New Dunedin Green MP’s journey to Parliament

Francisco Hernandez rallies the campus Greens with Scott Willis and party co-leader Marama...
Francisco Hernandez rallies the campus Greens with Scott Willis and party co-leader Marama Davidson. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
From political exile to future member of Parliament, Francisco Hernandez has been on a quite a journey, Mike Houlahan reports.

Every electoral candidate, even the ones who know intellectually that they have no chance of making it to Parliament, always have a little bit of hope deep down inside them that it might actually be them who is declared elected on the night.

On October 14 last year the Green Party Dunedin candidate Francisco Hernandez knew he was unlikely to wrest the seat away from Labour, but the Greens had been polling highly enough that the seemingly bold prediction that he had been making for months — that he could be elected from 17 on the party list — might actually become reality.

It was a very good night for the Dunedin Greens — Taieri candidate Scott Willis made it in on the list and the party returned a record number of MPs — but not such a good night that Mr Hernandez would also become an MP.

His hopes being so high, he was somewhat crushed by the end result.

"It’s up an down an election campaign, you think you are going to get in, you don’t think that you are going to get in, but on election night on the average of polling it looked like I was going to come in, but it didn’t end up eventuating", he said.

But fast forward seven months, and through a surreal and tragic set of circumstances, and Francisco Hernandez is finally about to become an MP.

First Golriz Ghahraman — a colleague who Mr Hernandez feels some affinity with as someone else far from their birthplace — resigned her seat after facing a raft of theft charges. Second, then party co-leader James Shaw announced his imminent retirement.

And finally, and shockingly, newly-elected MP Efeso Collins — like Mr Hernandez a former Labour party member who had switched allegiance — died suddenly.

That hit Mr Hernandez hard; fulfilling a life ambition was satisfying, but doing so through the loss of a well-regarded and liked colleague was devastating.

As things have panned out though, Mr Hernandez enters Parliament courtesy of the exiting of Mr Shaw, whose valedictory is set down for May 1; Mr Hernandez will likely be sworn in the next sitting day, and his maiden speech delivered a few weeks later.

"It is kind of a weird situation having not been elected on election night, but it is a privilege to become a member of Parliament and hopefully I can help mount an effective opposition", he said.

"On the outside you can feel a sense of being disempowered but as an MP you have a little more agency. I’m stoked about getting in but sad about the circumstances — I’m going to do my best to honour the legacy of Efeso and the work of James.

"But it is a privilege that all the hard work that the volunteers did on campus and across the city ended up paying off with Dunedin having two Green MPs for the first time in history."

Mr Hernandez was born in the Philippines, and his family moved to Wellington when he was 12, to escape political persecution: his father Rossano had been blacklisted for being part of the deposed party of former president Joseph Estrada. Further misfortune befell the family after they moved to New Zealand, when Mr Hernandez’s brother Tighe died.

Newly-elected OUSA president Francisco Hernandez in 2012. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Newly-elected OUSA president Francisco Hernandez in 2012. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Mr Hernandez moved to Dunedin to study politics and put his degree into action by becoming involved with the Otago University Students’ Association.

He was elected communications officer in 2011, welfare officer in 2012, and in the OUSA election at the end of that year he was elected president for 2013.

But political disappointments were to follow: Mr Hernandez missed out on the NZUSA presidency and also dipped out when running for Dunedin City Council.

He then threw himself into his career, working for the Climate Change Commission and the Green party, before returning to Dunedin as a climate change principal adviser at the Otago Regional Council.

"I think I have always wanted to give back to New Zealand: that could have been through politics or a career in public service or business ... but fate has led me to this place", he said.

"They say that politics is a wound that never heals and that was certainly true for me: it was always in the back of my mind to give politics another go at some stage, at either a local or national level.

"It’s exciting to be able to contribute to the Green team."

Mr Hernandez has been on the front lines of the battle against climate change for most of his professional life, and he said that the urgent need to do something about it had been a driver for his political ambitions.

"We are facing a poverty crisis and a climate change crisis, and the time we have is too short for incrementalism", he said.

"The Greens are offering a bolder and more radical course of action, which is what we need to address the crisis we are facing ... I think James’ legacy is establishing a minimum level of climate action, something that I think will survive the change of government, but we really do need to ramp up the action.

"It’s not just about mitigation, adaptation has become urgent as well, as we have seen from climate disasters in the past two terms. I was a trained civil defence volunteer with Emergency Management Otago and being in that role gives you an appreciation of how urgent the front line is looking right now."