2 Oct 2020

Electorate profile: Auckland Central a three-way race

9:56 am on 2 October 2020

Auckland Central is a diverse, young and highly-educated electorate three women are vying to represent this election.

From left, Chlöe Swarbrick, Emma Mellow and Helen White

From left, Chlöe Swarbrick, Emma Mellow and Helen White Photo: RNZ

The electorate is home to 60,000 people and plenty of towering developments and major roadworks in the heart of the CBD.

Tāmaki Makaurau is at the coalface of the Covid-19 border and confronted with all manner of issues from struggling small businesses to the health of the Hauraki.

The Labour Party's Helen White, the National Party's Emma Mellow and the Green Party's Chlöe Swarbrick have each thrown their hat into the ring for Auckland Central.

RNZ asked each of the candidates why they were running for the seat and what made them the best local representative.

Why are you standing for Auckland Central?

Helen White:

"I'm an employment lawyer and barrister and I'm standing in Auckland Central, and I did last time, because I was really concerned about what I was seeing in our city. I'm seeing a real breakdown in many of the things that made it a really nice place to live.

"I was particularly worried about the growth of homelessness and the acceptance that that was alright. In my work I have seen wages and people's access to justice dive. They have been increasingly isolated because they're no longer part of unions and there's just such disparity in income. I was seeing people coming into my office who earn quite a lot of money being able to enforce their rights and also people being taken advantage of because they didn't earn a lot of money and so they couldn't enforce those rights. And it was actually affecting the basic respect with which people were being treated."

Labour's Auckland Central candidate Helen White

Labour's Auckland Central candidate Helen White. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Emma Mellow:

"I believe we have the best city in New Zealand and I want to make it better. I returned home to New Zealand in 2017 from my OE in Sydney. I live in the electorate with my fiancé Chris; we're in an apartment. I'm 30 and my generation, and actually the people of Auckland Central, really care about jobs. They care about the future of our city, employment and infrastructure and those are challenges that National and me as a candidate can tackle."

Chlöe Swarbrick:

"I am standing in Auckland Central for the Greens because it's my home. It's why I got involved in politics. I've run small business here, I went to uni here, I live here and it's the community and the communities actually that I want to represent and fight for."

What are the three biggest issues in this electorate and how would you fix them?

Helen White:

"I have a cheat answer to that. I basically talk about affordability which covers a number of issues. If I have to break that down I'd say we've got to the point in the central city where it really matters what you earn. It's not an accessible or pleasant lifestyle if you are in the bottom end of the income bracket. So it affects things like housing and issues like renting are really underestimated because they affect [this electorate] more than they affect other parts of the country...

"We need a lot more affordable housing in the city for everyone so people who work here can live here. We need to accept that our population of children and old people in the city is going down for a reason; it's because it's not actually that easy to bring up kids in the city or stay if you're old...

"One of the thing's I'd really like to see improve in the city, and it's underway, is a plan to make it a much more walkable, bikeable, public transport-orientated city... So supporting the city to do the things that need to be done to make it more liveable is probably the thing I think is most important about my role if I get the job as the constituency MP because I can be that kind of conduit between local government and central government and really just lobby to get as much as I can to support really good plans in the city."

Emma Mellow:

"Since I was selected I've called over 1500 households. In those conversations it's very clear that people in Auckland Central care about jobs. They're worried about the future of the economy and they want opportunities for them and their families to get ahead... That includes policies like JobStart, giving a $10,000 cash payment to businesses taking on a new starter. It means BusinessStart, backing entrepreneurial people who want to start their own business, being able to take some funds out of their KiwiSaver.

"We're also going to invest in infrastructure. We've seen horrific traffic here in central Auckland. The cars down College Hill and Ponsonby Road are regularly backed up because of the situation with the bridge. We're committed to build that second harbour crossing, a tunnel, and also work to improve and fund better ferries, trains and buses around Auckland Central.

