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Image: Archi banal
Image: Archi banal

PoliticsDecember 19, 2023

You know what Simeon Brown loves? Cars

Image: Archi banal
Image: Archi banal

Our brand new transport minister has a thing for cars, especially if they’re blue. He’s moving fast to give them more priority in the coalition government’s transport policies.

They’re shiny, weigh tonnes, can go fast, and are Simeon Brown’s second-most reliable photo companion, after his thumb. Cars, preferably of the petrol or diesel inclination, seem to be the most important constituents for the Pakuranga MP. Much of his campaigning appears to have taken place at road sides, with Brown and a cluster of human volunteers asking that the passing traffic vote National. 

He has a vision for cars – perfectly pothole-less roads, no ute taxes or clean car rebates, and no pesky speed limit regulations. It’s almost as beautiful as a photograph he once shared where the sun, low in the sky, has formed a lens flare and is hitting the sides of several suburban SUVs as they zoom along past road cones. When it comes to passion for the private vehicle, only Tina from Turners rivals Brown: “Big ones, small ones, uncomfortable ones, I love them all.”

Love is love, rain or shine. Brown and a car on September 29, 2020.

Brown has recently entered his 30s, an era in which men must quickly decide between cars, guns, barbecues or gardening to define their entire personalities. In January, he tried to barbecue, but it rained. We’ve seen plenty of photographic evidence that his thumb is not green, and while evidence of Brown trying guns isn’t readily available on the internet, we can assume his aim is terrible, because this man has unequivocally chosen cars. He frequents car shows like the Howick Village Hop and the Brit and Euro Classic Car Show, and in a photo with his partner, a car squeezes its way in between them. He’s often spotted pointing, waving and doing the thumbs up at passing cars, and when he was re-elected as the MP for Pakuranga, he stood on the roadside waving a “Thank you” sign at them. It wouldn’t be surprising if in his bedroom was a night racer car bed.

So it’s no surprise that Brown is now the transport minister. It’s like Winston Peters conveniently being the minister for racing (which is a real job title). And already Brown is making good on his promises to his beloved cars. Last Tuesday, he sent what’s being called a letter but was surely a PDF email attachment to regional councils and Waka Kotahi. Its main point was to tell them not to worry about their current speed management plans, because a “new Rule” is on its way. The new policy will banish many recent blanket speed limits, like 30km zones around thousands of primary schools. Why? “Our coalition government wants to see a transport system that boosts productivity and economic growth,” said Brown in a statement. “Vroom, vroom,” said the suburban SUVs.

At the end of the so-called letter, our new transport minister wrote that he has told Waka Kotahi to end work on programmes that would reduce travel by cars, pulling the brakes on projects to support cycling, walking and public transport across the country. To his credit, Brown has been on a bus once, but it’s not clear if it even left the depot. 

If his beloved cars are the shiny jewels of Brown’s productivity-boosting transport system, then the road network is the golden crown in which they’re to be set. “My focus will be on building and maintaining the roading network,” he told Newsroom, repeating a refrain said by every National Party transport spokesperson or minister ever.

Brown was rather struck by this Jeep pothole dodger in October 2022.

Plenty of exhaust fumes will be wafting from the golden roads because the bill to repeal the Clean Car Discount (and accompanying “ute tax”) has been passed. The repeal will come into effect in the very first minute of the new year (get the champagne ready). This couldn’t be soon enough for Brown, who in May pestered then transport minister Michael Woods about “subsidising wealthy people to purchase Teslas”. He seems not to have listened to the answer – that the two most commonly subsidised vehicles under the scheme were Toyota models that sell for under $20,000 – and instead took only his leader’s wife Amanda Luxon as his data sample, who upgraded from a Tesla Model 3 to a Model Y and claimed a $8,625 subsidy. Now he’s prime minister, Christopher Luxon has been urged to pay it back.

Brown and a car in Howick, March 2023.

Months later, in an August opinion piece in the Herald, Brown called Labour policies a “war on our cars”. Wars usually mean death and destruction, but in this war the threats were potentially reduced speed limits, removed car parks, pedestrianised streets and valuable road space being available for cycleways and bus lanes.  

Perhaps both Tina from Turners and Simeon Brown have been moved by Tracy Chapman’s classic Fast Car, which brings a tear to the eye of many an alcohol-saturated karaoke bar frequenter. He might’ve worked at the convenience store and saved just a little bit of money, in the hopes that he can drive away and finally see what it means to be living.

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