Tim Costley is not your typical politico. Photo: Supplied

Some of the safest parliamentary seats in the country are about to be taken over by newbies. They’re sure things, anointed by their parties, waiting for the public’s stamp of approval. In the second of an occasional series, Marc Daalder speaks to Tim Costley, a former Air Force pilot set to become National’s next top gun in Ōtaki.

Tim Costley wants to make big decisions. That’s why he left the Air Force after 19 years and decided to run for Parliament in Ōtaki: because he thinks he can make a difference there.

“One day, Cabinet? Sure. I’d love to be not just part of a strong National team but having a seat at the Cabinet table as well,” he says. He’s still a while away from that Cabinet seat, however – first, he has to win Ōtaki after taking the reins from Nathan Guy, who flipped the seat in 2008 after 12 years of Labour dominance.

Then, of course, National has to get in government, but that’s another story.

Costley is not your typical politico. Instead of climbing the local government ladder or hopping over from private enterprise, he’s spent much of his adult life overseas, flying peacekeeper missions in the Solomon Islands and East Timor, undertaking a tour of duty as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, and helping organise and safeguard elections in Papua New Guinea.

Oh, and he’s the star of a 12-year-old viral YouTube video, in which he plays the satirical role of a misogynistic and self-obsessed jet pilot.

“That was when we were in East Timor and it was just made for 30 people over there before social media existed, as far as we knew. We never expected it was going to become as popular as it did or get the attention,” he said.

“The Air Force ended up using it for PR and recruiting and it sort of has this whole life of its own, which has been a bit bizarre.

“It was just a bit of fun to occupy the time. Just trying to take the piss out of myself and that whole perception of of the sort of maverick, Iceman-type Top Gun pilot. Clearly, that’s not who I am, not who we are, not who the Air Force is,” he said.

If that’s the case, then who is Tim Costley?

He was born and raised in Palmerston North and has spent the time since between Wellington and Ohakea Air Base, where he trains pilots when not overseas. This is the first time he’s ever been able to choose where to live and he and his wife Emma – along with their three school-aged daughters – chose Ōtaki.

“We’ve always loved that part of New Zealand. Emma’s got family in Levin, we’ve got quite a lot of friends from inside and outside the military in the Kāpiti region and I’ve spent probably the last 20 summers in Kāpiti,” he said.

“I think what I really love about it is it’s a real snapshot of New Zealand. It’s got agriculture and horticulture, it’s got small business, it’s got a little bit of everything.”

That’s a lot for a first-time MP to handle, let alone a first-time candidate, isn’t it? Not for Costley, who says he has the experience needed to get just about anything done.

“It’s more than flying helicopters, I’ve been sitting in the headquarters of disaster relief operations and running a lot of those. You end up having to work as a teacher, a budget manager, a counsellor, an advocate, a mentor, in a real broad range of roles.

“And things you’ve never expected. Like Papua New Guinea, I got sent over there as the only Kiwi, along with a couple of Australians, to plan our support for the elections in 2012. I’ve never planned or run an election before, so you’ve just got to really quickly understand the challenge and the problem and be able to achieve some stuff,” he said.

There’s a lot that he wants to achieve once he gets to Parliament. On the top of his list is the Horowhenua Expressway, which he wants to return to a four-lane highway.

“It’s certainly one of the key issues that everyone in the community is talking about. That and healthcare for an ageing population. The Ōtaki electorate has the highest number of over-65s of any electorate in the country,” he said.

While the campaign is still months away, Costley has already begun his politicking as he takes a petition for the expressway door to door, meeting people and gathering signatures. It’s just the start of a major effort for Costley, who wants to not only keep the Ōtaki seat blue but also continue to bring in the 20,000 party votes that the electorate has delivered to National over the past two contests.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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