Right-wing National MP Simon O’Connor is now facing a challenge to his re-election.
O’Connor is the MP for the blue-ribbon Auckland seat of Tamaki, which includes high-priced Auckland suburbs like Orakei and St Helier’s and was once held by Sir Robert Muldoon.
He confirmed to POLITIK yesterday that three candidates are seeking to replace him as the National candidate at the next election.
National Party officials will not reveal the names of the contenders, but one is believed to be Claire Ward, the sister of former Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater.
O’Connor — who is married to Simon Bridges’ sister — is regarded as one of the National caucus’ so-called Taliban of evangelical Christians.
A former Catholic seminarian, he is an outspoken opponent of abortion and proudly wears the label of being one of the party’s leading conservatives.
”] represent a, a core conservative constituency of the National Party,” he told POLITIK yesterday.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s abortion, euthanasia, my strong stance on communist China, free speech, support for Israel; I don’t know which of these or other things that the challengers might be upset about.
“Or, to be honest, is it just an opportunity?”
The challenges pose a delicate political management problem for leader Christopher Luxon.
Usually, the leader would be expected to back their MP.
But because of Luxon’s own battle with public opinion over his evangelical Christianity, being seen to back O’Connor runs the risk of reviving that debate.
It would also run the risk of alienating deputy leader Nicolas Willis, who is widely regarded as a liberal feminist.
The challenges to O’Connor have been rumoured within National Party circles all year, particularly from influential liberal female members.
But O’Connor is not on his own in the “Taliban” grouping.
Other supporters include Pakuranga MP, Simeon Brown; Kaipara ki Mahurangi MP, Chris Penk and list MPs Melissa Lee and Harete Hipango.
However, O’Connor is generally seen as the flag bearer.
He startled many of his colleagues with a hardline speech opposing the March 2020 Bill to decriminalise abortion.
”This is a bill which the Prime Minister herself is behind,” he said. “I say that once again for the public: this is a bill that the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is behind.”
O’Connor said the Bill provided no rights, no recognition, and no dignity to the human child that was developing.
“On days like today, I’m actually not a pessimist,” he said. “You know why? “Because I can smell the fear in this House from the pro-abortion side—the absolute reeking, stinking fear.”
Despite that, he acknowledged that the Bill would pass.
“But a day is coming where fear will be reversed when the truth continues to come out for those who speak for life will be heard once again, loud and clear,” he said.
“History is replete with that.
“But I finish with a little indulgence to myself, and it’ll get me into trouble, but one thing I do want to say to the good people, and I won’t translate for here, but it’s ‘Mihi vindicta: ego retribuam, dicit Dominus’.”
(That is a reference to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 12, verse 19, which reads: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
O’Connor also co-chairs the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, which is tolerated rather than welcomed by senior MPs in the National Party because of its potential to undermine New Zealand’s trading relationship with China.
Amidst the Alliance’s objectives are that democracies must develop complementary security strategies to address challenges presented by China, and China must not be permitted to compromise the sovereignty or institutions “of any developed or emerging markets through lending, investment, or by any other means.”
O’Connor’s electorate embraced those objectives with a remit at a 2020 Auckland regional National Party conference calling for an investigation into the activities of the Chinese Communist Party in New Zealand.
“The CCP (Chinese Communist Party), not China, is interfering in New Zealand,” he said.
“I just want to put that up there just very, very briefly. It is happening.”
He also clashed with then Foreign Minister Murray McCully when he joined Judith Collins and Chris Finlayson to oppose a Security Council resolution co-sponsored by New Zealand, which opposed Israeli obstacles to implementing a two-state solution to the Palestinian crisis.
The resolution included continuing settlement of the occupied West Bank as one of the obstacles and thus paved the way for Israel to be charged with war crimes if that settlement process continued.
O’Connor has also called for New Zealand to open an Embassy in Israel.
He has also been the chair of Monarchy NZ.
However, O’Connor’s position within the National caucus has been at its lower end.
Unlike Scott Simpson, Mark Mitchell and Paul Goldsmith, who also entered Parliament with him in 2011, he has failed to make the party’s front bench and is currently ranked at 22 out of its 33 MPs.
Between 2017 and 2020, he chaired Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee and is currently the party’s Corrections, Customs and Arts spokesperson.
The full selection meeting is expected to be in late October and O’Connor said he was confident of victory.
“I’m very relaxed. I’ve got a great team that I work with in Tamaki and we are very prepared to defend against any challenges,” he said.