Nicole McKee still gets nervous addressing Parliament in the debating chamber.
“When I first got here and I stood up to deliver a debate, I was shaking so hard, and my heart rate had gone up to 170 beats per minute… and I thought yeah I can’t sustain this.”
But two-and-a-half years later she feels like she now fits in, and this weekend she’ll front an even bigger – albeit more favourable – crowd than Parliament at the Act Party’s ‘Real Change’ conference.
As the party’s justice spokesperson, expect McKee’s speech to the 600-plus crowd to focus heavily on gangs and youth offending with a healthy dose of tough on crime.
She’s unapologetic about that, however, quick to add it’s not the only trick up Act’s policy sleeve when it comes to youth offending and gangs.
“It’s really important that everybody realises that we don’t just come at it with a stick.
“If we bring up a policy where we say we want to bring back charter schools, as an example, to give these kids this opportunity, it just gets lost, it doesn’t get reported on. But the moment we say we’ve got recidivist youth offenders [and] we want to put ankle bracelets on them if they do a serious criminal offence, then, we have the media.
“That is our policy, yes, report on that. But it would be nice if there was a bit of balance there … for example we want to take mental health and addiction away from Te Whatu Ora and give it its own unique status because that’s going to help our hospitals and it’s going to help our frontline police.
“We want to show kids that there are boundaries, but we also want to give them opportunities and I think a lot of that has been lost.”
She said policy outside of the justice kete was also part of addressing crime.
“We’ve actually got to look at how we address the underlying issues that are pushing people into crime in the first place.
“So that comes down to cost of living, which then flows into how the economy is going. Because if we don’t have a strong economy, we can’t look to progress policies on crime or health or education.”
McKee said the party’s tour and title of its annual conference “real change” was deadly serious, despite needing to have National on board or agree to actual changes should they form the next government
“This isn’t just about Nicole McKee and firearms, this is about the Act Party being able to stand up for people’s personal rights and being able to make sure that we live in a safe and secure country.” – Nicole McKee.
“I don’t think it’s naive… We’ve gone from one MP to 10. The polls have us sitting on 15, maybe 16 MPs coming in, that would make up a quarter of the government.
“That means we will be able to say to the public, it’s not a choice between red Chris and blue Chris – it’s actually about being able to have Act in there making a stronger brew, so that we can hold National to account.”
She admits she’s in a “totally different place” than in 2020.
Last election she rode a wave of support into Parliament following advocacy for firearms owners post March 15.
Quickly accelerated into the limelight as the spokesperson for the Council of Licensed Firearm Owners, she picked up number three on the party list as a first-term MP.
And while she says she has not forgotten the community that helped propel her party into office, she is now focused on more than guns.
“At the beginning, I thought it was my main fight. Now it’s one of my fights… This isn’t just about Nicole McKee and firearms, this is about the Act Party being able to stand up for people’s personal rights and being able to make sure that we live in a safe and secure country.”
She won’t use the word “worried” to describe a potential demotion on that list this year – heightened with their arrival of two well-known operators this election – ex-Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard and former National MP Parmjeet Parmar.
“Well, there’s only one place for me to go and that’s down, right, I either stay here, or I go down.
“But if I spend my time worrying about that, then I’m not actually thinking about what I can do to change the country, I’ve actually got to trust that what I’ve been producing over the last couple of years, what I’ve achieved for the party over the last couple of years, and what I can do in the future, is going to help me retain my position and if it doesn’t, then I’m sure there will be good reason for it.”