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Monday 10 April 2017

Coffey's ready to roll

Posted in: Features
By Jacqui Stanford - 31st March 2014


Tamati Coffey is waving off suggestions Rotorua is ‘too conservative’ for a gay MP.

“That goes in the treasure trove of the kind of comments like ‘New Zealand’s not ready for a woman Prime Minister’ and ‘we’re not ready to give Maori the vote’ and ‘women shouldn’t vote’. It just goes in that little box for me,” he says.

“The future is not that. The future of New Zealand is whatever sexual orientation you are, you’re able to stand up and be counted as a person.”

The idea he’s somehow too gay for Rotorua has been among the immediate responses to his selection as Labour’s candidate in the city, along with the likes of he needs to prove he’s 'more than just a pretty face', and the suggestion he was only picked because of his celebrity status.

The invigorated political junkie is taking it all in his stride. Labels are something he’s used to, whether it be ‘weatherman Tamati’, ‘Maori Tamati’ or ‘gay Tamati’ - “I am all of those things. But that’s just it – I am ALL of those things and not just one of them,” he tells

While he’d been out to family and friends since he was a teenager, Coffey told the world in a woman’s magazine before competing in, and winning, Dancing With the Stars. As a roving weather reporter for Breakfast and host of New Zealand’s Got Talent, he has been one of the most high-profile gay men in New Zealand.

Tamati and Tim
He was voted the sexiest man on TV in 2012, the same year he enjoyed a flamboyant and romantic civil union with partner Tim Smith, who has been his biggest supporter in his political bid. Smith is at home in the UK at the moment but was able to join his family in quietly watching the selection through thanks to Coffey’s niece live-streaming it from the front row.

“He’s incredibly supportive,” Coffey says. “To the point where he’s going to be the breadwinner for the next six months,” a deal Smith happily agreed to so Coffey could concentrate fully on the election.

The major competition comes in the form of National MP Todd McClay, who has had the seat since 2008. It was held by Labour's Steve Chadwick from 1999 till 2008.

He's wasting no time in his bid to wrest it back. Last night he was out door-knocking in one of Rotorua’s rougher areas, Ford Block. He says locals were “undoubtedly Labour supporters” and the experience was “really positive”.

He’s buzzing really, or as he puts it “I’m amped, I’m elated and I’m excited. All three of those in no specific order.”

Labour’s pro-glbti history is one of the reasons he loves the party, but allegiance was never really a question. He grew up in Lower Hutt in a Labour-voting family, with parents who worked in factories - and a mum who was always involved with the unions. “I’ve always been a Labour person at heart,” he says.

Coffey has always been a lover of politics and graduated with an honours degree in political science before landing his TV career. “When you’re reading the weather nobody really wants to hear about your political views,” he laughs. “It was a great job for what it did for me, but it was also a silencer, you know? I just kept smiling and kept doing the weather, whereas this has actually given me the chance to actually get out there and actually get the chance to start piping up and letting my voice be heard.”

He is passionate about getting young New Zealanders voting, pointing out there will be 150,000 young Kiwis voting in their first election this year. He’s already met with students at the local institute of technology and they have since started a Young Labour group. “In one day, at one lunchtime, I have already signed 50 kids up to the Labour Party. And they’re going to be my helpers in all of this. I just want to make politics relevant to them … otherwise they’ll vote for people like Kim Dotcom just cause he’s a bit crazy.”

He thinks it’s important for everyone to have their say, every election. “You’ve got to find the party in Parliament that best represents you. If not the party, then just the person that best represents you. Because at the end of the day, they’re the ones that are spending your money ... you don’t want muppets playing around with your money.

“When it comes to gay rights and gay issues, you want someone who will best represent your views in Parliament. For me, that’s definitely Labour … we’ve got a history of campaigning for gay people. And that’s part of the reason I am so fond of it. It’s got a great record with gay people, with Maori, with Pacific Islanders. Labour takes care of the people.”

Jacqui Stanford - 31st March 2014

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