Independent MP Jami-Lee Ross is not contesting the Botany seat in the General Election in October.
The former National front bencher who fell out spectacularly with his party and the former National Party leader Simon Bridges and is also facing Serious Fraud Office charges, told the Times he will go on Advance NZ’s party list. He is also confident Advance NZ co-leader Billy Te Kahika will win the Maori seat which would ensure they get into parliament.
Advance NZ has merged with several smaller parties which Ross likened to the successful approach adopted by Jim Anderton.
“We’re modelling it off the Alliance Party of the 1990s …several smaller parties came together as one bigger party so that they had more of an opportunity to campaign and reach parliament and they did ultimately reach parliament so that’s the model that we’re working on,” Ross said.
“It became pretty apparent that I had to make a decision – do I run a nationwide campaign? I’m effectively doing that, I’m running a campaign, I’m assisting in training and selecting and recruiting candidates.
“I’m working very closely with Billy Te Kahika (leader of the NZ Public Party, Advance NZ co-leader with Ross and Te Tai Tokerau candidate) who is a political novice but is making big inroads into things and I wouldn’t be able to do that and also give the required time necessary to run for election properly here in Botany.”
Ross said feedback he was getting suggested it would be three-way race for the Botany seat “because National’s considerably lower, Labour’s considerably higher, I’ve got a profile in Botany too so it wasn’t a foregone conclusion for anyone”.
“I do reject the view that some in the media and some political parties think that parties have safe seats and they never change. I think this would have been one of the most marginal seats in the country and Naisi Chen (standing for Labour in Botany), she’s getting up there as well. She’s working hard. She’s a competitive individual, definitely in southern parts of Botany she’s working hard,” Ross said.
“I had to make a call as to whether I could dedicate the time required to run for election in Botany properly. My strength of campaigning is also door-knocking face-to-face but you can’t do that during Covid so that’s been an interruption.
“But in terms of contribution towards the country and the political party, I came to the view that my skills in terms of politics and campaigning were best suited to getting a new vehicle into parliament and working hard to ensure that a new political party (could get) a foothold and building off the profile and building off the following that the NZ Public Party and Advance NZ are starting to see now.”
Ross claims Advance NZ has established a significant digital footprint.
“I know that many in the media, certainly down in parliament, write us off but on the ground, I’ve never seen a political party grow as fast as it has,” he said.
“I’ve never seen the reach on social media like we’ve got in the last month. We reached 2 million people. In the last week we reached 1m people. Of course that’s not going to turn into votes entirely but that suggests to you the public are opening their eyes up to something new and something different.”
Ross also reckons Te Kahika could roll Kelvin Davis, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, out of the Te Tai Tokerau seat in October.
The thresholds for entry to parliament are to win one seat or win five per cent of the vote.
“He’s (Te Kahika) has a very good shot at winning that seat, taking it off Kelvin Davis who hasn’t really delivered anything for that area.”
Ross entered politics in 2004 before entering parliament 10 years ago.
“It is sad though …I’ve been here 16 years now on the city council and then in parliament. It’s emotional as well. It’s like a 16-year-old child of yours you’re saying goodbye to. Not really goodbye because I still live here, I’m still part of the community, the kids go to school here, (wife) Lucy is still on the local (school) Board of Trustees,” he said.
“In terms of me and Botany, I still love this area. I have grown up as an adult in this area. I’ve grown up politically in this area and I’m really proud of the service that I’ve given to the community over 16 years. I know that the last two were different to how I first started off in parliament.
“Ultimately, I had a significant falling out with the leader of the National Party and that was difficult for many people. He’s (Simon Bridges) no longer the leader of the National Party. I’m now saying that I’m going only on the party list so in many respects I think a lot of people …should have asked ourselves, was it in the best interests of anyone including the National party but that’s history now.
“I’m still of the view we need to have serious donation reform in the country.
“In the past two years I’ve worked harder as an MP than I did in the years prior to that. I hope you as the local paper would have seen that I was far more active locally than I ever have been before.”
He said he’d contributed much to the Botany electorate.
“I don’t leave feeling as though I’m leaving having done nothing. I walked away feeling as though there’s loads of achievements that I’ve contributed towards locally. Remember, half of Botany wasn’t there.
