Casey Costello has some political powerhouses backing her as she heads to Parliament.
Former National and Act party leader Don Brash, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and National Party pollster and co-founder of the Taxpayers’ Union, David Farrar, can’t speak highly enough of the new MP.
Costello finds all that very humbling and tells Newsroom, “I probably owe them a few coffees.”
It was her work with the police force, Hobson’s Pledge, and the Taxpayers’ Union that caught the attention of New Zealand First, along with a long-standing relationship her family has with Peters.
But it was the Act Party where she first dipped her toes in the political waters, running as a candidate in 2011 in Mangere.
That came about because her brother was heavily involved in the party – Brash was leader at the time – and they were looking for candidates to fill as many electorates as possible, so Costello joined the party and got added.
But that was when her relationship with Act started and finished, and after winning about 80 votes at the time, she recalls, she quit the party and only found herself back working with Brash when she helped set up Hobson’s Pledge in 2016.
Costello has plenty of connections with former and current MPs.
She knew Clayton Mitchell, a former New Zealand First MP, through her work as a trustee on the Migrant Exploitation Relief Foundation and she was vice president for the police union when Labour MP Greg O’Connor was president.
Previously with the police force for 14 years until 2001, Costello says law and order issues drive her but mostly she’s tired of so much talk about the various governance structures and politicians having “lost sight of delivery”.
“There are a lot of vulnerable people in desperate need, and everything is just focused on someone’s ancestry.”
She says she’s frustrated with the conversations and debate about which ethnicity people are and a move away from providing based on actual need.
Technically Parliament isn’t new to Costello – she headed up Parliamentary security operations for three years in the early 2000s.
At the time she recalls enjoying watching the process of politics and the debating chamber.
It was an advantage when she arrived on October 16 for her MP induction and already knew the lay of the land and where everything in the building was.
“It’s a strange world here, and when I worked here previously, I saw people get swallowed up by the grandeur of the place.”
She wants to learn from that, telling Newsroom, “I’ve got no expectations, I’ve got no letters after my name”.
‘She understands clearly what it is to be a New Zealander’
While Costello fights to win the Port Waikato by-election on November 25, her leader, Winston Peters, is battling to get the caucus and party the best deal in government with National and Act.
She’s realistic about her chances of beating the incumbent, National MP Andrew Bayly, but if nothing else she plans to “make sure for the next three years he knows he’s on notice” given she plans to put up a tough fight for the seat.
“Even if I don’t beat him, at least we’ll have a victory in that we’re going to have someone that will have to work harder to serve the electorate,” Costello says.
Peters is a firm believer in Costello – “she understands clearly what it is to be a New Zealander”, he tells Newsroom.
“Where, whatever one’s DNA might be, the most important thing is understanding citizenship and nationhood.
“This means that for all of us here legally, we have equal rights and obligations, where those privileges arise from our constitution, the rule of law, and uncompromised fundamental democratic principles,” Peters says.
Costello brings an unwavering commitment to these principles.
“She brings to Parliament a record of having worked for these beliefs for most of her adult life, with the grit and commitment in an often too compromised environment to stand for these birth right ideals.”
‘Casey has excited a lot of people’
National Party pollster and Taxpayers’ Union co-founder and former board member David Farrar first knew of Costello in her role at Hobson’s Pledge, where she played more of a background role to the more notable Don Brash.
It was Jordan Williams, Farrar’s co-founder and executive director, who recommended Costello join the Taxpayers’ Union board, and at first Farrar says he wasn’t sure how she would fit.
“She doesn’t say a lot and I wasn’t quite sure what to make, but then there was a nine-month period where we lost our chair, she was acting chair, we had some tough HR issues, and she was so good.
“She comes from a principled position; her police investigation background came through strongly … I grew to really appreciate her and thought she was a good operator.”
Farrar says in the time she was involved with Hobson’s Pledge (she left both that and the Taxpayers’ Union when she announced her candidacy) the support base grew from 4000 to just under 150,000 members.
“She was a very key part of that and the big thing I see about Casey is, if you’re a New Zealand First voter, Winston and Shane are great at saying things people like, but bluntly they’re pretty useless at delivering.
“I’m not sure if they’re lazy but they prefer to do the talk. Casey has excited a lot of people; this is why they’ve got her as number three on the list.
“You’ve got 140,000 people who have subscribed to her organisation because they think she will actually deliver,” Farrar says.
“I wasn’t surprised when she was number three on the list. I’d never vote New Zealand First, but I thought if they’re going to be there, I’d like someone like Casey to be there because I think she’ll try and change things.”
