Election 2020: Forty newcomers include our first African, Latin American and Sri Lankan MPs

Our 40 new MPs are a diverse bunch, including our first African, Latin American and Sri Lankan Members of Parliament.

Only our first election under the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system in 1996 has brought in more new faces in recent times – 45.

This time the big swing to Labour was compounded by the retirement of 12 National MPs and six from other parties, and the wipe-out of New Zealand First’s nine-strong caucus.

Here are the newcomers of 2020:

Camilla Belich, List

Labour’s Epsom candidate and new list MP Camilla Belich, 37, is an employment lawyer and a former co-president of the NZ University Students’ Association. She and husband Andrew Kirton, a former general secretary of the Labour Party who now works for Air NZ, live in central Auckland with their two primary-school-aged children.

Belich started her career with Wellington law firm Oakley Moran, then moved to London in 2009 where she worked first for a law firm and then for Britain’s biggest trade union, Unison, from 2012 to 2016.

She returned to Wellington to join boutique law firm Bartlett Law in 2017, but quickly moved back into working for unions, first on equal pay issues at the NZ Council of Trade Unions from 2016 to last year, and most recently for the Public Service Association in Auckland.

Glen Bennett, New Plymouth

Election victory capped a big 12 months for New Plymouth’s new MP Glen Bennett, who proposed to his fiance Jon O’Neill on stage at a Troy Kingi concert last November.

Bennett, who turns 45 this year, grew up in the Salvation Army and says his work for the Army brought him to New Plymouth 20 years ago. He leads the Taranaki branch of Incedo, formerly known as Youth for Christ.

He has worked in community development, social enterprise and restorative justice, is a registered celebrant, and has been a long-term foster parent.

He was lead facilitator for the Taranaki 2050 roadmap developed to plan the region’s transition away from its oil and gas industries towards a low-emissions future.

Rachel Boyack, Nelson

Rachel Boyack has won the Nelson seat for Labour on her second attempt, after the centre-left vote in the seat was split by a strong Green vote in 2017.

She is a former student president at the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, worked as Nelson organiser for First Union and most recently as health and safety co-ordinator for Nelson’s Anglican Diocese.

She joined the Labour Party in 2005 and chairs the party’s policy council.

She is also a trained singer with a music degree from Auckland University, was a member of the NZ Youth Choir and sang with the Nelson Cathedral Choir. She lives in Nelson with her husband Scott.

Rachel Brooking, List

Dunedin environmental lawyer Rachel Brooking, 44, failed in a run for Labour’s nomination for the new Taieri electorate this year but has been swept into Parliament at number 46 on Labour’s party list.

She has a degree in ecology, was president of the Otago University Students’ Association in 1997 and has worked as an environmental lawyer in Dunedin and London. She was appointed to the boards of the Otago University Bookshop from 2010 and of Dunedin Airport last year.

She chairs the Otago/Southland branch of the Resource Management Law Association and was a member of the panel led by Justice Tony Randerson appointed by the Ardern Government to review the Resource Management Act.

She and husband Dr Chris Jackson, medical director of the Cancer Society, live in Dunedin and have three school-aged children.

Naisi Chen, List

Chinese-born Naisi Chen, 26, is one of the youngest new MPs, losing to National’s Chris Luxon in the safe National seat of Botany but coming into Parliament at number 38 on the Labour list.

She came to New Zealand aged 5 and was educated at Westlake Girls’ High School and Auckland University, where she studied law and she was president of the NZ Chinese Students’ Association in 2016. The Spinoff reports that he father is a Christian pastor and her mother is a doctor.

Her Labour profile says she is the director of a business consultancy firm specialising in employment relations and human resources.

She sits on the board of Foundation North, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Aotearoa Chinese Legal Support Foundation. She is the vice-president Young Labour and is on the youth advisory group of Philanthropy NZ.

