Election 2011: New kids on the block

By Mathew Dearnaley, Michael Dickison, Yvonne Tahana, Jamie Morton, Isaac Davison

Richard Prosser of New Zealand First, and Eugenie Sage of the Greens. Photos / Supplied, Simon Baker
Richard Prosser of New Zealand First, and Eugenie Sage of the Greens. Photos / Supplied, Simon Baker

Voters have put 25 fresh faces in Parliament.

We turn the spotlight on nine new MPs and one likely new one and look at their passions and hopes as they embark on their new journey.

* * *

Simon O'Connor, National - Tamaki

On paper, new National MP Simon O'Connor looks as if he has spent more time in books than out in the world.

After gaining four degrees and training to be a Catholic priest, the 35-year-old has entered Parliament in the blue seat of Tamaki, a career move he said was always in the front of his mind.

The new MP dismissed suggestions a long academic run showed a lack of worldliness, and pointed to his pastoral work in Mt Eden Prison and at homeless shelters.

"I think that time training as a priest puts you into the real world a lot. I've got a lot of time in the community and voluntary sector. Also in the last six years my last two degrees were done while working fulltime.

So I do academics out of interest and mental stimulation."

Since deciding against ordination to the priesthood, he has worked as a contracts manager for Southern Cross.

Mr O'Connor stood as a National list MP in 2008 at No 72 and, after an unsuccessful bid for a Waitemata Local Board spot last year, he was selected to replace the late, revered Allan Peachey in Tamaki.

"To a degree they were big shoes to fill and a big responsibility, so there was a degree of nervousness," he said.

He need not have worried. After charming voters with his youthful warmth and occasional shyness, he kept the seat by 16,200 votes.

While Mr Peachey's passion was education, Mr O'Connor's heart lies in justice, particularly anti-violence.

- Isaac Davison

* * *

Scott Simpson, National - Coromandel

Since he left high school, Scott Simpson has held just about every job there is in the National camp, even sitting on the party board as a fledgling John Key made his political start in 2002.

Now, the former boss of the Make-A-Wish Foundation can cross member of Parliament off the list after winning a Coromandel seat held for three terms by retiring National MP Sandra Goudie.

Mr Simpson, 52, spent yesterday morning thanking supporters after securing 17,225 votes, comfortably heading off Labour's Hugh Kininmonth with a majority of 11,800.

Before becoming a "professional wish-granter" for terminally ill children, the fourth-generation Coromandel resident combined his involvement in the National Party with a career as a businessman, managing a safety equipment company.

"When Sandra Goudie decided to retire, I figured, I have a Coromandel background, my family and extended family are all here and it was just too good an opportunity to let slip by."

His electorate is one of the largest - stretching 4500sq km over the Coromandel Peninsula and down to the Hauraki Plains - and it has the highest rate of people aged between 50 and 64.

"We are what I refer to as a mature electorate, and that means issues relating to seniors and older members of our community will be very vital," Mr Simpson said.

He sees economic development - namely creating jobs to attract residents and pushing agriculture, aquaculture and horticulture forward - as his prime issue.

- Jamie Morton

* * *

Rino Tirikatene, Labour - Te Tai Tonga

The only new Maori electorate MP reckons he was a bit star-struck when he turned out for his first duties as the new Labour MP for Te Tai Tonga.

In a stinging result for the Maori Party, Rino Tirikatene took the southern Maori seat from incumbent Rahui Katene with a majority of 1445 votes.

Mr Tirikatene's first duty on Saturday was a television interview with all seven holders of the Maori seats - and he was the only newcomer.

While some of the incumbent MPs looked a little flat after some tight battles, Mr Tirikatene, 39, a father of three, gave off a happy vibe.

"I was a bit star-struck. I was in the make-up room and I saw Winston [Peters], I saw Hone [Harawira] and I see our team [Nanaia Mahuta and Parekura Horomia] and now I'm in there with them. I'm still soaking it in."

Mr Tirikatene said he was looking forward to being in opposition, where he wanted his party to fight hard. "It's good for me because it's a good way to learn the ropes."

Mr Tirikatene's grandfather Sir Eruera and aunt Whetu held the seat for 64 years combined. He is of Ngai Tahu and Ngati Hine.

- Yvonne Tahana

* * *

Mojo Mathers, Green - Prospective list MP

At number 14 on the Green Party list, Mojo Mathers is hoping the special votes will deliver the party another member of Parliament.

The Greens obtained their highest share yet of party votes on Saturday, with their 10.62 per cent giving them 13 seats.

