By Jenée Tibshraeny
Will the left fail New Zealand as it did the US and UK?
Chlöe Swarbrick is on a mission to make sure it doesn’t.
The 22-year-old won the confidence of 29,098 Aucklanders who backed her to be Mayor. She now has her sights set on helping refresh the left in national politics.
The day after Donald Trump was crowned President-elect in the US, Swarbrick announced via a video posted on social media, she would run for the Green Party in next year's election.
While she claims her announcement wasn’t influenced by the Trump victory, her comments around there being a “tide for change” against a global backdrop of people unhappy with the status quo, appeared rather timely.
Swarbrick appealed to New Zealanders not to fall into a “trap of hatred and fear”.
But are we really going down this path?
The injustice of homelessness and accidental millionaires
Speaking to interest.co.nz in a Double Shot Interview, Swarbrick says: “I do think that there is definitely a feeling as though injustice is kind of on the rise…
“We know factually that one in a hundred New Zealanders are homeless, but on the other side of the coin, 65% of New Zealanders own a home and a lot of them are accidental millionaires.”
“A lot of people feel as though they aren’t progressing in their lives. That social mobility is decreasing. No matter how hard they work, they’re not able to move up the rungs, so they’re looking for something to blame.
“Unfortunately I think that quite frequently that thing to blame is a scapegoat. People are looking for change - any kind of change, and unfortunately it is for the most part right now manifesting in rather negative change.”
Swarbrick would like to see “progressive” change.
She says the US election and Brexit reflected a “failing of the left” as neither the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, nor the ‘remain’ camp, promised the change people were looking for.
“I’d really like to see us as the left galvanise next year to present a really strong, viable alternative option for progressive change in New Zealand.”
Greens should better communicate their ‘progressive vision’
While a number of her supporters, disillusioned with politics, wanted her to start her own party, Swarbrick believes her values are well aligned with the Green Party.
Asked whether she believes the Green Party needs to evolve, she acknowledges the challenge is communicating the party’s “progressive vision”.
She maintains the public’s perceptions of the Green Party are at two ends of the spectrums. On the one hand they believe it’s losing its heart by trying to appeal to too many people, yet on the other, they think the party is solely focussed on climate change.
“[But] if you actually investigate and you look at what the Green Party represents, it is a progressive New Zealand. There’s a plethora of different areas which they are hitting, which would encompass a lot of the legislative change that we need to see.”
Swarbrick believes she has a realistic view of politics.
“What I found working in journalism [at bFM] is that there are actually a lot of politicians with great intentions, but quite frequently, they are unable to action them as a result of the political machine as a whole.”
Swarbrick has never considered, nor been asked to join the National Party, even though the way the polls are looking, this would give her a better shot at being in government next year.
International leaders need to challenge each other
Swarbrick says she admired Green Party co-leader, Metiria Turei, for standing up in parliament to say she would not congratulate Trump on his victory.
“I do think that you can have respect for the democratic process, but you can still challenge international leaders.
“I think that’s actually going to become a lot more important in the next few decades as the world becomes more globalised.
“Right now… international leaders do put up with each other in some sense or another and there isn’t all too much talk about international regimes. I think the dialogue is going to shift in that respect definitely.”
RMA the ‘whipping boy’ for housing woes
As for policy, Swarbrick has been pro housing densification in central Auckland.
Asked how she would address the tension between the Government passing reforms to the Resource Management Act (RMA) to streamline the consenting process around building, and the Green Party lamenting it for undermining the environment and the democratic process, Swarbrick says she’s concerned the legislation has become a “whipping boy for every single problem ever to do with building”.
“It is the amorphous red tape that we keep talking about.”
She supports Sir Geoffrey Palmer in saying we need to look at the RMA as a whole, “instead of making all these cuts from a 25-year-old piece of legislation”.
While Swarbrick points out only 10% of consents are notified, so require public consultation, she says the consenting process needs to be improved.
She would like to see local councils’ consenting departments better resourced, so that they could use technology to make the process more transparent.
This could include giving applicants a timeline, updating them on progress and notifying them when there’s a hold-up.
Restrictions on foreign property buyers a must
As for migration, Swarbrick says: “I haven’t done anywhere near enough investigation into it to be able to tell you, this is the level it should be.”
Yet she stands firmly by the Green Party in supporting restrictions on foreign property buyers.
She is weary of not creating a moral panic around the issue, where people accuse “the Chinese”, who are actually New Zealanders, of pushing them out of the property market.
“We do need to acknowledge very strongly that it is an area where racism and xenophobia can become quite pertinent and can become the subtext for the conversation…
“We need to be able to talk about immigration as it affects people.”
‘Changing the tone in the way that we do politics’
While Swarbrick would like to be largely defined by her policies, she acknowledges her age informs her life experience, perspectives and prejudice.
Asked who’s mentored and helped her get to where she has, she credits her father.
“I was a really precocious and annoying child. Anybody who’s been with me through schooling, or even at tertiary can testify to that. I’m the person who always puts their hand up to challenge or question the notion that’s being put forward.”
Swarbrick says her father picked up on that and engaged her in political discussions from a young age.
She says Gandhi’s mantra that ‘an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’ has always resonated with her, and comes to the fore in the context of international politics.
“We do need to stop blaming people and we do need to have a conversation. We do need to stop shutting each other down for bigotry.”
Swarbrick’s mayoralty campaign taught her a lot, which she aims to bring to national politics.
“I found time and time again, if you give people respect, you get it back and I think that it’s all about changing the tone in the way that we do politics.”