Barbara Edmonds, Mana

Tax lawyer Barbara Edmonds is already familiar with the Beehive after a public service career, mainly in Inland Revenue, which has included secondments to the offices of National ministers Judith Collins and Michael Woodhouse and Labour’s Stuart Nash.

Tagata Pasifika reports that her parents came from Samoa in 1978. She grew up on Auckland’s North Shore and attended Carmel College and Auckland University.

She met her Ngāpuhi husband Chris and fell pregnant in her second year at university and told Tagata Pasifika: “By the time I finished my law and arts degrees about five and a half years later, I was pregnant with baby number five.”

She and Chris now have eight children and live in Titahi Bay. Edmonds’ Labour profile says she has coached and managed children’s rugby, tag, athletics, netball and surf lifesaving, and is a member of the board of trustees for Mana College.

Shanan Halbert, Northcote

It was third time lucky for Labour’s Northcote candidate Shanan Halbert, who lost to former National Health Minister Jonathan Coleman in 2017 and to new National candidate Dan Bidois after Coleman resigned in 2018. The victory was bittersweet because Halbert’s father died on election day, aged 80.

Halbert, who was 35 when re-selected in 2018, grew up in Napier in the same region as Ōmahu Marae, where his father’s tangi is taking place.

His LinkedIn profile shows that he has a BA in Education from Auckland University and a Certificate in Contemporary Performing Arts from AUT.

He has been a relationship manager at AUT, a theatre producer for the Massive Theatre Company, a special projects manager for Northcote’s now-defunct Hato Petera College, worked for Labour MP Peeni Henare and has worked at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa for the past five years, most recently as head of student experience.

He lives with his partner Anthony Jordan and has been a member of the Aids Foundation’s Māori advisory board for the past 10 years.

Ingrid Leary, Taieri

Former journalist Ingrid Leary beat off two challengers to win the Labour selection for the new seat of Taieri, despite only moving to the area last November after working as Auckland-based NZ manager for the British Council.

The new seat takes in most of the old Dunedin South electorate plus rural areas from the Clutha seat.

Leary, 52, took some flak during the campaign because she spent the first lockdown this year on Waiheke Island with her 6-year-old son.

Her journalistic career includes a 2007 Media Peace Award for documentaries on Pacific Island women living with HIV/Aids.

Dr Neru Leavasa, Takanini

Former rugby team doctor Neru Leavasa has run an innovative fitness-based Christian healthcare service, VO2 Healthcare, in Māngere for the past five years.

Leavasa has a medical degree and a postgraduate sports medicine diploma from Auckland University and has been a team doctor for the Manukau Rovers women’s rugby team, the Auckland Colts, the Pacific Barbarians, Ponsonby Rugby, Papatoetoe Wildcats, the Blues and Manu Samoa.

He was also the ringside physician for boxer David Tua.

His website says he founded VO2, a medical term referring to oxygen uptake, after running a school-based fitness challenge at South Auckland intermediate schools in 2009. He also runs a virtual health service, The Waiting Room.

Steph Lewis, Whanganui

Steph Lewis, 32, says she resolved to become a lawyer after her parents bought land near Whanganui intending to build a house and had to spend their savings instead on lawyer’s fees because of roading issues.

She has since worked in Wellington for ACC, the Privacy Commissioner and the Customs Service, but returned to Whanganui to campaign for the seat unsuccessfully in 2017 before finally winning on the Ardern tide. She now lives in the city with her young family.

Anna Lorck, Tukituki

New Tukituki MP Anna Lorck and her husband, Hastings District Councillor Damon Harvey, have run a public relations business in Havelock North since 2003, building up a network of community groups.

“We’re proud to be involved with the likes of the Hawke’s Bay Basketball Academy (developing youth), The Jarrod Cunningham Youth Sport Trust, Sport Hawke’s Bay, Hawke’s Bay Rugby, among many others,” they say on their website.

Lorck served eight years on the board of the Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce and is an elected member of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board. She and Harvey have five daughters.

