Read interviews with Labour and National Party candidates here.
In 2020, the Green Party succeeded in flipping the Auckland Central seat with candidate Chlöe Swarbrick. Three years on and 650 kilometres down the motu, they’re trying again, bringing a fresh face to the Wellington Central race; meet Tamatha Paul.
Tamatha (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pukeko and Waikato Tainui) is a Wellington City Councillor in the Pukehīnau/Lambton Ward. With a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning, this is her second term on council. Come October 14, she’s seeking to move up to the ranks of Central government.
Tamatha is not originally from Pōneke. She was born in South Auckland, raised in Tokoroa, and comes most recently from Whakatāne. She moved to Wellington to study at Victoria University in 2016, looking out over the city for much of her first year from a room in Weir House in Kelburn. Tamatha skipped down the hill at some point, and now lives in the iconic, cold, Aro Valley.
What or where is ‘home’ for you?
Aotearoa. One thing about being indigenous that I observe within myself and my mates, is that while many young people move overseas as soon as they can because of how poorly our society treats workers, many of us feel a sense of obligation to stay here and try to make things better for our people and for the land from which we draw our identity and whakapapa.
What did you want to be when you grow up?
At high-school I wanted to be a music producer, and my grandfather really wanted me to be a radiologist. As I got older, I was curious as to why things were the way they were, especially growing up in Tokoroa, and observing the hardship that many whānau experienced. My history teacher at the time encouraged me to go to Victoria University and pursue politics, and it’s resulted in me having an up-close and personal experience of how decision-making plays out.
Another dream of mine is mana motuhake for my hapū and iwi. This involves every person being well-housed, having access to community gardens and food sovereignty, as well as our own kura and hauora services so that everybody is able to live to their full potential, without having to rely on the Crown and politicians.
First elected to council in 2019, and again (by a large margin) in 2023, why are you looking to move to central government?
My work with the city council does not end with me becoming a Member of Parliament. If anything, it will accelerate the pace of change and help to achieve systemic change quicker than it ever could from a council level. I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved over the last four years, but at the end of the day, Council is a beast of statute. Councils operate in the space set by Government and can only go as fast as legislation will allow. The challenges that we are facing, whether it’s the day-to-day struggle to make ends meet or climate change at our doorsteps, require urgency. This decade is crucial if we hope to curb our emissions and prevent global temperatures reaching an irreversible tipping point. Representing our central city as an MP will give me access to tools that I simply do not have as a councillor, such as writing up members’ bills, contributing to the creation of legislation through select committee, and in turn voting on that legislation, and having a larger platform to advocate for people and planet.
What do you want Wellington Central to be known for?
Our compassion. I think that the way that a city cares for the most vulnerable people is a real reflection of that city. Working alongside Wellington City Mission and following the work that Downtown Community Ministry (DCM) does, I’ve seen that there are many people in our community struggling with trauma, mental health problems and addiction. The tragedy at Loafer’s Lodge highlighted our failure as a society to care for the most marginalised people in our city.
Soon we will be the first in Aotearoa to offer housing and support services to those who are still consuming alcohol, colloquially known as a ‘wet house’. We will be opening up 20 ‘single-site supported’ public homes in Pukeahu, Mount Cook where people will have 24/7 support, alongside 80 new public homes. Homelessness is increasing for under 25s so I am particularly interested in what we can do for rangatahi. It’s not just putting people in houses, it’s about the care that we provide too. There is much to feel hopeful about.
Do you feel your age is a hindrance to your success in this election? Why or why not?
I may be the youngest candidate for Wellington Central, but I am also the most experienced when it comes to representing Wellington politically. I have been doing it for four years and made significant advances in the housing, transport, climate and city safety spaces. I’m 26, which is also the median age in Wellington Central. It’s only right that the MP for Wellington Central is a 26-year-old, renting with five others, who didn’t grow up in Pōneke, but who loves it here and wants to set down roots here!
What are your top three priorities for Wellington should you be elected? How do you envisage enacting these?
Housing, light rail and tax systems.
Housing, and the lack of affordable, quality homes, is the biggest issue facing Wellington. For many people, a majority of their income is being spent on exorbitant rents and often people are paying through the roof, for homes that leak through the roof. Our city suffers when people cannot afford to live here. I will facilitate the construction of thousands of houses so that our bus drivers, our nurses, and our teachers can live here. I will fight hard for rent controls, a rental warrant of fitness to uplift the standards of flats in Wellington, and a radical expansion of public housing.
I will fight hard to accelerate the construction of light rail in our city, and for the best pay and working conditions for our bus drivers. Light rail will radically decarbonise our city and will bring investment into our city, as investors are attracted when they can see major transport and infrastructure projects. It will also help facilitate the construction of more houses as has been seen in places such as Canberra and Sydney, where light rail is envisaged. Light rail can move twice the number of people along the same corridor. This will help the bus service and mean greater coverage by the public transport network.
I will work to tax the unearned wealth of the top few percent of New Zealanders and put that money to work to lift all of our whānau out of poverty to create a fair society. The Greens’ tax policy means greater investment into our health and education systems, and it means liveable incomes for all, particularly for groups like tertiary students, artists, parents and beneficiaries.
Who are your fashion influences? Is fashion a political tool for you?
Fashion is really a form of communication and it is deeply political. I’m always thinking about what audience I’m trying to appeal to but I also just like wearing stuff that I feel comfortable in. I don’t want to wear power suits or look like a girl boss. I want people to feel they can come up to me and talk to me in the streets and I want to challenge what people think is ‘professional’. Often, office dress norms are very white and very arbitrary, which is why I like to challenge them. What I wear has nothing to do with how capable or competent I am. I am inspired by 90s and 2000s hip hop and streetwear, and I have been experimenting with more punk styles lately. I just watched a Vivienne Westwood Ted talk the other day and was not at all surprised to learn that she was a Green supporter!
What are you watching, reading, or listening to at the moment?
I’ve been re-reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius in preparation for the crazy election season. I try to read Meditations once a year because it reminds me to chill out and always helps me to think of the bigger picture.
I’m always listening to music. There’s heaps of good music coming out of Pōneke from wāhine Māori like AJA and MĀ.
Where do you go for a bit of escapism, or to reflect?
I would go crazy if I didn’t get out into the bush as often as I can. I love taking my dog Biggie for long walks all over the city. One of my favourite things about Pōneke is our urban ngahere (bush) and our Green belt. There aren’t many cities around the world where you can live right in the city and be just a few hundred metres away from a native forest where the native biodiversity is flourishing.
What’s your go-to takeaways order? Or your favourite dining out dish?
Depends how I’m feeling but my favourites are:
Pad thai chicken from Oaks Satay Noodle House
Kapitan curry and roti from Little Penang
Roast lamb meal from Baycourt Roast
Enchiladas de carne con queso from Viva Mexico
Pinky pie from Winner Winner
New Zealand’s General Election takes place on 14 October, 2023. Make sure you’re registered to vote here.