The Wellington Central electorate is set to be a wide-open race, with Greens co-leader James Shaw joining Labour incumbent Grant Robertson in opting against a run for the seat later this year

Green Party co-leader James Shaw will not run for the Wellington Central seat at this year’s election, instead nominating local city councillor and activist Tamatha Paul as the party’s candidate.

Shaw had contested the electorate for the Greens since the 2011 election, running a close third to National’s Nicola Willis in 2020 and helping drive the Greens’ share of the party vote in Wellington Central over 30 percent.

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With incumbent Labour Party MP Grant Robertson deciding to step down from the seat at the October 14 election in favour of a list-only spot, some had speculated about whether Shaw could win the electorate, whether through a potential deal with Labour or on his own merits.

Instead, Shaw announced on Thursday evening he would not put his name forward, citing the need to focus on his roles as Greens co-leader and Climate Change Minister.

“To borrow a recent phrase, I am not standing aside because I think we can’t win it, but because I think we can,” Shaw said, citing Robertson’s decision to stand aside and Wellington Central’s decades-long status as the Greens’ highest-polling electorate.

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

Shaw said his focus would be growing the Greens’ vote across Aotearoa, as well as his “very full and very urgent work programme” in the climate change portfolio.

“The people of Wellington Central need a Member of Parliament who can focus one hundred percent on their needs and who can work with both 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 … but sometimes you just need to check your ego and make way for a new generation of political leadership.”

Tamatha Paul is set to become the Green Party’s candidate for Wellington Central. Photo: Supplied.

Representing that new generation is Paul, who was elected to the Wellington City Council’s Pukehīnau/Lambton Ward as an independent in 2019 before joining the Greens ahead of the 2022 local elections.

In 2020, Paul told Stuff she was considering a run for the Wellington mayoralty, although she ultimately opted against it; former Green Party chief of staff Tory Whanau instead ran as a Green-backed independent, defeating incumbent mayor Andy Foster.

In a statement, Paul said she wanted to “amplify and advocate and represent our city to the fullest”, building on the election of Whanau and the progress that had already been made by the city council.

“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 also paid tribute to Robertson, describing him as “a well-known, deeply-loved and respected figure in our community”.

A Green Party spokesman said Paul would not seek a position on the Green Party’s list, meaning she would need to win the Wellington Central seat to secure a place in Parliament.

She would also resign as a councillor if successful on October 14, the spokesman said.

While the party’s Wellington Central branch still has to select a candidate, the endorsement of Shaw means Paul is the overwhelming favourite to contest the electorate.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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