Election 2023: James Shaw won't stand in Wellington Central, supports Councillor Tamatha Paul for Greens candidacy

Shaw was considered a frontrunner - now he's out.
Shaw was considered a frontrunner - now he's out. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Greens co-leader James Shaw won't stand in the Wellington Central electorate at this year's election and has swung his support behind a sitting councillor to be the party's candidate.

That's despite Shaw just last week saying he would put himself forward for selection.

With incumbent MP Grant Robertson deciding to only stand on the Labour list at the 2023 election, Shaw was considered in with a shot at taking the seat.

Shaw came third in the electorate at the 2020 general election, just pipped for second by National's Nicola Willis, who is standing in Ohariu this year. Wellington Central is also about as green as electorates come, with the Greens scoring more party votes here than in any other seat three years ago.

But in a statement on Thursday evening, Shaw, the current Climate Change Minister as well as party co-leader, said Wellington Central needs an MP "who can focus one hundred percent on their needs".

He said that involves working with the new Mayor and with the Government to "deliver more homes, better pipes, and more reliable public transport".

"I would dearly love to have had the opportunity to represent the people of Wellington Central as their Member of Parliament. But sometimes you just need to check your ego and make way for a new generation of political leadership."

He said Robertson's decision meant it will be an "open race".

"We showed in 2020 we could win electorates with the massive grassroots mobilisation Auckland Central. In 2023 we can win Wellington Central too."

Shaw said he isn't standing aside "because I think we can't win it, but because I think we can".

The co-leader said he'd be nominating current Wellington City Councillor Tamatha Paul to be the party's candidate in the electorate. 

"While our local party branch hasn't yet confirmed Tamatha's selection, I firmly believe Tamatha has what it takes to run a huge, energised campaign. Her experience on the City Council means she is in touch with our communities and knows how to get things done."

Paul was elected to the council in 2019 and is one of three Pukehīnau/Lambton Ward representatives. She was previously the first wahine Māori President of the Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association.

Tamatha Paul.
Tamatha Paul. Photo credit: The Hui.

She said that, ahead of last year's local elections and Tory Whanau becoming Wellington Mayor, she was "expecting the worst".

"I prepared for a term of resisting regressive politics that would conspire to unravel all of our hard work. But our City chose progress. We elected our first wahine Māori Mayor, alongside an incredible team of councillors. I've never been prouder of our community."

When Shaw contacted her about considering standing, she said, "it was something else I was not expecting". 

"I don't want to be an MP for the sake of being an MP. I want to amplify and advocate and represent our City to the fullest. 

"When I look around, I can see the real-life impacts that we have made together. We're leading in the climate space and our action is transforming the streets. We're making the City safer. 

"We've unleashed the potential for new housing, many of our native species are flourishing and we're about to dial up the vibrancy of the City enormously."

"Why wouldn't we take the opportunity to be the Greenest Capital in the world? The opportunity is pretty extraordinary and I'm a big believer in perfect timing."

She called Robertson a "well-known, deeply loved and respected figure in our community".

"I mihi to him for his years of service as our local representative."

Paul expects the official selection from the Te Aro Greens branch on February 16 to be "a thorough kōrero about a wide range of issues".

Shaw said he would be campaigning for the party vote across the country while also continuing with his "very full and very urgent work programme" as Climate Change Minister. 

"I am working to ensure that this election gives me and the Greens a stronger hand to lead the next Government's programme of climate action, protecting nature, and ending inequality."

Shaw's decision on Thursday follows a statement he released last week, in which he praised Robertson for his service to the electorate and said he intended to put himself forward for selection.

"Our local branch has not yet held its candidate selection meeting nor made final plans about our campaign," he said at the time. 

"Those decisions will be made over the coming weeks, and for now I will just say that I look forward to continuing to work alongside Grant as Minister of Finance in a Labour-Green government for at least the next four years."

The Greens' Chlöe Swarbrick currently holds the Auckland Central electorate, while Mayor Whanau previously worked for the party.

Shaw was briefly dropped as co-leader last year after more than 25 percent of delegates at an annual meeting voted to reopen nominations. The Greens have to re-elect their co-leaders every year. However, he was later re-elected.