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Auckland mayoral candidate Chlöe Swarbrick is the most not-deathly-boring thing to happen in politics since someone chucked a dildo at Steven Joyce. Her campaign has faced a barrage of articles unable to get over her age or has been excluded from media coverage entirely—as though she is not a legitimate candidate because she doesn’t have enough grey hairs. Chlöe spoke to Salient, while she ate noodles (so relatable), and we asked her about more than her age, in fact we didn’t ask because thanks to Taylor Swift we all know what it’s like to be 22. She told us about her campaign experience so far, her policies, and why she is running for mayor.
How do you feel like your campaign is going so far?
It’s going overwhelmingly brilliant, for the most part it’s conducted only through social media and that’s just because I don’t have the budget to have any hoardings out there but what that means is I’ve been able to communicate in real time with feedback and with the live video that I’ve done, answering questions as they came up. There’s been a few trolls on Reddit but it’s all for the fun of it.
Do you know how your funding compares to the other candidates?
I know about Phil Goff and Vic Crone. I know that Phil is about to go over the funding cap. The funding cap is $620,000 and Vic Crone’s campaign has said that they’ll probably be spending around $500,000. Last time John Palino spent about $150,000. Today I’ve just reached over $5000, so yeah comparatively it’s a pretty tight campaign.
Congratulations on reaching $5000 though, that’s great!
Yeah, bare in mind though that $800 of that is mine. It’s going well though it has been insane, most of the donations I’m getting are between the $10 and $50 mark. So it’s a lot of people just giving small amounts and I think that’s awesome.
Voter turnout in Auckland is 34 per cent to Wellington’s 40 per cent. What do you attribute this to and what do you think should be done about it?
Apathy is generally the answer circulated with quite a broad brush stroke, and it usually misses the point. I think there’s a range of factors: first, the way that voting happens, it’s a postal voting process over three weeks, that doesn’t work for our most transient populations which are our young people and our poor people who don’t have security of tenure so they move around quite a bit. Obviously post to begin with is archaic and that’s a thing unto itself, I mean who knows where their local post box is? Further from that local body politics just isn’t sexy. Local government in New Zealand actually doesn’t have all too much power, in Auckland in particular we’ve got our housing crisis and literally the biggest thing that we can do, obviously we can control the supply side of things and my policy goes the furthest in solving that, but the biggest thing we can do because we can’t build state homes is advocate to central government… which reinforces in people’s minds that it isn’t really worth it.
We have another issue whereby in Auckland in the past few months it’s been billed as a two-horse race, now it’s being reported as a foregone conclusion, and that’s not going to get people engaged—when they think that this is the status quo and that’s what’s going to happen. That in itself creates a self-fulfilling prophecy which I don’t think is extremely promising for democracy.
Didn’t Radio New Zealand leave you out of their [initial] candidates debate? You’d expect them to be more onto it.
Yeah that’s right. That’s an interesting one because that day there two debates both of which I wasn’t invited to, the Radio New Zealand debate and the University of Auckland debate. Essentially the explanation given to me, as it always is, is there was limited time, but if you have a look at the hashtag essentially all of the tweets surrounding it are asking why I wasn’t there. When I’m asked about exclusion in my mind the media plays two roles, the first being to represent reality and the second if it’s in a more commercial mindset is to respond to consumer demand, and with my campaign there are both of those things. I’m a very serious candidate with some of the best policy and there is the demand to see me. I’m not going to go so far as to say it’s a conspiracy theory, but it’s quite odd. You guys don’t get the Herald, but in the paper they’ve put “one of these six people will be your mayor” and they’ve excluded me again. That’s kind of ludicrous especially when we have that most recent poll coming out which places me fourth.
I can imagine a lot of people in Auckland feel like when you get written out of the equation so do they, and so does their vote in some ways. If I were to not see you I would think why bother?
That echoes sentiments that I’ve received from quite a few people. Obviously I’ve been pigeonholed as being young and going after the youth vote, and definitely I’m seeking to represent young people because we know that young people are by far the least likely to turn out…. I’m definitely trying to stand for people who have the most to gain by voting, that’s the reason that representative democracy exists, but people who have the most to gain by voting are sadly our most disenfranchised, they’re our most disengaged. That kind of comes down to how the system works because those who are seeking to protect their own interests have the luxury and time to debate about who they’re going to vote for, whereas people who are living on the breadlines, who are struggling to survive, kind of don’t have the time to engage in this very privileged race of politics.