Farrar says her Hobson’s Pledge work is her major driver, and she has a “sincere belief that the path we’re going down is the wrong path”.
New Zealand First and the Taxpayers’ Union aren’t typically aligned (the TU set up annual awards called the ‘Jonesie Waste Awards’ as a way of mocking NZ First MP Shane Jones and his party’s inability, in its view, to be fiscally conservative).
“Generally, yes the relationship between NZ First and TU is strained at times,” Farrar says.
He puts that down to the party being some of the biggest proponents of “corporate welfare”.
But Farrar says Costello’s on the centre-right of politics and though there were things she wouldn’t agree with in terms of the Taxpayers’ Union, it would be the same in politics.
“Part of politics is you agree to disagree. Did Casey agree with 100 percent of what the TU says? I’m sure she didn’t.
“Does Casey agree with 100 percent of NZ First? I expect not. But I think her driving force is on the Treaty issue.”
“She speaks the least in a room but whatever she says is always the wisest.” – Taxpayers’ Union co-founder Jordan Williams
Asked about the glaring differences between the Taxpayers’ Union and New Zealand First, Costello says she took on the various governance roles she’s performed because she wanted to use her ability to form relationships and connect with communities.
“I mean the reason I was asked to join the union board was really the same reason I was asked to be involved in Hobson’s Pledge, because I just had a really broad level of understanding of what’s going on in communities, and society.
“I’m not a corporate, and that’s what the Taxpayer’s Union was trying to achieve, it’s not all about big corporates, it’s about balance.
“I have practical experience and take a practical approach.”
She says being on the board was as much about raising money, connecting with communities, and managing staff, as it was the issues of the organisation.
“I’m not a farmer but I think I can listen to people and learn how to address those concerns, and I’m not a big corporate but I think I’m able to listen to people.
“You don’t have to be something in order to represent them and deliver some results.”
Don Brash thinks her various governance jobs are quite uncomplicated.
“I think her role with the Taxpayers’ Union has been about the fact she wants to see government tax revenue used the best it can, I don’t think it’s more complex than that, and she’s clearly been associated with parties on the right of the spectrum to the extent she was involved with Act.”
As for her future in New Zealand First, Farrar sees her as the new alternative for the leadership, alongside Jones, when Peters calls time.
“If Winston goes, his ultimate aim is a party that will survive him. Casey is now the alternative to Shane.
“Shane can’t be matched for oratory, but Casey has a very good record of actually building up support in an organisation, so she’s a potential future leader of New Zealand First.”
Farrar expects to see Costello play a pivotal role in dealing with the co-governance issues all three parties forming government are opposed to in the public service, such as Three Waters, RMA reform and health, and more broadly in Crown/Māori relations and what that looks like in a post-Labour government.
Jordan Williams, who called Costello to thank her for a donation, which then turned into him bringing her onto the board, couldn’t sing her praises harder if he tried.
He describes her as very principled, a talent, and someone who will make a “phenomenal MP”.
“She speaks the least in a room but whatever she says is always the wisest.
“She has good judgment and reads people very well,” Williams told Newsroom.
Though he was surprised she chose to stand for New Zealand First, he says she will be a “conviction politician” which everyone who comes into Parliament claims to be, but rarely is.
‘It’s not something she got into just because it happened to be fashionable’
Brash says Costello was the logical person to take on the main spokesperson role for Hobson’s Pledge when it first formed, because she was everything he wasn’t.
“I’m a white, Anglo-Saxon, older male whereas Casey presented a much more attractive person being a woman, Māori and much younger than me.”
He describes her as someone “strongly committed to having all New Zealanders have equal rights”.
It’s a deep commitment and will drive much of what she does in politics, Brash tells Newsroom.
“It’s not something she got into just because it happened to be fashionable, but she has a deep commitment to equality and she’s Ngapuhi.”
Brash says he was surprised she became a New Zealand First candidate, and he was quick to tell her she needed to make sure she was in the top six if she wanted any hope of being an MP.
And that was if New Zealand First even got across the five percent threshold.
Brash has no doubt Costello will be an “effective MP”.
“Presumably if New Zealand First gets three ministers, she stands a very good chance of being one of them.”
“She cares deeply about law and order, no question about that, and she cares deeply about equal citizenship. She’s held that view very strongly for a long time,” Brash tells Newsroom.
“I have a very high regard for her, her integrity is beyond reproach, and I would give her a very strong recommendation to anybody.”