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August 7, 2017 | by  | in Interview | [ssba]

Interview with Chlöe Swarbrick

Chlöe Swarbrick is a candidate for the Green Party. She is 22-years old (as everyone keeps telling her), and owns a doughnut shop in Mount Eden in Auckland. Salient sat down with Chlöe to discuss Green Party policy, smashed avocado, and moving past capitalism.


Given your position at number nine on the Green Party list, it is feasible that you will become an MP following the 2017 election. If that’s the case, what would your portfolio be, or not having those details, what could you be the spokesperson for?

That will all be decided by consensus within our caucus and the party after the election, so I can’t really speak to what I’m guaranteed — I’m not guaranteed anything at all. I can speak to what I’m interested in, personally! So my pathway to politics, because I didn’t see my life panning out this way, was through journalism; I’m very interested in broadcasting and arts and culture, because I feel that that has been incredibly neglected, since Helen Clark left office. I’m also very interested in criminal justice and local government.


Housing is particularly topical at the moment, and for students especially so. They’re likely to live in highly expensive (especially in the cities) and sub-par (e.g. cold/damp) accommodation while they study, and when they come out, due to the shortage of affordable housing, be unlikely to afford to purchase a house. Can you talk to what the Green Party has to offer in terms of improving these kinds of experiences for students?

Totally! So, I guess it’s probably quite a similar situation to being a student in Auckland. I was a student not too long ago — I graduated last year. The major thing we want to do in terms of improving the quality of rental problems is our Warrant of Fitness (WOF) programme — it’s something we’ve been talking about for a very long time now, and was a focal point of our policies last election as well. So our WOF programme is the same idea as with a car — in order to be able to drive a car on a road, you need to get a WOF to make sure it’s safe, and won’t spontaneously combust or kill you. Right now we are able to live in homes which, for all intents and purposes, contribute to health problems. We have rheumatic fever in this country — and we’re a first world country. That should not exist here. We shouldn’t be living in homes with consistently broken windows, mould, draughts, and all the rest. So the WOF programme looks at fixing those types of problems.

There’s a little bit more in terms of renters’ rights and security of tenure, so ensuring your landlord can’t just randomly kick you out; and ensuring renters get some more of those rights that you find in other countries, where you’ve got the ability to paint the walls and actually make it your home.


Do you think home ownership is a feasible or sustainable goal for all?

At the moment, no. Speaking to my own experiences, the average house price in Auckland is $1 million, and it’s reached a similar price in Wellington. So despite all of the tropes about flat whites and avocados, there’s no way that it’s feasible for the average young person to think about buying a home. We’ve got a number of policies directed at resolving those issues, we’ve got a rent to buy scheme. But the major thing we want to see is more homes built. That will involve collaborating with our community organisations to see that happen as well.


According to the Green Party website, you entered the 2016 Auckland mayoralty election to “stand up for the things [you] believed in, the people [you] loved — all our people, especially those neglected by the status quo.” Given the lack of a portfolio, and the limited amount of time you’ve been in the political spotlight, it seems important to know where you stand, especially for young voters. So, ideologically, how would you identify yourself?  

There’s obviously the whole left-right divide, and I sit on the left of that. I believe in social justice and for me — this is one of the many reasons why I’m with the Greens — social justice and [addressing] climate change are the same thing, for all intents and purposes. Because if you look at the people who are the biggest contributors to climate change, they are the biggest polluters and the richest, whether they be countries or individuals; and if you look at the people dealing with the brunt of climate change, they are by and large the most vulnerable and the poorest — whether it’s countries, like the Pacific islands, which are literally sinking into the ocean at this moment, and also individuals in New Lynn or Edgecombe who are dealing with incessant flooding, and that flooding is only going to get worse because of climate change.

So we need to be recalibrating the way we look at the success of our society, I believe. GDP is the worst measure of the success of our country. Because when someone is in a car crash, or gets cancer, GDP goes up. There is no way right now that we are incorporating livability, or housing standards, or happiness. I’m a big advocate for changing the way we think about these types of things, and also the way we prioritise these types of things, because I’m sick to death of productivity for productivity’s sake. It doesn’t make sense anymore. The wheels are starting to fall off after 30-40 years of it — it’s time to change.


So you’re drawing this link between climate change and inequality — I’m not saying the two concepts aren’t linked, but how do you get past that surface-level association, when you’ve got, for example, solar panels being made by low-wage workers.

