Tough competition likely

Lawyer Kelly Ellis could be the second transgender MP in the country, having announced plans to secure Labour Party's nomination to contest the Whangarei seat next year.

The Whangarei-based criminal lawyer expects tough competition from within party ranks and is keen to appeal to non-traditional Labour voters such as small businesses.

She's been backed by a group of fellow lawyers in Whangarei that call themselves the "Justice Sector" who she said would help her run a strong and well-resourced campaign.

The seat is currently held by National's Phil Heatley.


Hora Hora Primary School principal Pat Newman unsuccessfully contested the seat against Mr Heatley in 2008 but won't seek nomination next year.

Mr Heatley is standing down next year after five terms and Dr Shane Reti will seek the National Party nomination to replace him.

Ms Ellis said it would be a huge challenge but not an insurmountable one to wrestle away a traditional National seat.

She pointed to three factors that would work in her favour - a general swing to Labour, any new National candidate probably not enjoying the same popularity as that of Mr Heatley and a strong Labour campaign.

Ms Ellis said there was a great need to bring social equality to Whangarei in a way that National hadn't delivered.

Addressing huge unemployment, poverty, crime and violence would be her top priority.

Mr Newman described Ms Ellis as a "superb" person who he knew was keen to contest but he didn't know who else had thrown their hats into the ring.

If elected, Ms Ellis would also be the second transgender MP in the country - the first being Wairarapa's Georgina Beyer, who was a Labour Party list MP from 2005 to 2007.

Ms Ellis is a member of the group TransAdvocates and had been fighting for five years to stop transgender prisoners suffering in jails.

She said she hoped people would only judge her on her ability to work for the betterment of the community.

Labour Party general secretary Tim Barnett said nomination for the Whangarei seat was scheduled to close yesterday but had been extended to late February.

He said it was too early to name possible contenders but said the party welcomed strong candidates to apply for nomination.