Dr Tracey McLellan, Banks Peninsula

McLellan has a PhD in psychology, worked in clinical research on traumatic brain injuries, and is now an organiser for the Nurses Organisation. She is also the Labour Party’s senior vice-president.

The mother-of-two grew up in a state house in Southland and has lived in Christchurch since 2002.

Terisa Ngobi, Ōtaki

Terisa Ngobi was born and raised in Levin and says she’s a proud Horowhenua local of Samoan and Scottish descent.

She studied public policy and Pasifika Studies at Victoria University and worked for 15 years in social service roles in housing, education, welfare, mental health and disabilities.

She met her husband Henry, who is from Uganda, while living in Britain. They have three young boys.

Ibrahim Omer, List

Ibrahim Omer becomes New Zealand’s second MP who came here as a refugee, fleeing his home country of Eritrea in 2003 into neighbouring Sudan.

He worked as an interpreter in refugee camps before he was detained on suspicion of being a spy, when the United Nations stepped in and he was offered the chance to come to New Zealand.

He worked as a cleaner at Wellington’s Victoria University where he also studied full time while working.

He has also worked as a union organiser for E tū and chaired the Changemakers Resettlement Forum.

Sarah Pallett, Ilam

The midwifery lecturer at Ara Institute of Technology was previously a community midwife.

She co-founded the Canterbury Women’s Branch of the Labour Party, which she chairs, and is co-chair of the Labour Women’s Council.

Pallett lives in Ilam with her partner, Andy, and has two daughters who are both at university.

Angela Roberts, List

Former Post Primary Teachers Association president Angela Roberts, 51, has taught economics and drama for more than 20 years, most recently at Stratford High School.

She has been involved in the Government’s Just Transition project to ease Taranaki into a new economy after oil and gas wind down.

She lives in Tariki with husband Ian Anglesey, also a teacher, and their two children aged 16 and 11.

Dr Gaurav Sharma, Hamilton West

Dr Gaurav Sharma came to New Zealand from India as a child, attended Auckland Grammar and earned a medical; degree at Auckland University.

The Nawton local GP lives in Frankton and has previously been involved in public health, policy and consulting in New Zealand, Spain, USA, Nepal, Vietnam, Switzerland and Mongolia.

He was a Fulbright Scholar at the George Washington University in Washington DC where he got a Master of Business Administration (MBA). He founded a medical device and software start-up developing remote access healthcare systems.

Sharma is a former board member of the Auckland Refugee Council and advocated for doubling of the refugee quotas for years before it became Labour Party policy.

Tangi Utikere, Palmerston North

Palmerston North deputy mayor Tangi Utikere becomes one of two Palmerston North-based MPs of Cook Islands descent, along with new Green MP Teanau Tuiono.

He is a former history teacher and is a Justice of the Peace, marriage celebrant and chair of a school’s board of trustees.

He was born, raised and still lives in Palmerston North.

Dr Ayesha Verrall, List

Infectious diseases expert Dr Ayesha Verrall became a household name during the Covid response when she pushed the Government on contact tracing and audited the Health Ministry’s systems.

Although her mother is from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, Verrall was born in Invercargill and her work has taken her to Singapore, Indonesia and Peru, and she was elected to the Capital and Coast DHB last year.

She becomes a list MP based in Wellington, and lives with her partner Alice and their daughter.

Vanushi Walters, Upper Harbour

Former Youthlaw general manager Vanushi Walters becomes New Zealand’s first Sri Lankan-born MP.

She came here with her parents when she was 5, studied law at Auckland University, and worked at Youthlaw for six years until 2018. She has also been a board member of Amnesty International and senior manager at the Human Rights Commission.

She and her husband Rhys Walters have three boys: Elliott, Luka and Sacha.

Helen White

The employment lawyer has worked for a variety of unions including EPMU and the Amalgamated Workers Union.

