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PoliticsMay 28, 2024

Introducing Francisco Hernandez, the Member for Posting who’s logged off

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The newest Green MP on Catholicism, climate change, and why he is taking a break from Twitter.

At 17th on the Green Party list, first-time candidate Francisco Hernandez was always a long shot for parliament. A promising up-and-comer, he was supposed to run a strong race in Dunedin and position himself for a higher list spot in the future. 

As the Green Party polling climbed over the course of the election campaign, there was a moment where it looked like Hernandez might squeak in on the list. In the end, the Greens won 15 seats, leaving him just on the outside looking in. But that changed with the sudden death of Efeso Collins and the resignation of former leader James Shaw. Now, Hernandez is the newest member of parliament. “This happened quicker than I anticipated. But when you put yourself forward for the list, you’ve got to be ready,” he says. As a former politics student, getting to be an MP is like “playing rugby in school and then getting to be an All Black.” Arguably, it’s actually closer to watching rugby at school and then getting to be an All Black.

As a brand-new MP, Hernandez is most known for what he’s done online than off. He has a small but mighty fanbase among people brainwormed enough to still use Twitter. For most of the past decade, he was one of NZpol’s best and most prolific shitposters. His self-promotional tweets calling for “more Filipino politicians with climate policy experience and a student politics background” became a niche meme. When he announced he was running for parliament, he asked for donations of $69. It almost seemed like a joke, but he was very serious.

“That’s what MP stands for, Member for Posting,” says the 33-year-old. He has deleted his account, partly to focus on his new job, and partly because he doesn’t want it coming back to haunt him. “It was mostly just cringe posts. The sort of obscure arguments and out of context stuff that can occur when you’re tweeting about fandom or even just tweeting ironically, that less online people don’t necessarily get. I had to wipe the slate clean and just stop.”

Francisco Hernandez is the second Filipino-New Zealander MP, after National’s Paulo Garcia in 2019. He arrived in New Zealand from the Philippines at age 11. His father, Rossano Hernandez, was a political staffer in the Joseph Estrada administration, which was overthrown in 2001. “Nobody forced us to leave with guns or anything. But because of the regime transition, my dad wasn’t able to find work.” The family was sponsored to immigrate to New Zealand through the family reunification process, because they had an uncle in Wellington.  

They soon moved to Auckland, because his three-month-old brother had a congenital (and ultimately fatal) heart condition that could only be treated at Starship Hospital. “We were in a desperate situation. And even though we hadn’t really contributed that much to New Zealand, the state put in a level of resources and took care of us, even though we were new to this country,” he remembers. “I contrast that to the experience in the Philippines  where you have to pay for literally everything. Drawing that contrast made me realise that these things don’t happen by accident. They are a result of political choices that have been made by successive generations.” Then, after a pause, he laughs at himself. “I mean, I probably wasn’t thinking this when I was eleven.”

Filipino-New Zealanders are a fast-growing voter base, making up 1.5% of the population in 2018 census (that number will almost certainly be higher in the 2023 census, which is due for release later this week). Hernandez thinks it’s a winnable demographic for the Greens. 

“I would actually argue that Filipino values are inherently allied to like Green values. We believe in looking after everyone in the village, and that’s very aligned to what the Greens want to do at a kind of national scale,” he says. 

Filipino voters are often categorised as socially conservative, but Hernandez says that is an oversimplification. “There’s a tension at the heart of the Philippine identity. We are an incredibly Christian country. On a surface level, that means we’re quite conservative, and there is still a lot of shameful stigma and discrimination against LGBTQI communities in the Philippines, but that exists alongside a celebration of gay culture and baklâ culture. Even people who are quite Christian and quite conservative have family members who are gay and celebrate them for who they are… in reality, we’re not actually that conservative.”

Rather than use a bible for his swearing-in ceremony as an MP, Hernandez opted to place his hand on a copy of Laudato Si, the papal encyclical on climate change written by Pope Francis. Like the vast majority of Filipinos, he is Catholic. “Well, I mean, I sometimes go to church. I’m culturally Catholic, but unfaithful. Which means I’m a real Catholic.”

Hernandez’s political career started at Otago University, where he was OUSA President in 2013. He was initially inspired to run because of his interest in food rescue, through campus groups Food Not Bombs and Young Vinnies. “That’s what got me involved in student politics, wanting to make sure that we were scaling up the volunteer work that we were doing, and implementing food rescue at a more instrumental level.” As OUSA president, he set up a food rescue program to support a free student breakfast.

a filipino man in a green sweater staning next to a Green party sign with a plant dangling in his face
Hernandez in his party’s temporary campaign office during the 2023 election. (Image: Shanti Mathias/Archi Banal)

Immediately after OUSA, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Dunedin City Council. Since then, he’s worked for the parliamentary Green Party, the Climate Change Commission, where he focused on waste policy, and most recently, as the climate change lead for Otago Regional Council. He’s still Dunedin-based and plans to run in the electorate again. 

After working in the climate change space, Hernandez thinks New Zealand has got the basic settings right for mitigation (the Zero Carbon Act), but has a lot of areas for improvement in the climate adaptation realm. Earlier this month, parliament established a cross-party inquiry into climate change adaptation. “I really think New Zealand needs to think long and hard about setting up an enduring framework around not just the policy settings around climate adaptation, but on funding and financing it.”

Hernandez has been given three portfolios: Emergency Management and Recovery, Public Service, and Tertiary Education. For his first member’s bill, he’s considering a push to make the winter energy payments accessible to students. 

The biggest change he’s noticed since becoming an MP is the overwhelming level of communication. Internal group chats with hundreds of messages a day, emails, Facebook and Instagram messages. With all of that, plus a part-time Master’s degree in economics, focusing on financing climate adaptation, he says he just doesn’t have time for posting on Twitter any more. 

“Once I’ve gotten to grips with the work that I’m supposed to be doing and I actually have staff hired to help me with this work, I anticipate that I’ll be back on Twitter.” But he says the social media detox has been nice. “You have to touch grass, and I’ve been touching a lot of grass. I think it’s helping my focus.”

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