First-term MPs: Simeon Brown on his youth, synthetic drug law, and door-knocking

With the 52nd Parliament wrapped up after nearly three years, Newshub spoke to four MPs who have just finished their first term about their experience as a politician. The interviews will be released throughout the week.

In 2017, at the age of 25, Simeon Brown was selected to stand for National in the safe-blue, Auckland seat of Pakuranga. He would go on to win it at the election.

A former commercial banker who completed a Law and Commerce conjoint degree at the University of Auckland, Brown already had experience in public service prior to entering Parliament, having sat on the Manurewa Local Board.

Last year, he and his wife Rebcca welcomed their daughter Anna. 

Brown is standing again for the National Party at the 2020 election in the seat of Pakuranga.

Some responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What motivated you to become an MP and why for National?

I was motivated to go into politics because I believe in the National Party values of hard work, personal responsibility and enterprise. Those values were instilled in me as a youngster and I believe it's important to stand up for those values and fight for them. So, going to Parliament and joining the National Party was a no-brainer. 

When you entered Parliament, was there adequate support or did you feel thrown in the deep end?

A bit of both really. At the time I was paired up with another Member of Parliament, Simon O'Connor. He was my mentor, so that gave me an opportunity to have someone as a go-to to ask all the questions about how the place worked. But at the same time, dropped in the deep end to a certain extent, you go down there, you have to learn how to speak in the House really quickly. I was advised to take every opportunity to speak, build your confidence, build your understanding of the systems. At the same time, learning all the work you do in the community. Opening an office in Pakuranga, being able to advertise, be available, helping constituents learning how to get Government departments to work with them and understand how they work and what as a local MP you can do to advocate for constituents.

I was advised to take every opportunity to speak, build your confidence, build your understanding of the systems.

What was the most rewarding moment of the term or your biggest achievement? 

One of the biggest successes has been being able to progress legislation around synthetic drugs. Early on, I took a Bill to Parliament to amend the law around the sale and supply of synthetic substances. They were killing 20-50 people per year. The law at the time said people who supplied these drugs would only get a maximum sentence in jail of up to two years. I took a Bill to Parliament to increase that. My Bill didn't actually pass, but the Government picked the issue up and now it's considered a Class A drug.

What was the biggest challenge?

Being a relatively young member of Parliament, you've got your energy and enthusiasm, but also I think some people don't necessarily always take you seriously. I think being able to show that I am there to do the work, work hard and demonstrate that I take my job very seriously and overcoming that by being a hard worker, someone who stands up for what I believe but prepared to be part of the team and be a team player at the same time. Just coming at it with a level of humility has been a good way to overcome that. But it's not really a challenge, I think it's a huge opportunity also to be a younger voice in Parliament to be able to represent the voice and views of younger people who are aspirational for their futures, who want to have a great life here in New Zealand. 

Simeon Brown.
Simeon Brown. Photo credit: Newshub.

What did you learn about yourself?

I think being able to come into Parliament at a young age, you're able to adapt a lot quicker to that. But I think learning your strengths and weaknesses in terms of time management and how you manage relationships. When you look back three years ago when I first joined, I'm a very different person now, I think far more confident and able to understand what I need to do and how to achieve things, particularly when it comes to supporting constituents.

How important is it to have a group of MPs for support?

It's critically important. The class of 2017 is a really tight-knit group. We have really supported each other along the way. There is a really good culture within the National Party. The different year groups work really closely together, we support each other, we help each other, we give each other advice, we just bounce ideas off each other.

Were you able to build relationships with MPs across the aisle?

Yeah, a lot of what the public see is what happens in Parliament. It's the theatre of Parliament and you're often attacking the other side or you're using your speeches to point out their weaknesses and your strengths. But behind the scenes, a lot of cross-party work happens, particularly at select committees. We're able to work with a number of other MPs on different issues throughout the term. For example, with the synthetic drugs issue, to work closely with the New Zealand First Party early on, who supported in its early stages.

Behind the scenes, a lot of cross-party work happens, particularly at select committees.

The culture of Parliament in terms of bullying has been in the spotlight recently. Have you seen any of that and how have you dealt with it?

I'm responsible for my staff and I want to be known as a good employer, someone who manages my staff well. I learnt from when I was working and I was an employee and I have worked with a range of different people and you'll learn from that and you take those learnings into Parliament. But also just talking to people that have been there a lot longer, getting their experience.

Overall, how different was your experience in Parliament to what you expected going in?

Most of what I have had is what I expected. Parliament is a really challenging place but also a huge place of opportunities.  You work really long hours, and I knew about that. You have to sometimes speak in the House on Bills that you don't know a lot about so you really learn to be able to pick up issues really quickly. 

Bill English had his walk-run, some MPs go cycling, did you have any exercise routines during your term?

I do door-knocking. I have been trying to door-knock throughout the Parliamentary term. I haven't really got into a good exercise routine, but I just say door-knocking is my go-to or delivering flyers or whatever it is. Door-knocking is a great way not only to get out and about, but also hear what people have to say.

What's your favourite food at Copperfield's Cafe at Parliament?

Unfortunately, it's not a very good recommendation, but my go-to would be either the ham and cheese toasted sandwich or the sausage roll. I know it sounds terrible, but it's quick and easy. It's terrible but it's satisfying.

Who from the other side of politics would you like to take out for lunch?

I would be really keen to take out Andrew Little. He's progressed a lot of really interesting legislation, not a lot I have agreed with. I don't think I agree with him on much. But I think it is important sometimes to understand where other people come from. 

What would be your advice for any new MPs?

Take every opportunity. There is only one way to learn and that is to take opportunities and do them. Whether it's speaking in the house or working at select committees or engaging with your caucus colleagues, really make the most of every opportunity. But also stay grounded in your community, in your electorate. They are the other people who ultimately put you there, and so you've just got to continually everyday wake up and remember they are the ones who elected you. You are there to serve.