You were talking about the housing crisis earlier, can you explain your housing policy, and why you advocate for a land value rather than a capital value tax?
Essentially what my housing rates policy does is it does everything the council can do to increase supply. If we’re talking about controls on demand whether that be capital gains tax, taxes on second homes, potentially controls on immigration, only central government can control that. Also they’re the only ones who can build new homes because they have the resources to do that. Right now we have a chokehold on the funding that is going into local government in New Zealand, in the OECD the average amount of spending that comes from government coffers to be spent at a local level is 30 per cent, in New Zealand we’re less than half of that at 11 per cent. So it’s quite ridiculous where we can have parliamentarians, like Bill English, talking about this budget looking great and amazing and they’re heading towards a surplus, but what’s actually happening is there’s nowhere near enough funding going into the cities where the growth is actually happening. So the fourth part of my housing policy is to absolutely see a redistribution of that income because central government does see new income when those 40,000 new people come to Auckland every year, they bring income tax, GST, potentially company tax if those people are setting up companies, whereas Auckland feels the strain with the strain on our roads, there’s 800 new cars on the road every single week in Auckland, and with our housing because we can’t accommodate the people when the houses aren’t being built fast enough.
So the major thing is that reform of rates. Essentially what we’ve got now is capital value plus fees and levies, but the core part is capital value because that comprises 80 per cent of what people pay. Capital value has two components, that is land value and improvement value: land value is the base value of the land without anything being built on it, improvement value is what you build on that land. So right now we have a system whereby people are taxed for having buildings on their property, in the midst of a housing crisis which to me is quite ludicrous. Then we also have a problem whereby people who are holding their land vacant, with the likes of carparks or potentially just landbanking straight up with absolutely nothing on it, are paying less rates. So that is what my rates reform policy will change, it’ll balance out rates so all of a sudden people have to use their land efficiently.
These people are essentially holding communities to ransom because land value goes up when we as a community and as a society invest our taxpayers money into new roads and new parks and park maintenance, even when neighbours do up their properties, when new stores open in the area. The people who hold land vacant are essentially just profiteering of increasing scarcity by not using their land effectively and then they’re making capital gains off of the struggle of everybody else…. Land is one of the only things that is inelastic, it’s limited, which is why it makes real sense to tax land value and it means in areas where people should be building people can’t just hold their land anymore because it’s financially impracticable.
So it would flip the onus on to developing your property rather than just holding land?
Yeah, rather than just holding it vacant. Places where there could potentially be issues with that are with Māori holdings of land and also with farms, but there are potential discretionary ways we could go about solving that.
Another part of your policy is clearing up the building consent process and hopefully instituting an online way to do that. What do you think are the current obstacles with the consenting process?
When I’m talking about streamlining the consenting process I’m not talking about what right-wingers would say is cutting the red tape, so I’m not saying let’s have another leaky building process. We basically don’t need to reduce what boxes need to be ticked but we need to address how those boxes are ticks. Basically what we have a system of now is absolute confusion and exorbitant steps, so people who are applying for consents often have to defer to getting experts involved which costs more money, because they can’t begin to comprehend how the system works. What I’m saying is we need to make it more consumer friendly. The basic way of doing that, which sounds like a simplistic solution because it is (it’s not going to be hard to do), is we bring it online, make it really clear how you apply, what the steps are and how you are progressing through those steps.
In terms of the voting process, in Wellington we’ve got STV (single transferable vote), and in Auckland you’ve got first past the post. What do you think about the differences, what voting system do you prefer?
I’m all for STV and that’s absolutely what I’ll be changing it to should I be so fortunate as to get in, because basically having first past the post disadvantages people like me. It disadvantages people who are seen as the slightly more risky bet even though people want to vote for me, a few people have raised with me the fear that it’s risky because it might split the vote—it might allow Vic Crone to win. For the record that’s not plausible…. So STV I am a huge advocate for, it’s a fairer system, it allows people to rank their preferences, and I’m a little bit surprised that my competitors Phil and Vic in particular have said that they’re not interested in changing that system.