“There’s parks and and walkways and traffic and roading improvements I’ve been party to. There’s community facilities I see when I go around the community. There’s the works at Ormiston that I was involved in as a local councillor and as a Member of Parliament.
“This isn’t goodbye from me entirely. I’m pursuing a different route. It’s not a retirement.”
Advance NZ – and its alliance comprising NZ Public Party, the Direct Democracy Party, the NZ People’s Party and a party called Reset New Zealand – will deliver an offering Kiwis want, said Ross.
“This movement and this party is growing so fast that I wouldn’t be surprised if we got to 5 per cent in any case. There’s a gap in the market where New Zealanders are looking for an alternative strategy to Covid-19.
“All the parties in parliament that were elected at the last election are talking the same talk, just who’s going to lockdown the borders more. The only strategy the country has is rolling lockdowns where they lockdown the country if there’s community transmission of Covid-19 whereas the case fatality rate for the virus is seen to be not too dissimilar to seasonal flu.
“The virus isn’t killing anywhere near as many people as we were told it would right at the start. That’s the case around the world. As a country we need to learn to live with the virus. No other political party is offering a more risk-based balanced approach and so I think there’s New Zealanders opening their eyes up to that idea and that strategy so that’s where the party offers a point of difference.
“I’m still the MP of Botany through until election day and then it’s my intention to be a list MP for the Advance NZ Party.”
Ross said his skill set as a politician in terms of moving a new party forward was in running the campaign for the party and managing the processes.
“I had to make a call…what’s in the best interests of the policies and strategies we’re pursuing. Is it continuing to stand for election or putting all of my effort into running in one seat or running a campaign nationwide.”
As to the Botany seat, Ross said it’s now just a traditional Labour v National race featuring Chen and former Air NZ CEO Christopher Luxon. He wouldn’t be drawn on how Luxon would fare on election day.
“The seat under normal circumstance would be National-held but Naisi Chen, she’s going to be a list MP. She’s high up their party list. There’s a significant Chinese community. She has good connections. Don’t write her off as a Member of Parliament and what she’ll be able to deliver.”
Ross was also reticent to speak too much of his appearances in the High Court at Auckland where he faces Serious Fraud Office charges relating to party donations. “That’s a distraction but I maintain my innocence. I maintain the issues to do with donations…were not ones that I was party to,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate. I blew the whistle on donation issues with regards to the National Party and I stand by the issues that I raised. There is significant Chinese Communist Party-linked money that does flow into both Labour and National. It needs to be cleaned up. It needs to stop.”
The Electoral Act allows for what’s called component parties which make up his alliance.
“The trouble with small parties outside of parliament is that they typically find it difficult to get any traction with voters or the media,” he said.
“In the 1990s the Alliance Party formed a model where I think it was five parties came together. The model is similar so you’ve got a range of parties all working together.
“We’re going to go to the election with 60 candidates, 7000 members which I’d argue is going to be bigger than other parties except maybe Labour and National.
“We’ve got tens of thousands of people who we’re reaching on social media who are volunteering as well and Billy Te Kahika is a unique phenomenon in politics and inspiring so many people. Sure, his opponents are writing him off calling him all sorts of names but what you’re seeing is someone who’s tapping into dissatisfaction with a large range of voters.”
As to his party’s association with the weekend’s protest which reportedly attracted more than 1000 people in Auckland city, Ross said Advance NZ was one of the organisers of what was called a National Rally for Freedom
“We do believe genuinely that rights and freedoms have been eroded through decision that the government’s made in relation to Covid-19,” Ross said.
“Standing up for your freedoms as a people, standing up for liberties is something we should all take very seriously. I know we were all sold this story that there was going to be this deadly virus that was going to kill tens of thousands of New Zealanders. That hasn’t happened and won’t happen because we know a lot more about the virus now but in doing so the government has eroded free speech, they’ve eroded free movement, they’ve eroded many of our institutions.
“There’s businesses that are going to be falling over left, right and centre when they turn the wage subsidy off. You’re going to see tens of thousands of people losing their jobs once these businesses fall over. That’s going to be painful for the country. The lockdowns-at-any-cost strategy, which is what both Labour and National are pursuing, is unsustainable.
“Organisations like the World Health Organization are now telling us we need to learn to live with the virus. It’s time to be heard on a new strategy.”