However, if enough special votes go the Greens' way, as has been the case in the past, Ms Mathers will become New Zealand's first profoundly deaf MP.

The London-born Christchurch resident was starved of oxygen at birth, resulting in her losing her hearing.

On her Green Party website page, the 45-year-old lists her cellphone with "txt only" and says she is "very accessible by email".

So if she does get into Parliament, how will she cope with the fiery debate in the House?

"I will use electronic note-takers [as happens with Hansard] with a screen at my desk. I also feel it's really important for NZSL [New Zealand Sign Language] interpreters to cover the debates so that the deaf community can follow them."

Ms Mathers is confident she can communicate effectively as an MP.

"My communication skills are excellent and I have extensive experience in making submissions to councils, responding to media and also engaging with the wider public."

She says more needs to be done to accommodate the deaf population.

"Deaf people have the right to the same level of access to the information and our culture that the wider population has. To make this happen will require, among other things, more captioning of TV and DVDs and other visual resources. Also, we also need to see more NZSL interpreting of our news and events. The Christchurch earthquake showed how it can be done. We need to build on that."

Ms Mathers joined the Green Party because of her concern about environmental issues, in particular water issues in Canterbury.

"I have a background in mathematics and conservation forestry. I have skills in environmental activism, especially on water issues. I have worked extensively on disability issues and bring with me an insight into the challenges and barriers that people with disabilities face as well as my own experiences of what it is like to live with a disability."

She says the next three years will be a time of growth and opportunity for the Greens.

"We need to build on the gains we have made this election so that we are ready to be in government in 2014."

- Herald online

* * *

Mark Mitchell, National - Rodney

Newly elected Rodney MP Mark Mitchell says he is excited to get his feet under his desk in Wellington - which many find hard to believe after his action-packed career.

The new National MP served 14 years in the police, and left after being stabbed with a samurai sword.

He then embarked on a business career that took him to the Middle East, where he led a security firm through a seige in Iraq and hostage negotiations in Afghanistan, Somalia and Darfur.

"That gets raised a lot," Mr Mitchell said about the contrast between his previous careers and his budding one in politics.

"But I'm not thinking like that. It's going to be challenging enough.

"In the last two weeks, because I put my personal number and email on all my [election material], I had a lot of people contact me with real issues to them."

Electorate issues may seem somewhat smaller than fighting terrorism - but Mr Mitchell said his focus was squarely on local matters.

Pushing for infrastructure upgrades, including the Puhoi-Wellsford Highway, and growing the local economy were among his priorities, he said.

Any broader roles, such as in international trade or law and order, were entirely up to the Prime Minister.

"I've always found that I've been lucky to have success in most of the things I've taken on, but if you focus on your job and work hard then everything else will fall into place."\

- Michael Dickison

* * *

Ian McKelvie, National - Rangitikei

Former Manawatu mayor Ian McKelvie says his move to Parliament is like going back to school at 59.

The new National MP and farmer has claimed the Rangitikei seat vacated by Simon Power, and feels the former Justice and Commerce Minister is a hard act to follow.

"Simon Power's extremely successful, he's young and he's experienced. You could say I'm experienced but I'm not Simon Power, so it was always going to be a challenge."

Mr McKelvie's majority was 4000 votes down on Mr Power's in 2008, but he still cruised in by a margin of 8741. He said he would have to adjust to the shift from mayor and the influence that brings.

"I think this will be a challenge for me because I'm clearly not going to get my way in Parliament. But I'm looking forward to stepping back and watching from the back row. I suppose it's not bad at my age to be able to go back to school."

Mr McKelvie jokingly admitted that his position as a Manawatu farmer made him a National stereotype, but said he did not want to be old-fashioned about environmental pressures.

"I think my priority, my reason to go into Parliament, is to make sure that our environment remains productive. I think the challenge is who pays and how they pay for it."

Mr McKelvie said he would be an advocate for rural areas, because he felt that some communities were disproportionately affected by some legislation.

- Isaac Davison

* * *

Mike Sabin, National - Northland

Northland's Mike Sabin is preparing for the third induction of his career.

"I've been in the army and police so I know about inductions and hierarchies, and that's what [the next few days] are about," said Mr Sabin.

"By the end I'll know where to go to make the coffee for the ministers."

Mr Sabin was a prominent drug educator before his foray into politics, elected by a wide margin at the weekend.

He said his goal was not to become an MP in itself but to promote improvements in the community from the inside.