Does the Auckland Council have a living wage policy?
No, Len Brown did advocate for it when he came into this term but then obviously the news broke about his affair and he lost mana; he tried to push through the living wage but it lost by one vote and that’s because council was focussed on that issue and everyone was kind of ganging up against him and he didn’t try to push it through again.
What’s your stance on the living wage?
All for it, and for contractors as well. In a business like Auckland Council there are 3.5 billion dollars per annum going through the books and it would cost 0.02 per cent of expenditure to pay the living wage. Another fun fact, it’s not fun though it’s pretty depressing, is that the average rental property in Auckland is $509 per week for a three bedroom home and then the take-home wage for 40 hours on the minimum wage is $513, so for a single mother which is actually quite reflective of the staff on Auckland council right now, around 1500 of them, those single mothers are struggling and left with that $4 leftover, or living in overcrowded homes, or potentially working 60 to 80 hours a week to make ends meet.
What’s the idea behind the nightlife advisory panel?
It’s quite similar to what we’ve seen in Amsterdam and London in terms of the Night Mayor, essentially what that does is there are a few different advisory panels that work with the council to advise them on policy, what the nightlife advisory panel would do is create a group of people who come from all kinds of cross sections, so businesses, musicians, police, potentially art gallery representatives, and they would come together to formulate the best plan for how we go about helping nightlife flourish in a safe way in Auckland. One of the major things is that we need buses and public transport that runs a lot later than it currently does and we need more police patrolling and things like that. It ensures that we have a great scene for nightlife because that is the hallmark of a great international city and right now in Auckland that doesn’t really exist.
The Spinoff, who have been quite good in terms of covering you, endorsed Phil Goff the other day, with you as a secondary candidate. Could you give us your opinion on that?
Yeah. Of course I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed because I have stronger policy than Phil and because at debates, which unfortunately are non-televised ones, I do perform better than Phil and I’ve gone a long way to engaging everybody who was left out of this conversation and I’ve had a lot of people tell me that this is the first time they’ve felt excited about the future of the city…. I think it’s sensible, it’s risk averse, but it’s not super exciting and I think that even The Spinoff acknowledged that with their paragraph on him. Yeah Phil would be boring and status quo and managerial, but again I have full respect for Phil and he came out saying that if he weren’t in the race he’d vote for me.
It’s great that he endorsed you…
Yeah, but it feels a bit like a pat on the head. If this debate the whole time has been about my legitimacy because of my age, for the candidate that everybody thinks is the most ‘experienced’ to turn around and say that I’m the next best option I think that’s probably the best form of legitimization but unfortunately it just comes a little bit too late.
But I think it really does speak volumes about the options that Auckland has this election, like I’ve said, Phil will be fine as a mayor and I have full respect for him but Phil just represents the status quo. If people want to be engaged and excited and inspired to live in Auckland, have a look at my policy and talk to me, and feel the visceral passion and we can really make this city great, it doesn’t have to be boring.
If you don’t get it, would you run again?
You could have asked me six months ago if I would have been in politics and I would have told you no. The reason that I stood is because I was waiting for someone ‘experienced’ to stand up and do the job that I’m currently doing, which is engaging Aucklanders, because of all these problems that we’re facing are my personal problems as well. I have a $43,000 student loan, of course I don’t own a home, I use public transport every day because I don’t have a car, my friends are the ones who are leaving in this brain drain that we’ve got, so I’m very personally invested in the future of our city and I found that no one who was standing actually understood or was trying to understand those problems. If I don’t unfortunately win, I can’t tell you. It’ll be a process of evaluation but for now I’m very strongly focussed on winning this thing.
After we hung up we were out of breath and full of admiration (she was so cool!), having tried to keep up with Chlöe for a full forty minutes. She is not a 22 year old (show me the birth certificate), she is a serious mayoral candidate with robust policies, whose passion for improving Auckland is insurmountable. It’s a shame that cynics have been unable to see past her age and have assumed that being young and a credible candidate are mutually exclusive.