I think that we need to admit that the free market economy is not going to solve all of our problems. That looks like government subsidies and support for changing the way we operate. This is one of the hesitations I have about signing up to all of these free trade deals — an example of where this has gone wrong is in Canada, where they tried to implement a localised scheme to create solar panels in Canada and people had to purchase them inside Canada, by high-paid workers in local businesses. And then the World Trade Organisation came along after this had been quite successful (they were on track to meet their climate targets) and said this was a breach of the free trade agreements. That’s super problematic, because this is the way we’re going to actually solve these problems. Because materialism and consumption for consumption’s sake is not working anymore, so it is a recalibration in that respect. Let’s not work 70-hour weeks. It does look like a living wage, it does look like warm dry homes, it does look like affordable public transport.


Essentially what you’re talking about is moving past the current iteration of capitalism — how do you do that, with the government we have at the moment, or even with the Green Party in government?

Another reason I’m with the Green Party is because I believe we have the potential to fundamentally change how politics work in this country. What I mean by that is when you look at [the Green Party’s] values, which haven’t changed for 27 years now, we’ve spent 27 years building up our credibility and legitimacy in those areas.

We’ve got ecological wisdom — We have one planet, let’s look after it. On that point, I just want to speak to climate change for a moment. Whenever we talk about climate change, that conversation is always being framed in terms of the planet. And we do need to look after the planet. But at the end of the day, what climate change represents is actually the biggest existential crisis that humanity has ever faced — it’s us who will be screwed if climate change happens, and obviously all of the animals that we are systematically wiping out with the status quo of our system operating as it is. So if we want to survive in any habitable, livable way, we need to take action, because the window is narrowing.

Social responsibility and social justice — In South Auckland at the moment you’ve got people working 40 hours per week at minimum wage, and they can’t afford the average house rental. So, they’re then working 60 or 80 hours — I can’t buy into this narrative that these people need to be harder working, or smarter working. Things are not working if some of the hardest working people you could imagine can’t afford to feed their families.

Non-violence — Basically, let’s do this all peacefully and communicate and collaborate towards something that works for everyone in that respect.

And finally, appropriate decision-making — Not all decision making needs to rest with central government. It’s about devolving decision making down to the level where it actually affects people, and that’s a huge win for local government as well.

I think if you implement those four things, you’ve got transformative politics in this country. I think it’s really interesting to look at the parallels with, for example, Max Harris’ The New Zealand Project, and his three principles of compassion, creativity, and community.


You spoke to the Greens’ building their legitimacy over the last 27 years. Political commentator Gordon Campbell reflected recently about the shift toward the centre that the Green Party has undergone since its entry into parliament. He suggests there’s been a strong focus on personality politics and marketability, but points out there are “different ways of convincing the public that the left’s policy prescriptions are rewarding, rather than scary — and elsewhere, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders have chosen a more difficult route, but with a good deal of success.” Given the recent success of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK election, how would you respond to Campbell’s claim? Has the Green Party watered itself down in favour of marketability?

It’s funny, Holly Walker has recently released her book, The Whole Intimate Mess, and Steve Braunius from The Spinoff asked me to interview her. I asked her this — how, as a past Green MP, she feels about the party in 2017 — and she said that it was super exciting. The debates about the North & South cover and all of the rest are the same debates that happened in 2014 and 2011. There’s consistently been this framing every election, about whether the Green Party is becoming more centrist to attract more people. And I genuinely think, if you look at the issues that are on the table for this election — they are water, housing, transport — they are all Green issues. I think that perhaps the centre has moved towards the Greens. Those values that we’ve had for 27 years now, they have not changed — they are unwavering, and they can be communicated in different ways. That does not amount to an abdication of those values.


I guess there is also a disjoint between the values the Greens have stuck to, and the sacrifices that will be made on these policies and ideology when it comes to forming a coalition government, if elected. How will, or how do you think the Green party should, navigate that grey area with Labour?

That’s one of the difficult things about politics, right? At the end of the day, you have to sit down with your coalition partners after election day and go, okay, what are our priorities? What I’m really focused on at the moment is growing the Green Party votes so we’ve got the biggest amount of MPs in there as possible, so that we have the biggest mandate possible to implement our progressive policies in the next government. At the end of the day, it will come down to who we’re negotiating with, the policies and priorities they’ve put to the public during the election campaign, and how many MPs we have in the house.


What is your favourite colour?

I guess I’ve got to say green!


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