National Party members in Christchurch are surprised at a decision to approve a woman who was a member of the Labour Party at the 2017 election to go into the final selection for what should be the blue-ribbon seat of Ilam.
Dr Vanessa Weenink, a Papanui GP, has declined to make any comment on the situation to POLITIK.
But a National Party headquarters spokesperson confirmed that she is in the final group to go to selection for the electorate on October 30.
As recently as the last election campaign, Weenink, was publicly supporting Labour’s Christchurch Central MP, Duncan Webb.
POLITIK has been told by several sources she attempted to get the Labour nomination for Christchurch Central as a candidate in 2017.
POLITIK has spoken to party members and MPs who are all questioning the party’s selection process, which has been criticised as recently as this year over the Tauranga selection.
(POLITIK yesterday asked her to confirm this but she declined to comment. However today a spokesperson for National Party headquarters says she did not seek the nomination.)
They are asking how it is credible for someone to switch from Labour to National and to be approved as a potential candidate in the space of 18 months.
The Ilam seat is currently held by Labour’s Sarah Pallett with a 3463 majority after she beat Gerry Brownlee at the last election.
But in 2017, Brownlee won with an 8256 majority which is more typical of the way the electorate has voted over the years.
It includes affluent Christchurch suburbs like Fendalton.
Brownlee is not standing for the electorate this election but will be on National’s list.
It had been widely assumed in Christchurch that Brownlee would be replaced by his campaign manager at the last election, Sam McDonald.
But McDonald, who has now been elected for his second term on the Christchurch City Council, has decided not to stand.
“I’d like to do it (Parliament) one day, it’s a seat that could be won back but timing wise, in terms of nominations being open for council I couldn’t in good conscience trigger a by-election,” he said in August.
“It will still be there in time, but I just wonder whether at the moment I can add more value to the council.
“With a new mayor coming in and the like, there’s going to be an opportunity to really contribute.”
Weenink was still a Labour supporter at the 2020 election.
Just three days before the election, she posted on the Facebook page of Christchurch Central MP Duncan Webb her support for him.
“Good Luck Duncan Webb. I’ve already voted, great that so many others have too. Keep up the great work,” she said.
However, less than 18 months after that post, she was enrolled in National’s Candidates’ College, which is a preferred requirement for those wanting to seek selection at the next election.
People attending the College must be approved by the party board.
POLITIK understands she attended a College session at the beginning of this year.
National requires that its nominees for selection be financial members of the party for 12 months prior to selection.
To comply with that rule, somewhere between October 2020 and October 2021, Weenink did a political “u-turn” and switched from Labour to National.
The reasons are unclear.
However, her website says: “Vanessa is fiscally and economically conservative and believes in limited government and rewards for hard work.
“She is socially liberal and feels that people should be free to live their lives and love whomever they choose, without interference from religion or the government.
“She supports choices for individuals, and that includes the choice to be a conscientious objector.”
She, on the other hand, served as a medical officer in the army in both the regular and territorial forces.
She served in Afghanistan during two separate winter rotations and also in East Timor.
As a GP, she was chair of the General Practitioner Council of the New Zealand Medical Association until July this year. (The Association voted to liquidate in May this year).
She is also an artist.
Writing on her website, she says: “I am a Christchurch artist who spends half my time working as a General Practitioner.
“As a child and teenager, I loved art and creativity, however, it has only been recently that I am re-connecting with that creative side.
“In 2018, I took a reduction in clinical hours to pursue postgraduate study. The extra time allowed me to reflect on my passions and devote time to creating art. My ‘brain exploded’ with inspiration; in particular, the Japanese art of Kintsugi has caught my eye.”