May 17, 2023 Politics
I first met Swarbrick when I chaired West Auckland ‘Meet the Mayoral Candidates’ sessions in 2016. She was 22 and had shocked many people with her grasp of politics, her planning, her thoughts on what was right and what was wrong with Auckland. She was a perfect mayoral candidate except for one thing: Phil Goff got more votes than she did. She was standing because she believed that we could do better, and she hasn’t got that wrong.
She’s now had nearly a full term of being the member of Parliament for Auckland Central (an electorate which stretches to Waiheke and out into the Hauraki Gulf), and is one of the most recognisable (by all), loved (by some) and respected (by many) politicians in the country. We meet on Ponsonby Rd and sit outside Dizengoff drinking coffee in the sun. Everyone passing by seems to recognise her, including the pooches.
It’s a good morning for Swarbrick. She has just been confirmed as the Green candidate for Auckland Central for the 2023 election and she’s fired up with what needs to be done as Auckland starts to rebuild after its summer of floods and a cyclone. She’s passionate about the city, and I can tell she doesn’t suffer fools and won’t take any prisoners. This is her kind of town — she won’t give it up without a fight.
BOB Why didn’t you stand again for the Auckland mayoralty in 2019 or 2022?
CHLÖE I gave that a crack in 2016 and put a lot of effort into it. It was just after the Unitary Plan was signed off and the controversy surrounding that, but Aucklanders chose someone else and here I am now.
BOB Tell me about your background — how did you get into the world of politics?
CHLÖE I studied philosophy and law. I’ve been very open about my gnarly mental health journey and my depression. Had I not been fortunate enough to have some things fall the right way, I might not be here today. I’m definitely in the stage of my life where I know the most about who I am — about the things that upset me and how to work through them.
We now have this framework He Ara Oranga — set up by the government last term — which basically acknowledges that we are all born with a set of genetic inherited traits. Effectively, it’s your environment that can turn those things up and down. Human beings are deeply interconnected with each other and mental health is not solely individualised. We tend to forget that people need basic access to resources.
BOB Tell me about the bear pit that is Parliament. Jacinda Ardern’s resignation shone yet another spotlight on how hard that life can be on people. Did you form a friendship with her?
CHLÖE I spoke to her before I ran for Parliament. At that time I was running a small cafe and art gallery in Mt Eden. After I ran for the mayoralty in 2016, I had a lot of people approach me about running for Parliament but I had no experience with what happened there — I just really wanted to make coffee, I had no idea what I would be getting into. I spoke to Jacinda about it — she was incredibly kind. She told me how it was and what I could expect. I was very conscious of everything she had going on and although we had conversations throughout her term, I never wanted to impose myself.
BOB Did you know about the death threats, the body armour she was wearing prior to resigning?
CHLÖE No. A lot has changed since my time in Parliament began. Up until six months ago, I was never verbally attacked in the street, then one day a man accused me of being a communist, a controller of everything. Even though I tried to have a rational conversation with him, I could tell he wasn’t listening. I think there are a lot of people out there like that. It was deeply unsettling. I was pretty shaken up by the experience.
BOB How do you see leadership in New Zealand politics today?
CHLÖE I hate the way we have celebratised and individualised political change and created this environment that surrounds politicians. I have a belief that no one person by themselves can change anything.
BOB What is your 10-year plan? Do you want to be prime minister?
CHLÖE I don’t have a 10-year plan, I have a this-year plan. It drives me up the wall when politicians take communities for granted, and I certainly don’t. I’m in this to win. I’m looking forward to it. I was looking forward to running against Nikki Kaye in 2020, but it didn’t happen.
BOB What are you reading?
CHLÖE Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder. It’s about the very visceral nature of being a mother — the extremes of being a mother. The good thing about being in a queer relationship is that I always thought my partner would have the baby. I don’t see myself as having a strong maternal nature and I’m very aware of not having a lot of time to give.
BOB Who do you admire the most in the world?
CHLÖE My father.
BOB Chlöe, if you died, who or what would you like to come back as?
CHLÖE That’s a hard one. I think it would either be as a dolphin or a whale, but then, when I come to think of it, there is so much cruelty to whales and dolphins, and a lot of strandings… I don’t think it’s as easy as I thought.
BOB How do you see Auckland now?
CHLÖE We are in a hard place. I love this city, Bob. We are currently experiencing the legacy of decades of bad decisions — financial ones and climate change ones.
I’m ambitious for a better world and I’m ambitious for a better Auckland. So many of my friends were leaving university and starting careers and going overseas because they could earn more, have better public transport, better nightlife… They would complain about Auckland.
I believe Auckland can be all of those better things if you invest in it. I have that belief to this day.