She has volunteered on a number of boards including the AUT workplace research institute and the AUSA advisory board.

The mother-of-three failed to win Auckland Central but has entered Parliament at number 48 on the Labour list.

Arena Williams, Manurewa

Labour’s youngest new MP, former Auckland University Students’ Association president Arena Williams, 24, took over the Manurewa candidacy when sitting MP Louisa Wall opted to move onto the list.

Williams grew up in Papakura and affiliates to Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāi Tahu and Ngāi Tūhoe. She has worked in corporate law firms and as a community organiser.

Nicola Grigg, Selwyn

Former radio journalist Nicola Grigg “jumped the fence” in 2014 to become a press secretary, first for then-Energy Minister Simon Bridges and then for Sir Bill English.

She moved to become a portfolio manager for NZ Trade and Enterprise in Christchurch. and beat off two rivals last year to win the National selection to replace retiring Selwyn MP Amy Adams.

Joseph Mooney, Southland

Queenstown lawyer Joseph Mooney, 41, was a last-minute choice as National candidate for the safe seat of Southland after former MP Hamish Walker resigned after sending private details of people with Covid-19 to media.

Mooney was born in Hawke’s Bay, earned a law degree at Waikato University, and has built up a law practice in Southland and Otago, and is also an army reservist and volunteer firefighter. He lives in Queenstown with his wife Silvia and their three children.

Penny Simmonds, Invercargill

Penny Simmonds gave up her role as chief executive of the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) to stand for National in Invercargill, and will now use Parliament to continue the fight against Labour’s merger of all the country’s polytechnics into one national institute.

She had been at SIT for 30 years, the last 23 as chief executive, leading its zero-fees policy that attracted students from throughout the country.

She has also been chair of Hockey Southland, a board member of the Southland District Health Board and has served on a host of other community organisations.

Simon Watts, North Shore

Accountant Simon Watts worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland in Britain before bringing his family back to New Zealand in 2013 to join the Counties Manukau District Health Board. He later moved to the Waitematā health board and became its deputy chief financial officer.

He has also been a volunteer St John ambulance officer, studied emergency medicine, and now co-ordinates other volunteers.

Chris Baillie, List

Chris Baillie, 58, is a former police officer who is now a special needs teacher at Nayland College in Nelson and also owns a pub, The Honest Lawyer. He says he is not a gun owner but opposed the firearms reforms and “hate speech” laws proposed after last year’s Christchurch mosque attacks.

Ranked fourth on the Act list, he also plays the trumpet in two Nelson jazz bands and once played in the Rodger Fox Big Band.

Mark Cameron, List

Ruawai dairy farmer Mark Cameron, ranked eighth on Act’s list, says he stood for Act because the rural sector has been let down by successive governments.

He grew up in Auckland, attended Auckland Grammar and did an agriculture diploma at Waikato Polytechnic. He worked on a succession of farms for more than 20 years before buying his own farm six years ago.

He and his partner Jodie have three children.

Karen Chhour, List

Upper Harbour candidate Karen Chhour is a self-employed mother of four who has lived on Auckland’s North Shore for 30 years.

Chhour, ranked seventh on the Act list, operates a business consultancy, Kazzer Services Ltd.

Simon Court, List

Act’s fifth-ranked list MP Simon Court is an environmental engineer who stood partly to advocate for people with disabilities such as his son Louis, 13, who has Down syndrome.

He told the Herald in August that he used to work for Auckland Council and asked if Louis could work with some of the maintenance crew, but was refused.

He was educated at Auckland Grammar and Unitec and has worked as an engineer in the public and private sectors in Auckland, Wellington and Fiji. He stood for Act in Te Atatū.

Dr James McDowall, List

Dr James McDowall, Act’s sixth-ranked MP, has a doctorate in marketing and strategic foresight from Waikato University.

McDowall, 32, is digital team lead for the Wise social services group in Hamilton, co-owns Online Immigration Lawyers with his wife, a lawyer, and runs a strategic foresight consultancy on the side.

