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Oscar Sims (left) and Naisi Chen are seeking the Labour candidacy. Mahesh Muralidhar (right) has won National selection.
Oscar Sims (left) and Naisi Chen are seeking the Labour candidacy. Mahesh Muralidhar (right) has won National selection.

PoliticsApril 21, 2023

Auckland Central race takes shape as Labour chooses its candidate

Oscar Sims (left) and Naisi Chen are seeking the Labour candidacy. Mahesh Muralidhar (right) has won National selection.
Oscar Sims (left) and Naisi Chen are seeking the Labour candidacy. Mahesh Muralidhar (right) has won National selection.

The Labour selection this weekend pits a list MP against a housing activist, while National’s successful nominee says he’s ‘loving every second’.

Labour will select its candidate for the box-office Auckland Central seat this weekend, with list MP Naisi Chen and software developer Oscar Sims competing for a chance to take on the incumbent MP, Chlöe Swarbrick of the Green Party. 

Chen and Sims are both in their 20s, as is Swarbrick. (Swarbrick is parliament’s youngest MP, pipping Chen by four months.) That mirrors a constituency that is home to the youngest electorate in the country, with 44% of the Auckland Central population, based on the latest census data, aged between 20 and 34. 

Currently based in Botany, Chen stood in that electorate in 2020 and in East Coast Bays in 2017. Formerly a director of an HR consultancy, she was elected as a list MP in the last election, ranked 38th. In her maiden speech, Chen described migrating to New Zealand from China with her family in 1999. “I stand here today as the only MP of Chinese ethnicity, despite 5% of the population identifying with this ethnicity,” she said. “So I say that with regret. There are huge barriers for migrant communities in getting into politics. Our stories are often not told by ourselves. With my platform, I will fight to have our voices heard and fight against the racism that we experience.”

She continued: “But the Chinese community needs to look within, as well. The Chinese language media is often selective in the information that it portrays, and has demonstrated, sometimes, a slight misunderstanding in our country and our system. What gives me hope is that I’m the first 1.5 generation Chinese standing here in this House and I can see a new tide coming in.”

Since February, Chen has chaired the Economic Development, Science and Innovation select committee.

A volunteer on Helen White’s campaign in Auckland Central in 2020, Oscar Sims is a software engineer and housing activist. Treasurer for the Auckland City Centre Residents’ Group and a spokesperson for the Coalition for More Homes NZ. 

Writing for Stuff last year, Sims bemoaned councils dragging their feet on housing intensification and challenged leaders to “show that they care about the prosperity and wellbeing of future generations”.

Sims lived with his family in Singapore as a toddler and has been an apartment advocate ever since. “There is that default mind state in New Zealand: the quarter-acre dream and the house in the suburbs. But because I have had exposure to the alternative, I have been more open to living that way,” he said as part of a profile of Metropolis building residents in 2021. 

Party rules prohibit candidates from speaking publicly during selection contests.

White, who stood as Labour candidate in 2017 and 2020 for Auckland Central, was not in the mix, having already won selection for Mt Albert, a safe Labour seat occupied until last week by Jacinda Ardern.

Swarbrick has proved a high-profile MP both in parliament (sometimes to the chagrin of her colleagues) and in the electorate, most recently in leading the push back against proposed cuts at Auckland Council. She won in 2020 on the back of a formidable “ground game” – and promises it will be “bigger this time”. 

Chlöe Swarbrick on Karangahape Road.
Chlöe Swarbrick on Karangahape Road. Photo: Toby Manhire

National will be represented by Mahesh Muralidhar, CEO of startup-focused venture capital fund Phase One, who was selected ahead of business consultant Stephen Lyon and Pete Williams, a former winter Paralympian. “I’ve loved every second of my first few weeks as National’s candidate in Auckland Central, meeting fellow locals and hearing about what’s important to them,” Muralidhar told the Spinoff yesterday. “The key things I hear about are the cost of living crisis and crime, and that’s what I’m committed to delivering on if I earn the right to be Auckland Central’s next MP.”

Damian Sycamore, who works for a construction software company, will stand for TOP, motivated by a “palpable passion for affordable housing”.

Labour won the Auckland Central party vote in the red wave of 2020, bucking a trend which saw National narrowly ahead in the party vote in 2017 and by a big margin in the two previous elections. 

Before Swarbrick, the seat was held for three terms by Nikki Kaye. A liberal-minded National MP, cabinet minister and, for a short time, deputy leader of the party, Kaye twice defeated Jacinda Ardern for the seat. Judith Tizard held Auckland Central for Labour from 1996 to 2008; before that were Sandra Lee of Mana Motuhake and the Alliance and Richard Prebble, then of Labour.

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