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Gareth Hughes and Geordie Rogers – two possible options to run in the Wellington Council byelection (Image: Archi Banal)
Gareth Hughes and Geordie Rogers – two possible options to run in the Wellington Council byelection (Image: Archi Banal)

PoliticsOctober 18, 2023

Wellington byelection: Renters advocate and former MP among potential candidates

Gareth Hughes and Geordie Rogers – two possible options to run in the Wellington Council byelection (Image: Archi Banal)
Gareth Hughes and Geordie Rogers – two possible options to run in the Wellington Council byelection (Image: Archi Banal)

The Green Party is already searching for a big name candidate to replace Tamatha Paul on Wellington Council.

Renters United president Geordie Rogers and former MP Gareth Hughes are among potential contenders to fill the council seat vacated by Tamatha Paul after she was elected as MP for Wellington Central. 

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau told The Spinoff plans were underway to recruit a Green candidate to fill the seat for Lambton Ward. “I have people sense-checking. People are being shoulder-tapped, but not by me,” she said. 

One of those people is Renters United president Geordie Rogers. “I’ve been shoulder-tapped,” he confirmed. He was at the Green Party’s Wellington election night event at Eva Beva and the idea was floated almost as soon as it was clear Paul was on track to win. 

“I wasn’t thinking about it at all until people started approaching me at the campaign celebration,” he said. “It’s a challenging thought process. I certainly haven’t decided yet, I have a lot to focus on for now.”

He said his current focus was helping Renters United plan a campaign to challenge National’s policy of no-cause evictions, and training for a half-Ironman. “It’s going to be a big year, and a big three years. Housing is always important, and even more so for renters. It’s important for everyone involved in advocating for the rights of renters to consider the best way to achieve that.” 

Another big name considering a run is former Green MP Gareth Hughes. “I’ve had a few people ask me. I haven’t given it a huge amount of thought. It is nice to be asked though, and I will give it some thought. I love this city,” he said. 

Hughes served in Parliament from 2010-2020, running twice in Ōhariu and once in East Coast, and was based in Dunedin during his final term. After retiring from parliament, he lived on the Kamau Taurua/Quarantine Island conservation reserve in Otago Harbour, and moved back to Wellington in December. He is now working as the New Zealand lead for the Wellbeing Economic Alliance.

Tamatha Paul was the top-polling candidate in Lambton Ward in 2022.

Ibrahim Omer, the Labour list MP who finished second to Paul in Wellington Central, lives within Lambton ward boundaries but said he wasn’t interested.

“I’m not going to do that,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I’m going to be part of the movement. Things like Fair Pay Agreements will be gone and poor people will struggle, so I’m going to fight for them.”

Lambton Ward covers the centre city and some of the closest suburbs, including Aro Valley, Mount Victoria, and Kelburn. It’s very young with a lot of renters, but that doesn’t mean it always goes to the left; long-serving conservative councillor Nicola Young was the second polling candidate after Paul in 2022. 

Wellington City council elections are run using the STV system. Lambton ward sends the top three polling candidates to council, though only one spot will be up for grabs in the byelection. Labour-endorsed Afnan Al-Rubayee was the fourth-highest polling candidate in 2022 and could be keen for another crack. Previous candidates from the right include Kaffee Eis owner Karl Tiefenbacher and Jane O’Loughlin, the convenor of LIVE WELLington, a Nimby group that insists it isn’t a Nimby group.

The byelection could prove crucial for ensuring Whanau has the votes to pursue her policy agenda. With Tamatha Paul gone, the left-wing bloc has eight votes, while the right has six. However, these aren’t hard-and-fast factions and votes can flip based on issues. Iona Pannett is typically left-leaning but has quite restrictive views on housing; she has defended character protections and sought to reduce height limits. Sarah Free has at times been more financially conservative than most on the left. Both lost their Green Party endorsements last election over controversial votes, but won re-election as independents. 

The byelection could be key to ensuring Tory Whanau has the votes to pursue her policy agenda. (Photo: Toby Manhire)

If Paul’s seat went to the right, the council would have an 8-7 balance and could be upended by a single flipped vote. It’s understood local organisers on the left are looking to run a unified candidate with endorsements from the Greens and Labour to increase their chances of holding the seat. 

Council byelections are typically low-turnout affairs dominated by older voters and homeowners who are engaged in their residents’ associations. However, the Green Party will be looking to flex its muscle after firmly establishing itself as the dominant political force in Wellington, which now has a Green mayor and two Green electorate MPs. The party has built a formidable local campaign team with the help of professional field organisers brought over from the Australian Greens, and has a long list of volunteers. 

Wellington Central this year was the first electorate race where the Greens have ever won the party vote outright, with 36% before special votes have been counted, ten points ahead of Labour, and higher than the combined National/Act/NZ First votes. 

Paul has not officially resigned from council yet and intends to continue attending meetings to cast key votes on the Town Hall and the council’s long term plan. There is no law preventing Paul from serving as a councillor and an MP simultaneously – except for the laws of time, which would make it very difficult to do both. A byelection will be triggered within 89 days of her resignation, meaning the voting period is likely to be in late January or February.

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