He and his wife live in Hamilton with their 2-year-old daughter.

Nicole McKee, List

Nicole McKee was already well known as the public voice of the Council of Licenced Firearm Owners when he agreed in June to stand for Act in the Wellington seat of Rongotai and as third on its party list.

McKee, 48, was born in Lower Hutt, moved to Rotorua in her early teens, worked as a secretary in the law firm of former Rotorua MP Paul East and Roger Brewster for four years, then returned to Wellington.

She became pregnant at age 24 but her partner died in a car accident just a week before their daughter was born.

Three years later she met her husband, and they have had three children – her four kids are aged 23, 19, 18 and 16. Her husband first introduced her to target shooting about 20 years ago.

Toni Severin, List

Ninth-ranked list candidate Toni Severin, who stood for Act in Christchurch East, is also a licensed firearm owner and has been involved in the last five Act campaigns.

Severin worked as a laboratory technician for 15 years and now runs a waterblasting business with her husband.

Damien Smith, List

Auckland business adviser Damien Smith, who stood for Act in Botany, ranked tenth on the party list so just scraped into Parliament on the swing to Act.

According to his LinkedIn profile, he has been a director since 2003 of The Markets Group, which provides “strategic advice and structured finance solutions to businesses and family private offices”.

Smith has also worked for ASB and Macquarie Capital, arranged private equity for libertine firms and was a director and investor in ASX-listed Adherium Ltd.

He is originally from Northern Ireland and has a 17-year-old daughter.

Brooke van Velden

Act’s deputy leader Brooke van Velden, 27, has been working for leader David Seymour on his End of Life Choice Act.

She grew up on Auckland’s North Shore, got into politics while studying at university, and stood for Act in 2017 in Auckland Central.

She wrote the party policy on mental health, advocating redirecting the $2 billion now spent through the Ministry of Health and district health boards to a single commission to reduce bureaucracy.

Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, List

Kerekere, from Gisborne, is a lifelong activist, visual artist and academic. She wrote her PhD on the diverse sexuality of pre-colonial Māori.

She is now a consultant and adviser on Treaty of Waitangi relations, with a particular focus on suicide prevention and violence prevention.

Kerekere, who identifies as lesbian, is also heavily involved in LGBT activism. She has run in the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti seat twice, placing third both times.

Ricardo Menendez March, List

A first-generation Mexican immigrant who came to New Zealand in 2006, Menendez March will be our first Latin American MP if he gets into Parliament once the final votes are counted.

His experience of low-paid work as a projectionist at Balmoral’s Capitol Cinema – he was laid off and could not claim a benefit – influenced his shift into welfare advocacy work.

As an advocate for Auckland Action Against Poverty, the 32 year-old has been highly critical of the Labour-led Government’s failure to lift benefits and build enough state houses. He would not pull his punches once in Parliament, saying unapologetic, authentic voices were needed more than ever.

Teanau Tuiono, List

Tuiono, from Palmerston North, is the Greens’ first Pasifika MP.

He is a veteran activist in the areas of indigenous rights, climate change and education for minorities, and has worked as an education consultant, at the United Nations, and for several NGOs.

He ran for mayor in Palmerston North last year and placed second. Tuiono is married with four children.

Rawiri Waititi, Waiariki

Rawiri Waititi, 39, stood for Labour in Waiariki in 2014 but switched to the Māori Party in 2016 after King Tūheitia called for an independent Māori political voice.

He spent his childhood in the rural East Coast, immersed in the reo and tikanga, attending kohanga reo, before moving to Auckland as a teenager for school.

He trained and worked as a teacher, and has also been a lecturer at Te Wānanga o Raukawa, where he completed a master’s degree in mātauranga Māori.

He’s worked in a range of Māori organisations, sat on various boards and councils, and most recently has been working with his iwi Te Whānau-ā-Apanui.

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