Shanan Halbert invited me into his home, which is quite large and comfortable, but sort of empty, although he and his partner have lived there for seven years.

Then we went to a cafe in the Birkenhead shops. He chose Tongue and Groove, a pretty standard cafe, where the owner and some of the customers greeted him warmly and the woman behind the counter said to him, "You're that political guy."

It wasn't clear if she knew which political guy - both have their hoardings up all over the electorate. He laughed and told her he was Labour's candidate in the byelection.

Halbert chose a bacon and egg sandwich so I had one too, purely in the interests of research. It was fine, although entirely not what people should eat for lunch. If he becomes an MP he'll have to give up the butties.


Shanan Halbert has ice-blue eyes but he doesn't stare at you with them like a White Walker or anything. It's more like glances. They're from his Mum, who is Pakeha, who has "worked at Pak'nSave forever". Halbert's father was a freezing worker who retrained as a kura kaupapa Māori teacher. They're Napier people, living there still.

At school, said Halbert, "I was that guy." Into drama and the arts, fundraising, doing charity work, immersed in community activities, head boy. The day after his last exam he fled to Auckland.

And got a job at McDonald's. He started his degree while working fulltime, a lot of it bar tending. "I was over-committed," he said. He did a BA in education and Māori and did "reasonably well".

There was an MBA listed on his LinkedIn profile but it's not there now. He started it, and that should have been clear, but other things took over. No, you're not meant to claim degrees you haven't finished.

At 35 Halbert is the same age as his main opponent, National's Dan Bidois, and they were at Auckland University at the same time, although Halbert was two years ahead.

But while Bidois did commerce and lined himself up a Harvard scholarship, Halbert discovered his own vocation in his second year at Auckland. It was student services, particularly Māori and Pasifika students.

He took a job in the Student Information Centre and co-ordinated the school student mentoring programme. He supported Māori and Pasifika students in the arts. He switched to AUT and worked on marketing it to prospective students.

He's helped young athletes prepare for a life after sport.


He "set up the Health Sciences Academy and the Services Academy at Glenfield College" and was operations manager at the Catholic school Hato Petera, in the Northcote electorate. That, he said over the butties, was "incredibly challenging" and "one of my favourite jobs".

Now he works at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in Māngere, where he's head of relationships, recruitment and communications, with a catchment of 6500 students in Auckland and Northland.

"It's young people getting a second chance."

Halbert might have got out of Hawke's Bay as soon as he could but he hasn't strayed from Auckland. Hasn't done his OE. Why does he want to be an MP?

"I've always wanted to represent, I like advocating on behalf of people I work with and for."

He's a joiner. Chaired the party's Māori Council. Raised a Catholic, does he still belong to that?

"I go to church every so often." There was a pause after that. "There are ... difficulties."

Halbert is gay, is what he meant.

He said he'd seen people thinking big a couple of times in his career and it was exciting. Once was when he worked with AUT executive Vivien Bridgwater on the rebranding of AIT as AUT. "We needed to re-educate the student market about the polytech becoming a university and we needed to re-educate New Zealand too. It was trailblazing."

And, he said, "I was in the room when Derek McCormack [AUT vice chancellor] and Vivien persuaded the Tertiary Education Commission that South Auckland needed a university. It was a massive opportunity, the scope of the projects we set up."

Halbert doesn't think transport is the top issue in Northcote. He names education, and he also thinks "supporting local schools" is the thing he will be able to contribute the most.

Should teachers get that 16 per cent pay rise they want, over two years?

"I'm not sure of the Budget but we should be progressive on teachers' pay. But it definitely might take us a while."

He also said, "It's not just pay. It's living costs, teacher status. And you know, we need teachers who reflect the local community because they're a part of it." Rather like MPs, he seemed to be thinking.

Halbert is the local boy and he doesn't want anyone to forget it. He stood in 2017 and his supporters still wear the Shanan Halbert T-shirts from that campaign. "I live and breathe Northcote. I'm still going to be living here, still part of the community, long after the election."

Back with teachers, he said, "I don't support paying good teachers more." It was not a response to the interview I did with Bidois because he didn't know about that. I did the two interviews one directly after the other. "My focus would be on bringing other teachers up. We need to strengthen the whole profession."

He thought the same about charter schools. "Achievement needs to be the focus and there are good examples in Northcote of high achievement. The Services Academy at Glenfield College, that's a model I support. Students there get a career pathway, vocational experience, I think it's more important to have those things for everyone who wants them than to be talking about charter schools."

He wasn't party line all the time. "The Northcote ferry needs an upgrade," he said. "Ferries should be one of the priorities and they're not. Northcote is not frequent enough and it's not subsidised. And light rail to the Shore should be moved up the priority list."

I asked him, as I'd asked Bidois, did he have a bottom line? A policy position or a principle he won't betray?

"I understand how the party works," he said. "I'll cross that bridge when I get there. Actually I've had to swallow some dead rats in my political career."

Oh? Like what?

He was silent for a bit. Then he said, "I do believe in partnership and working with people, not against them."

That's not swallowing dead rats, I said.

"I'm not interested in sitting on the sidelines chucking stones," he said, undeterred. "My opponent, he complains about the transport, he complains about everything. But where's your plan? You don't have a plan. The last transport project on the Shore was the Northern Busway, and that was done under the Helen Clark Government."