David Shearer has jetted out of war-torn Baghdad to take on a much tamer battle zone - the Mt Albert byelection.

The high-ranking United Nations official is the Labour hierarchy's favourite to win the nomination, after Maori Television chief executive Jim Mather decided against standing before yesterday's 5pm deadline.

Mr Shearer is an aid worker who has spent much of the past two decades in the world's worst war zones: Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Lebanon and now Iraq.

Herald files show a number of close calls, such as surviving an armed hold-up by bandits in Mogadishu to being on the ground in Belgrade while it was being bombed.

Mr Shearer and his wife, Anuschka Meyer, were the Herald's New Zealanders of the Year in 1992. That year, they ran one of the biggest aid camps in Somalia during the civil war.

He is currently the deputy special representative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in Iraq.

His role includes acting as envoy for the UN Development Programme - which Helen Clark has left Mt Albert to run.

Mr Shearer is a friend of Labour leader Phil Goff. He worked in the Beehive as an adviser in 2000-2002 when Mr Goff was Minister of Foreign Affairs, but their friendship dates back to when they attended Papatoetoe High School together.

In a 2007 interview, Mr Goff called Mr Shearer a "special guy" and hoped he would come back to New Zealand and go into politics once his international career was finished.

Mr Shearer is also a friend of Phil Twyford, the list MP who was favourite for the seat until he stood aside yesterday.

Mr Twyford moved aside because of concerns from the party hierarchy about the effect on voters of the next on the list, Judith Tizard, being returned to Parliament in his list place if he won.

The two men have very similar backgrounds, with Mr Twyford highly regarded for his aid work with Oxfam.

Mr Shearer unsuccessfully tried to get into Parliament at the 2002 election. He was too lowly ranked at 45 on Labour's list and lost the Whangarei seat to National's Phil Heatley.

Mr Shearer's connection to Mt Albert was unclear, although he has previously owned a home in Kingsland. He is a South Aucklander and former head boy of Papatoetoe High.

He divides his time between Iraq, primarily Baghdad, and neighbouring Jordan, where Mrs Meyer and their children live. The couple adopted a 3-year-old boy from Russia.

Mr Shearer would fly back from Iraq and would be at the selection meeting on May 3.

Another Labour nomination revealed yesterday was Simon Mitchell, a Mt Eden lawyer recently elected to the Eden-Albert Community Board.

Chris Tremewan, pro vice-chancellor (international) of the University of Auckland, was also standing.

Labour's other nominations for the June 13 byelection are: Meg Bates, Glenda Fryer, Stuart Prossor, Farida Sultana, Dr Rhema Vaithianathan and Helen White. A spokeswoman for Mr Mather said he was approached by Labour but decided against it.

National list MP Melissa Lee is the favourite to win its nomination.


Labour's Mt Albert candidate will be chosen at a selection meeting by a panel with seven votes - and locals should have a 4-3 advantage.

Three votes: Three panellists from Labour's head office, led by president Andrew Little.

Two votes: Two panellists appointed by Mt Albert electorate organisation.

One vote: A panelist voted on from Mt Albert members "on the floor" at selection meeting.

One vote: Decided by the members at the meeting, who vote for their preferred candidate.