Green Party candidate Chloe Swarbrick is likely to become an MP this September after being promoted to ninth on the Party list. The 22-year-old former Auckland Mayoral candidate has no intention of staying in politics for the long haul.
1. What was your childhood like?
I bounced around Auckland quite a bit because my parents were separating. I lived with mum in the UK for six months and then with dad for a year and a half in Papua New Guinea where he was a financial consultant. When we came back we settled in Hillsborough where I spent most of my primary years. During high school my sister and I went a week about between parents. It's just one of those difficult things kids of divorced parents grapple with but we always felt loved and nurtured.
2. Were you a precocious child?
I was the classic precocious, nerdy kid. I enjoyed learning new words so I'd search the dictionary for new words to incorporate into my vocabulary. I was bullied when I was young, just for being different. That's just life. It's something you steel yourself to or you get sad - there were elements of both. Since entering the public sphere I've learnt to ignore the personal stuff but I do take on board the legitimate critiques. I'm very aware that I'm 22 and I have a lot to learn.
3. You applied to get into Epsom Girls' Grammar out of zone but left a year early to study philosophy at Auckland University. Why?
I didn't like the high school pedagogy of being expected to simply regurgitate information. I wanted to operate in an environment where it was ok to have an open discussion and suggest alternatives. Dad taught me the foundations of how to formulate an argument when I was practising my first speech at age 7. It was on the double standards between adults and kids over bedtimes. He showed me how to anticipate criticism and build in explanations as to why your rationale is stronger. Philosophy is all about questioning things. I'm particularly interested in critical theory which is looking at the structures of society, figuring out if they're unjust and seeking to recalibrate them.
4. Why did you fast track a six-year conjoint Bachelor of Arts and Law into just four-and-a-half years?
I didn't see the point in taking on debt for longer than necessary so I did five papers a semester and summer school each year. I never intended to be a lawyer but I figured if I was going to critique the systems in society it was necessary to properly understand them. I particularly enjoyed looking into the rationale behind the law and the ways legislation can be used to make society more just.
5. How did you manage to start your first business at age 18?
I met my partner Alex on the first day of university and we very quickly started our first business in menswear. Our initial capital was $10,000 I'd saved working in retail for a year. Neither of us had any fashion experience but we noticed a lack of ethical menswear made locally. We were young and thought we could solve that problem. We got our clothing produced by a manufacturer in Nelson with stockists in the main cities. That was a business where we learnt everything by failing - things like accounting, pricing, building relationships with stockists. There are lots of moving parts in manufacturing but it was an incredible learning experience.
6. What was your next business?
We were involved in starting a culture and lifestyle blog called 'What's Good' with a group of students in a drafty flat in Kingsland because we wanted to provide a platform for all the talented young artists and designers we knew. From there we wanted to create a physical space where they could sell their wares so that became a series of pop up markets called 'The Goods'. Six months ago we opened a permanent space in Mt Eden. Initially Olly was just going to be a gallery but we've added coffee and donuts to help pay the rent. We've never seen business as the golden ticket. It's more about inventing solutions for things that don't exist for our demographic.
7. Did you study art?
No, I'm not a great artist but I am able to organise my artist friends to allow them to flourish. I've always been fascinated by interpreting art. I like discussing intention and meaning. I love theatre. You'll find me hanging out at The Basement a lot. Growing up I wanted to be a writer. I do some copywriting with our digital marketing business for companies with values in line with ours.
8. While a student, you also spent four years working voluntarily as a journalist at bFM radio station. How did you fit into the culture there?
I was so intimidated, everybody was obviously really cool and it took me a while to get over the imposter syndrome and realise the strengths I could bring. I was definitely more suited to current affairs. My music taste isn't quite bfm. I'm more into rap. We've got some incredible hip-hop artists in New Zealand from David Dallas to the SWIDT boys in Onehunga and the Grow Room crew on K Rd. There's a lot more lyrical depth than you find in modern day rock or pop.
9. Was politics ever part of your game plan?
None of it was planned. I didn't expect to see myself here. I was a shy child and I'm still quite introverted. I don't enjoy the political thing of shaking hands and having two-second conversations. I decided to run for the Auckland Mayoralty after interviewing the top four candidates on bFM and being genuinely uninspired by their vision. The real catalyst was looking into voter turnout and finding that 66 per cent of Aucklanders didn't vote. It was a kind of grand political experiment to get more people engaged and go, "Can we can do politics differently? Do politicians have to be a 50-year-old guy in a suit?"
10. In September you told The Spinoff that you were 'definitely not' looking at central government because you felt you could do much more outside politics. What happened?
After gaining the votes of 30,000 Aucklanders I had lots of people contacting me to say, "What happens next?" The reason I've gone with the Greens is because I strongly believe that New Zealand values are Green values.
11. You've just been promoted to ninth place on the Green Party List. Based on current polling that will give you a seat in Parliament. What change could you realistically achieve as a Green MP?
If you look of the changes the party has been able to effect from opposition - the Warm Up Homes policy, the National Cycle ways and the City Rail Link - imagine what we can do in government. The areas I'm personally interested in are proper support for public interest journalism, civics education in schools, a health-based approach to drugs and addressing mental health and addiction issues in prisons.
12. How long will you stay in politics?
I don't intend to be in politics for ever. I'll continue to put myself forward for the Greens as long as I feel I can be effective. Further down the line I'd love to do more study in constitutional law. New Zealand needs constitutional reform. The system we've got right now gives Parliament complete supremacy. We don't have safeguards in place to protect our rights and we're putting our faith in the hands of people who according to surveys we don't trust.