The Opportunities Party will be contesting this year’s byelection in Hamilton West and has confirmed its candidate, Naomi Pocock.
Pocock, 47, was unsuccessful in Hamilton East in the 2020 general election, finishing fourth behind current MP Jamie Strange from Labour, National’s David Bennett and Greens’ Rimu Bhooi.
She replaced TOP’s 2020 candidate for Hamilton West, Hayden Cargo, who had become party secretary after also finishing fourth following his tilt at winning the seat.
Dr Gaurav Sharma, who won Hamilton West in 2020 with Labour, triggered a byelection - set for December 10 - when he announced his shock resignation from his role as independent MP last week.
Since then, both Labour and National have played down their chances. Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suspected Sharma’s ugly exit from the party had harmed Labour’s reputation with voters, while National campaign chair Chris Bishop claimed Sharma was a serious contender not to be counted out.
Labour is expected to make its candidate selection for Hamilton West early next week, while National’s is likely to be next weekend.
Those interested in the selection for National included business director Rachel Afeaki–Taumoepeau, health professional Dr Frances Hughes and former Mayor Andrew King. National’s former Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe confirmed he would not be standing.
Meanwhile, Labour sources had pointed to Georgie Dansey as their potential candidate, although a few others were said to have been weighing it up before nominations closed on Wednesday.
Speaking to the NZ Herald, Pocock said she was excited to contest the seat.
“It’s an incredible privilege to be able to stand up and make the case to voters who want to change the status quo.
“I feel very connected to Hamilton and I want to see it grow and develop in a healthy way so that people can build community and a sense of belonging.”
She said she would be campaigning on creating a “fairer society” for the people of Hamilton, particularly those on low incomes.
Earlier this month, TOP leader Raf Manji announced the party would create a tax-free income tax threshold, meaning every dollar of income earned up to $15,000 would not be taxed at all. A recent Treasury estimate reckons that would cost the Crown $5.2b.
This would be paid for by an annual tax on residential land values of 0.75 per cent, replacing the current bright-line test, which is a partial capital gains tax. The tax would exempt rural, conservation and Māori land and superannuitants could defer paying it in recognition of their small disposable incomes. TOP reckons the tax could collect $6.75b to $7.5b annually.
“Most people will be better off under this system,” Pocock said.
Asked if she considered herself capable of beating Labour and National, Pocock believed voters would relish the chance to opt for change.
Pocock would not be drawn on whether she felt Sharma had represented his constituents well, but did say she had met him and described him as a “nice guy”.
She did acknowledge the byelection was a waste of taxpayers’ money. The Electoral Commission has estimated byelections cost roughly $1 million.
Pocock, a mother to three boys, was raised on a dairy farm in Te Pahu, southwest of Hamilton. She currently works with the University of Waikato as part of the Āmiomio Aotearoa research project, while also running a charity, STEM Curiosity, that promotes play-based learning of science, technology engineering and maths in schools.