"I may also say the environment. People in this electorate care deeply about the environment... Our big concern here in Auckland Central is the gulf and its water quality, so as local MP I want to advocate for more marine protection and restoration. That includes advocating for better water infrastructure with council. It's also things like shellfish beds being restored on the floor of the Hauraki Gulf and how currently there's three different resource consents that they have to go through. We want to reform the RMA and make it easier for that work to take place.

National's Auckland Central candidate Emma Mellow

National's Auckland Central candidate Emma Mellow Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Chlöe Swarbrick:

"There are a lot of issues. I think one of the major ones is definitely homelessness. I think that it's really important that more than just connecting with them that there's a champion that's actively working and accountable to the kaupapa. So homelessness is a really big one but youth homelessness in particular given that our young people make up the pipeline for homelessness at large. They're approximately 50 percent of the homeless population.

"On top of that it's evidently our Hauraki. The Green's Thriving Oceans plan put forward a plan to protect our Hauraki as a matter of urgency. And on top of that based on the local work I've been doing here it is rebalancing the hugely disproportionate power that exists between our owner-operators, our genuinely small businesses, and their commercial landlords."

What makes you the best candidate?

Helen White:

"I have 27 years [of experience] as an employment lawyer which means that I've been pragmatically solving ordinary people's problems, in fact people's problems from all walks of life, for a long time. I also run my own small business as a barrister so I know what it's like to do that but I also work for a lot of small businesses and NGOs. So I'm really hopeful and that kind of base of actual involvement in solving problems gives me a real advantage as a constituency MP and I think it's a very important part of the role. I also think it's really important to be connected with the government at the moment and I'm hoping Labour will get there. I think being able to go in and have a conversation with the prevailing government with the same ethos where we're all on the same page about wanting to connect the community."

Emma Mellow:

"I've got significant commercial experience which will help me navigate the issues and challenges that come from such a diverse electorate. I'm incredibly hard-working. Nikki Kaye's shown that there is a lot of work done and she's done 10,000 cases every year. You need someone who will get in there, get the work done and deliver for the constituents of Auckland Central. I'm young, energetic and I'm a really hard worker."

Chlöe Swarbrick:

"I have a track record. I have a really strong track record. I don't think anybody can ever say that the Greens have chosen the easy route, nor have I. I have stood up for the hard, nuanced, complex and controversial things and got my hands dirty where it matters.

"I also, unlike the other two frontrunners in this race, will not be bound by the hierarchy of a massive political institution. I've seen in friends of mine who've got involved in both of those major institutions that there is a propensity to go in with a huge amount of energy but ultimately end up having to forfeit one's personal beliefs for the so-called greater good of that political party. Therein, you end up having to sit down, shut up and wait ten years to have an opinion by which time you might not necessarily believe in it anymore. So always advocating for caring about and prioritising change for the betterment of people over the advancement of my own career makes me the best candidate."

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick is standing in Auckland Central this election Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

What do you love most about this electorate?

Helen White:

"It's a very beautiful place; physically it's stunning. So you can't ignore the fact that we have one of the most physically beautiful cities in the world. I came here in 1971 and my parents had come from Kawerau which was a little milling town and they were just delighted with the diversity in Auckland Central and they were right; at that stage my school was 98 percent Pacific Island. It's no longer the heart of Pasifika the way that I wish it still was but it's got all these amazing cultures and diversity in it and that's something I just love about Auckland Central."

Emma Mellow:

"I love the diversity. I love the fact that we've got very distinct communities of Waiheke, of Great Barrier Island and here in the CBD a lot of apartment dwellers and the western bays and then where I live in Eden Terrace. So there's a mixture of different kinds of groups and communities of people and bringing them together and advocating for them is such a privilege."

Chlöe Swarbrick:

"I love the people. One of the things that just blows my mind is despite the increasing pressures, cost of living and challenges everybody faces in modernity there is so much innovation, so much creativity, so much entrepreneurship; so many people that bring out these incredible pockets of brilliance and I don't think that they should just be pockets I think they should be the norm. So that's exactly what I'm advocating for is to be the champion for those folks who are already doing this stuff at the coalface."

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