Transgender lawyer Kelly Ellis has put addressing poverty issues, creating jobs for young people, healthcare and equality issues high on the agenda for her campaign to win the Whangarei electorate for Labour in September's general election.

Ms Ellis was chosen at the weekend by the party as its candidate for the seat that has been held by National MP Phil Heatley for 15 years and by National since 1974.

She describes the past six months campaigning for the nod to fight for the Whangarei seat as a "roller-coaster ride", but it's one that's not over yet, as the campaigning will start all over again in the run-up to the elections in September.

She was "incredibly humbled" by the selection, and while she wouldn't say she was surprised by it, admitted "it could easily have gone another way, and that I might be looking for something to do with myself, and probably somewhere to hide, come Monday morning.


"Rarely am I lost for words, but when they announced that I'd gained the candidacy I choked up a bit.

"There's just too many people to thank and all I could do, I suppose, is put a few dollars on the bar for my friends to have a drink, and now get on with the real business of sorting stuff out."

If Ms Ellis wins the seat, she would become New Zealand's second transgender MP, following in the footsteps of Labour's former Wairarapa list MP Georgina Beyer.

But she's not too keen on the comparisons.

"Look, Georgina Beyer was fantastic, and a pioneer, but I'm a very different person from her," Ms Ellis said.

"I come from a very different background. We do have very similar values but I think that if you start getting into comparisons it's a bit like saying, 'well you're heterosexual so you must be like so-and-so because she's heterosexual', and if you're transgender, Labour, and a political aspirant therefore you must be like somebody who has those other three qualities.

"But let's get real about it, who's interested in it? No one really. It's only a passing interest and if anybody had a choice of, do you want to take an interest in that or do you want to take an interest in trying to get jobs and education and healthcare for our kids, well then it's no contest.

"Everybody goes, 'oh shut up about the transgender business and let's look at these important things'."


Ms Ellis wants to tackle poverty and inequality. Her focus will be on developing Whangarei into a prosperous city.

"If one addresses poverty then everything else falls into place," she said, referring to the "so many files" on her legal shelves of people who fell into crime because of issues related to childhood poverty. APNZ