Chloe Swarbrick, the openly bisexual Auckland Central MP, is the front-runner to become the Green Party’s new co-leader. Craig Young examines what the youngest co-leader of the Greens could mean for the party’s success.
At the last general election, the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand became the third largest party in New Zealand politics. There have been some mishaps since then, but finally, when the next centre-left government is formed, it should be able to influence public policy.
The Greens are a socially liberal political party and have been represented in Parliament since the second MMP election in 1996, in their own right. Apart from the Labour Party, they are the only New Zealand political party that currently has openly LGBTQI+ Members of Parliament. They have consistently supported LGBTQI+ legislative reforms and socially liberal legislation, such as civil unions, prostitution law reform, marriage equality, trans official document reform, conversion therapy bans and have always supported transgender rights.
Indeed, their co-leader, Marama Davidson, was injured when a motorcyclist rode at her during a counter-protest against far-right UK anti-trans agitator Kellie-Jean Keen-Minshull (aka “Posie Parker”) during her abortive rally in Auckland. Former Green MP Doctor Elizabeth Kerekere had a trans-inclusive anti-discrimination private members bill in the parliamentary ballot box and is an out takatapui wahine.
This is not to say that the party hasn’t had problems. Metiria Turei’s confession of benefit fraud cost her the co-leadership and led to her replacement. Sue Bradford, Nandor Tanczos and Kevin Hague, all resigned. Elizabeth Kerekere was accused of “bullying” by some party members and exited. Then Golriz Ghahraman has left Parliament due to alleged shoplifting.
Electoral flux has led to the exit of others, given that the party’s representation was list-only until 2020 when Chloe Swarbrick won the Auckland Central seat. In 2023, she was joined by two Wellington Green constituency MPs, Tamatha Paul (Wellington Central) and Julie-Anne Genter (Rongotai). Apart from those three constituency MPs, the party has twelve List MPs, so it now has fifteen MPs in all.
Of these, Chloe Swarbrick and Ricardo Menendez-March are out as LGBTQI+. Swarbrick stated in 2019 that she had ‘never been in the closet’ and regarded herself as queer. She is currently engaged to her long-term partner Nadine Walker.
The party’s trans-inclusive stance has come in for criticism at some points from anti-transgender ‘gender-critical’ TERFs. Some of the aforementioned have left the Green Party over trans inclusiveness and have repeatedly denounced the party for its policies, but many mainstream LGBTQI+ voters have embraced the Greens as reliable allies, committed to LGBTQI+ inclusive legislative reform.
But with co-leader James Shaw’s resignation, where does it go from here?
The party’s co-leadership process usually produced male and female co-leaders, although this may be about to change. Today, Chloe Swarbrick announced she intended to seek the co-leader position. Swarbrick has been involved with a range of policies throughout her parliamentary career, such as drug laws, mental health, climate change, tertiary education issues, fossil fuel divestment, alcohol advertising, housing and current Middle Eastern conflict.
What would a Chloe Swarbrick co-led Green Party look like? It would certainly maintain core Green policies like climate change and fossil fuel diminishment. It would also continue to focus on human rights, including transgender rights. If elected, she would be the first LGBTQIA+ leader of a current parliamentary party (as opposed to the first LGBTQIA+ political party leader per se – Duncan Light of United Future filled that role).
Swarbrick has been open about suffering from depression and taking anti-depressive medication, which could see some of the most enlightened views on mental health coming from a party leader. The bottom line as her Auckland Central reelection has shown is that Swarbrick is popular with mainstream voters, as well as those keen to see young progressive voices in parliament. She would be the youngest co-leader in the party’s history, and perhaps their greatest hope for continuing to grow Green support at the next election.
Or as Swarbrick herself puts it, ‘the biggest Green movement you have ever seen.’