'Don’t believe in mandates' but no link to freedom group from Ashburton council hopefuls

2:25 pm on 15 September 2022
Brie Burgess (at the microphone), who is standing for the Ashburton District Council in the October 2022 local body elections, speaks at a 'meet the candidates' event at Ashburton Event Centre.

Ashburton District Council candidate Brie Burgess (at the microphone) says she is opposed to government-enforced vaccine mandates. Photo: LDR / Jonathan Leask

Another Ashburton District Council candidate has expressed her disapproval of government-enforced mandates, but says she has no allegiance to a controversial freedom movement organisation.

Brie Burgess is one of those vying to represent Ashburton ward and is looking to bring a younger voice to the council table.

While Burgess held an anti-mandate stance, she said it was wrong and incorrect that people should automatically align her with Voices For Freedom (VFF), an anti-vaccination anti-mandate group that has said it wants to make the country "ungovernable" and is standing candidates in local body elections.


Burgess' only beef was around mandates.

"I don't believe in the mandates,'' she said.

"I adhered to them, and I believe the government thought they did what was best for the country, but I personally don't think someone should lose their job because they don't want to stick a vaccine in their bodies.

"People have the choice to decide what goes into their bodies."

Fellow Ashburton ward candidate, Shfire Sapphire - who is also standing as a Braided Rivers Community Trust candidate - echoed a similar response at Sunday's 'meet the candidate' session.

Sapphire stated she was anti-mandate, pro-choice, and believed in "true democracy".

"I follow VFF on social media, I also follow operation people and Chantelle Baker," Sapphire said.

"I am very open about who I follow."

Baker is a prominent anti-mandate protester, who was recently booted from Facebook after allegedly sharing harmful disinformation to her platform.

"I want to hear all sides, look at the resources myself, and I'll make my own decision on what I think,'' Sapphire said.

Shfire Sapphire (R), who is standing for the Ashburton District Council in the October 2022 local body elections, speaks at a 'meet the candidates' event at Ashburton Event Centre.

Ashburton District Council candidate Shfire Sapphire says she is anti-mandate, pro-choice, and believes in 'true democracy'. Photo: LDR / Jonathan Leask

Of Ashburton's 21 council and mayoral candidates, only one candidate declared an affiliation or membership to a political party.

That was Richard Wilson, an Eastern ward candidate, who is a member of the National Party.

No candidates declared they were members of the VFF group, but Ashburton mayoral candidate Jeff Swindley, who is standing against incumbent Neil Brown, declined to comment.

"I have no desire to enter into contract with your publication," Swindley said.

Earlier this year Swindley, frustrated by Covid-19 restrictions, had threatened to take the New Zealand Government to court for $5 million.

WorkSafe New Zealand confirmed his business, the Bald Barber, had been issued with a $4,000 infringement notice on 28 February for not displaying a sign indicating if the business was operating under vaccination or non-vaccination rules.

A WorkSafe spokesperson said the infringement notice was transferred to the Ministry of Justice after an extended period of non-payment.

In the meantime, Swindley re-established his Bald Barber business as a private society, where the customers became members by signing a contract.

Swindley's wife, Mari, was an active participant in VFF online forums, discussing the changes to the business to side-step the restrictions.

The business believed members of the society were not required to comply with the Covid-19 restrictions that were associated with close-contact services.

WorkSafe said that was not the case.

"If the business is still operating under a regulated category, they must meet those requirements regardless of what they label themselves as," the spokesperson said.

Mayor Brown listed his membership of the Rakaia Squash Club, which he said would be unlikely to create a conflict of interest.

Candidate affiliations - who's on what?

Declaring potential conflicts of interest is required by successful candidates but knowing what these are ahead of the elections provides an understanding of what each candidate stands for.

While some affiliations may not be considered a conflict of interest, understanding candidates' affiliations to organisations, clubs, or groups is something voters can use to help them make their decisions.

All the Ashburton District candidates were asked to provide a list of their affiliations with any organisations that could be perceived as being a conflict of interest or of public interest.

In the Western ward (2 council seats available):

  • Liz McMillan is a board member of Mid Canterbury Rugby Union, the chair of the Kidzmethven committee and the Methven and Foothills Walking Festival group.
  • Rodger Letham is a member of the Rotary Club of Ashburton, the Ashburton Aviation Museum and the MSA Men's Choir.
  • Lynda Topp is a volunteer fire-fighter with the Alford Forest brigade and is involved in Casting for Recovery, an organisation that takes women with Breast Cancer Fly Fishing.

In the Eastern ward (2 council seats available):

  • Lynette Lovett list consisted of Federated Farmers, Ashburton County Lions, Civil Defence, Red Cross, rural woman, and the Ashburton A&P Association.
  • Rob Mackle: No response received
  • Keith Townshend: No response received
  • Richard Wilson said he is a member of the New Zealand National Party, Federated Farmers and a trustee of the Hekeao Hinds Water Enhancement Trust, a director of MHV Irrigation, the director and chair of Rangitata Diversion Race Management LTD and a member of the Hinds Squash Club.

In the Ashburton ward (5 council seats available):

Brie Burgess said she had "no affiliations to advise of".

  • Thelma Bell is with the Justices of the Peace New Zealand, Hakatere Multicultural Council, Multicultural Bite Trust, Ashburton New Life Church, and the Patient's Advocacy Group - Eastfield Health Medical Centre.
  • Leen Braam said he has no affiliations or conflict of interest to report.
  • Carolyn Cameron is a member of Ashburton Bridge Club, a member of Ashburton Service Level Alliance (pharmacy representative), a community representative on the Ashburton Ward Hekeao Hinds Water Enhancement Trust, and the president of the Ashburton Plains Rotary Club.
  • Russell Ellis is the president South Rakaia Bach Owners Association, a board member Safer Mid Canterbury, a member of the Ashburton MSA, and a member of the Wakanui Indoor Bowls Club and the Ashburton Indoor Bowls Association.
  • Janet Glassey: Withdrawn
  • Phill Hooper only listed three sporting groups - the Tinwald Golf Club, Mountain Bike Ashburton, and Phat Bastards Bike Club.
  • Carol Johns believed she didn't "belong to any groups which could be considered a conflict".
  • Shfire Sapphire said "I am not affiliated with anyone".
  • Bev Skates is a founding member of Litter-Free Ashburton Volunteers.
  • Hayden Tasker is a member of the Mid Canterbury Vintage Machinery Club, Mid Canterbury Vintage Car Club, Mayfield Golf Club, Ashburton Aviation Museum, and is a life member of the Mayfield A&P Association.
  • Tony Todd is a member of the Rotary Club of Ashburton, chairman of Trott's Community Garden, on the fund-raising committee for Hospice Mid Canterbury, a member of Hampstead Rugby Club finance committee and a member Ashburton Golf Club.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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