Labour MP Tāmati Coffey will retire from politics by this year’s election after the birth of his second child and believes the Waiariki seat he contested is “up for grabs”.
Coffey will continue as Labour’s list MP based in Waiariki until October.
Coffey told the Herald he hadn’t contemplated retirement until the birth of Taitimu five weeks early on January 25. It is his second child by surrogacy to husband Tim Smith.
Approaching the end of six weeks of “baby leave”, Coffey said the time away from the daily churn of politics had its impact.
“Six weeks is a really long time to think about things when it’s the middle of the night you’re feeding baby,” he said.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, speaking to reporters from Polyfest in Auckland, said he and Coffey had had conversations about the latter’s future.
“[Coffey has] just become a dad for the second time and that’s where his focus is and I absolutely respect that.”
Coffey said he told Hipkins earlier this week as the first to know of his decision.
The Prime Minister, also a father, reportedly took the news well.
“He’s the dad of two little kids as well so he has his own perspective on that,” Coffey said.
Contemplating a departure from politics after six years had been tough, Coffey conceded, but his focus was now on supporting his whānau.
“I’ve had discussions with my whanau with my supporters around the region ... and they’ve all just understood my reasons for wanting to do this.”
Asked what he believed his legacy would be, Coffey first mentioned his efforts to reform the surrogacy process.
Coffey drafted law changes to simplify the process after the birth of his son, Tūtānekai Smith-Coffey, in July 2019, and he hoped to see the draft legislation through before the election.
“The timing on that is obviously pretty crucial, I’m not 100 per cent sure.”
He also referenced Labour’s efforts on housing in Rotorua, saying there were 260 more state houses, with 300 more on the way.
It’s understood Labour will now have to re-open nominations for the Waiariki candidate selection as Coffey had been the only nomination.
Coffey entered Parliament in 2017 when he won the Waiariki electorate by less than 2000 votes, beating Te Pāti Māori’s Te Ururoa Flavell.
It was a good come back after losing in the Rotorua electorate to National’s Todd McClay in 2014.
In 2020, Coffey conceded the seat to Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi by a slim margin of 836 votes - an achievement that saw the Māori Party return to Parliament.
Coffey wouldn’t disclose who he suspected might show interest in becoming Labour’s candidate. He said he hadn’t informed any of his colleagues before making his announcement today.
“I’m looking forward to see who’s putting their name in the ring.”
Despite Waititi’s success in 2020, Coffey believed the race for Waiariki was far from over.
“I still think it’s going to be a tight race ... it’s up for grabs.”
Waititi said his thoughts were with Coffey.
”His contribution to Aotearoa has been felt through his strong advocacy in the surrogacy space and most recently, as chair of the Māori Affairs select committee of which we meet together often.
”I want to wish Tāmati all the very best for the future endeavours of himself and his whānau and thank him for his service to Aotearoa and te rohe o te Waiariki.”As an MP, it is a hard ask to spend so much time away from your tamariki and loved ones. We must always put whānau first.”
Rotorua MP Todd McClay said he would like to wish Coffey, Smith and their two children well for the future.
Former Rotorua mayor and Labour MP Steve Chadwick said the region would lose “a real battler for Rotorua” with Coffey’s resignation.
”He has been instrumental in assisting the district to secure $600 million for our place from Central Government. He helped with the Housing Accord and partnership and many Provincial Growth Fund projects over his tenure.
“The highlight for me was his leadership and support for the council’s partnership with Te Arawa.”
Chadwick said Coffey knew how to be the “glue” in advocating in caucus and with many ministers’ offices.
”I understand his retirement as he is young enough to get a career with the skills he has acquired. The most important role for him now is to raise his darling children with his partner Tim.”
Coffey and Smith opened Rotorua nightclub Ponsony Rd Lounge Bar in March 2015 initially as an upmarket cocktail bar that had live music. It turned into a popular night spot for several years.
In 2018 they bought a neighbouring restaurant and bar and opened it under the name Our House, offering Kiwi-styled food.
Both businesses were accredited living wage employers.
Ponsonby Rd closed and rebranded in 2021 under the new name Rotorua International with the vision of going back to a quieter-style cocktail and wine bar but it never took off and closed a short time later.
Both Eat Streat businesses were sold in December last year.