"I've spent years at the bottom of the cliff, and reaching this point is just an evolution in the journey of my career."

He wanted to remove barriers to growth in Northland and create a region-wide economic plan.

"Northland has the potential for substantial economic development and growth, and contribute to the GDP, and this can remove the social dysfunction and crime," Mr Sabin said.

"That's what you hear about Northland, but it's not where the failure is."

In the past he has been critical of successive Governments' drug policies, saying the demand for drugs needed to be curbed through education.

He was more diplomatic yesterday, saying only that in recent times the focus had not been on drug education while commending the National Government for its work in the broader area.

- Michael Dickison

* * *

Eugenie Sage, Greens - List MP

Even within the Green Party, it would be hard to find a more dedicated conservationist than new Canterbury-based MP Eugenie Sage.

Battle-hardened from 13 years as field officer and South Island co-ordinator for Forest and Bird, and then as an Environment Canterbury member before it was abolished last year, Ms Sage now intends carrying her passion for cleaner waterways into the corridors of power.

Her election at number 6 on the Greens' list, aged 53, will not provide her first experience of Parliament. She served her apprenticeship there in the 1980s as a researcher and later press secretary for then Conservation Minister Helen Clark.

That role embroiled her in some big mining controversies, notably reining in gold prospecting proposals in the Coromandel Peninsula. That put her in good stead with Forest and Bird to help to hold South Island miners in check.

Ms Sage believes an enlightened Government would refrain from selling shares in the state energy companies, using them instead to create high-value "green" jobs in renewable energy.

- Mathew Dearnaley

* * *

Julie Anne Genter, Greens - List MP

New Green MP Julie Anne Genter, a dual citizen of the United States and New Zealand, wants to help her chosen country to avoid the mistakes of her motherland.

Ms Genter, 31, left California in 2002 for France and a postgraduate certificate in political theory and economics as a refugee from what she describes as unsustainable urban development and US politics.

"I pretty much left because of [former President] George W. Bush and our foreign policy - I didn't want to stay and support that," she said yesterday, after scraping into Parliament at number 13 on the Green Party list.

She moved to New Zealand four years later to add a first-class master of planning practice degree from Auckland University to an honours degree from the University of California at Berkeley before spending 18 months sounding out Parliament as a Greens political and media adviser.

"I came to New Zealand to do a master's and fell in love with it and very much consider myself aKiwi."

She worked in Parliament while holding a transport consultancy job, having previously worked in urban planning, and has a zeal to persuade National's powerbrokers not to head down the American road of untethered growth with a degraded environment and quality of life.

"Seeing what happened in California makes me very passionate about protecting the things we love about New Zealand and about making smarter choices."

- Mathew Dearnaley

* * *

Richard Prosser, New Zealand First - List MP

New Zealand First's number four list MP, Richard Prosser, joined the party just over a year ago after attending a meeting in Christchurch.

He is now set to enter Parliament after the party's strong showing in the election.

Mr Prosser said he had been drawn to New Zealand First's "common-sense policies", and in quick succession over 15 months he was elected to the party's board of directors and then to its list of candidates.

"The big issue has been asset sales," he said. "We haven't had a gathering of the caucus yet so we haven't talked about portfolios or anything, but we have clearly defined policies ... People voted that they wanted another term of National but not asset sales."

Economic nationalism and giving every New Zealander a fair go were high on his agenda, he said.

Mr Prosser is based in Canterbury and has previously campaigned in Otago as a Social Credit candidate in 2005 and for mayor in 2007 - and is known for pushing a discussion of South Island independence.

But he said the issue should be driven by demand, not campaigners.

"There's been an undercurrent for 150-odd years ... If there's desire, then it will happen - if, for example, the Auckland Super City gets too large a share of the pie."

Many were surprised by New Zealand First's 6.8 per cent share of the vote, but Mr Prosser said the party had known for weeks.

A party gathering in Christchurch on election night was in good spirits but not surprised by the results coming in, he said.

Mr Prosser said he would make his own mark in Parliament despite the strong character of leader Winston Peters.

"New Zealand First has never been a one-man band, and Winston knows that, and he's not expecting us to not express our individual views," he said. "But no one's going to rock the boat."

Mr Prosser now works as the South Island business development manager for irrigation firm Parkland Products.

He is arriving in Wellington today for the first of many meetings with the party caucus.

Mr Prosser was born in West Auckland and grew up in Waikato, and has also worked as a winemaker, photographic technician, barman, engineering contractor, truck driver and sales representative.

- Michael Dickison

- NZ Herald

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