Politics

The Sure Things: Simeon Brown

List candidates for Parliament have won plenty of attention lately.  But another group who are all but certain to become MPs - by inheriting safe electorate seats - will compete in the same parliamentary votes, for the same roles in Opposition and Government and influence public policy just as much as the darlings of the list.

In the second in an occasional series, Tim Murphy talks to Simeon Brown, the 26-year-old who has been handed the chance to replace former cabinet minister Maurice Williamson in the safely National blue seat of Pakuranga. 

Say what you like about Maurice Williamson, he knew how to pull in the votes in his seat of Pakuranga. At the past three elections he has had majorities of 12,500-14,000 on the electorate vote and importantly has delivered National upwards of 20,000 party votes each time, almost 2 percent of its total nationwide. He was a vote machine. For the National Party, it was he who was the pot of electoral gold at the end of his "Big Gay Rainbow" over Pakuranga.

Now he's gone and a seat that has been in blue hands since 1972, bar one term as a Social Credit outlier between 1984 and 1987, has been passed to a 26 year-old conservative from across the old Manukau City at Manurewa.

Simeon Brown had to come through a field of five candidates wanting this seat for life. It went to the fifth ballot in the internal National Party selection process as delegates split. Williamson remained above the fray, showing unnatural caution in not indicating backing for a candidate.

Curiously, the Pakuranga folk selected a conservative Christian, who personally submitted to Parliament opposing the same-sex marriage bill that Williamson championed in a famed speech in Parliament in which he celebrated that big gay rainbow over Pakuranga.

Brown is thought to have clinched selection by his performance on the night itself, showing a mix of determination and humility favoured by the blue voters. He's married to Rebecca and lives in Clendon Park, a few kilometres out of the electorate.

While young, he's been around. He joined and chaired the Manurewa Youth Council from age 17, got himself elected to the Manurewa Local Board (of the Auckland Council) in 2013 and at the last general election took one for the team for National, standing against Labour incumbent Luisa Wall in her stronghold of Manurewa, going down by 6400 votes.

"I got 1000 party votes," he chirps, when asked about the difficulties of standing in such a seat.

Among the politicking, he graduated with a joint law and commerce degree from the University of Auckland, going on to join the BNZ in Highbrook, South Auckland, as a commercial banking associate. Brown has been busily working to defend Williamson's fat majority. "You cannot take anything for granted. We need to work harder than we've ever worked before to earn the trust and respect of voters. We have to maximise the party vote National."

Born in Rotorua, and with a grandfather who had been a local politician in Eketahuna, Brown was inspired into grassroots politics by his mother, who involved him in the local residents' group when he was 15. "Around the dinner table we always talked about the large issues facing the country."

One of those issues was the Helen Clark government's Electoral Finance Act of 2007, a move to restrict campaign financing and speech that was greatly controversial a decade ago. "I think it was something that really went against my core values [he was 15 at the time], for someone who believes in freedom of speech in particular." He helped people like Act's John Boscawen mount resistance to the legislation.

After joining the local board, Brown achieved some prominence through his work in 2014 to restrict the sale of pyschoactive substances or legal highs; the campaign stretched beyond his Manurewa ward and preceded nationwide legal reforms.

He thinks National Party members in Pakuranga put weight on his local government experience, and his hard yards in the Manurewa seat last election. "I share their values," he says, glossing over the differences with Williamson on social issues.

"We were on different sides of the fence on that [same sex marriage] issue. But we respect in New Zealand that we live in a pluralistic society and everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I had a conservative view on that one, yes."

He was energised enough by his own opinion to make a personal submission on the 2013 bill, rejecting Parliament's right to define or re-define 'marriage' and seeking a binding public referendum on the issue.

That was then. Now he has more prosaic matters to attend to.

Pakuranga is one of those suburbs that seems to stretch forever. The electorate seems even larger. And it is deep in the east-southeast of Auckland, far from a rail line and a good trek away from the southern motorway either via Te Irirangi Drive or the Waipuna Bridge.

Unsurprisingly, with the Pakuranga Highway unhealthily congested and commutes to the city ever longer, Brown is seizing on transport as an issue he will pursue with colleagues at Parliament.

"East Auckland has not had the investment required," he says, wanting early progress on the so-called AMETI project - the multi-billion dollar Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative which plans major busways from Panmure to Pakuranga and then Pakuranga to Botany.

Crime and safety are also common issues Brown hears about on doorsteps and he is putting stock on the Government's police numbers announcement - 91 more officers in the Counties-Manukau district and 21 ethnic liaison officers for an area with a high Asian population.

He's not talking future jobs at Parliament, young enough and political enough to breathe through his nose. If he can hold Williamson's voters he is likely to have plenty of terms to work up the ladder. If he stayed as long as Williamson he'd be just 55 at retirement.  

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