint.

“It protects us and doesn’t undo all the great work and sacrifice that so many have already made'’

At this point in the conversation, someone brings her steaming empanada.

The day is still chilly, she tucks in without interruption to the flow of conversation. A stone’s throw away is the Ostend Road bus stop, so often the topic of conversations this past year on the problem of achieving a public transport system that serves both residents and visitors.

If she was the local MP, how would she handle issues like concerns over changes to bus routes?

“It’s beyond the scope of what we do in parliament broadly but it doesn’t mean that you can’t be a solid local advocate. You can make a song and dance about something, and back the community when they’re trying to navigate the system. But also moving forward we can create a better set of variables which prioritises community engagement moving forward'’

She points to the recent RMA fast-tracking legislation as an example, which she says is disproportionately focused on economic recovery without recognising that different types of economic activity are more detrimental than others.

She says the Greens worked as constructively as possible to improve both Te Tiriti and environmental protections in the fast-track legislation. By holding out support until the final reading when they voted against it, she says they managed to block initiatives planned to have been put through without public consultation, such as extending the time period for the fast-track processes from two to five years.

With reform of the Resource Management Act on the cards for coming years, Chloe says we need to create a system that enables proper democratic engagement, adequate environmental protection sand that incentivises the right kinds of build. As the Green party MP on the environmental select committee, she says something she fought for in the first tranche of RMA reform that went through that select committee was an issue close to her heart - tree protection. It was opposed by all the other parties, she says, but she fought hard to get tree protection back. “Since we had tree protection taken out under the former National government we have seen a decimation of Auckland trees'’ At that, Chloe was approached by a resident concerned about a tree situation, and she picked up that conversation without skipping a beat.• Erin Johnson