• Simon Watts with the Prime Minister and Governor General
  • Simon Watts with local supporters
  • Simon Watts speaking at COP28
  • Simon Watts and family

North Shore’s new Climate Change and Revenue Minister

Hard working North Shore MP Simon Watts has risen up the political ladder very quickly to become a key player in the National-led coalition government. He was first elected to Parliament at the 2020 election. He was duly elected again with an impressive increased majority in October 2023. Despite Simon's short time in Parliament, newly elected Prime Minister Christopher Luxon showed his confidence by choosing him for two ministerial portfolios; Minister of Climate Change and Minister of Revenue. Simon Watts has a Bachelor of Management Studies, is a qualified Chartered Accountant and also has a Bachelor of Health Science (Paramedicine). He is a registered paramedic. Prior to entering Parliament he had over 20 years of international banking and finance experience in both the private and public sectors. Aidan Bennett spoke to him about his new roles and being in government during January.

Aidan Bennett: Simon, congratulations on the election result and your ministerial appointments. I guess it’s been a whirlwind few months?
It has been a massive few months. It was humbling to have been re-elected as the MP for North Shore and to represent our fantastic community. When the Prime Minister asked me to be a minister to lead the government's agenda in two significant areas, it was a special moment.

Since you were first elected in 2020 I have been hugely impressed with your energy and commitment. Where does that come from?
I get energy from those around me and have a clear sense of purpose. I really enjoy what I do, and that purpose comes from making a positive difference for my community and country. My work here on the Shore gives me my purpose; I want to see our community thrive and I never forget that I’m in politics to do that.

When did you first start thinking about going into politics, and why?
When I was in London watching New Zealand from afar, I decided I wanted to help make changes to improve our country, and politics was how I could make that happen. I had unique international skills and experience that could positively contribute to our North Shore community and country.

What are your goals and challenges in regards to your two ministerial portfolios over the next three years?
The revenue portfolio is about delivering tax cuts for New Zealanders and ensuring IRD focuses on tax system simplification and increased compliance enforcement. Climate change is about emission reduction and doubling renewable energy to achieve net zero, adaptation to mitigate the impacts of future weather events, and how climate finance will fund this alongside building our international relationships.

Tell us about your first overseas trip as minister to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop28) in Dubai?
Within a few days of the new government being up and running, I was on a plane representing New Zealand on the world stage in Dubai. Climate change is a priority for the National-led coalition government and something our local community is dealing with following the floods last year. COP is where everything happens in climate policy, so it was important I used the opportunity to signal our position and undertake meetings with other leaders and climate change ministers, including with our Pacific Island neighbours, to discuss areas of mutual benefit.

This new National-led coalition government has certainly been in a hurry to get things changed. How long can that pace keep going? What do you make of the criticism around some of these changes?
We are implementing our 100-day plan, which is the main effort. The parties signalled their policies before the election, and there were no surprises. New Zealand voted for change to get New Zealand back on track, and we are relentlessly focused on making that happen. Everything we have done to date is what we said we would do. That pace needs to continue as the rest of the world is not waiting for us. We’re going to build on this momentum and spend the next three years getting the country back on track.

What does an average week look like for Minister Simon Watts?
I'm in Parliament Monday to Thursday most weeks and attending local events on the North Shore as often as possible, generally from Friday to Sunday. When I’m in Wellington I’m working to deliver the government's priorities, for example, in the final week of last year I passed a Bill though Parliament to cut down on bureaucracy in the tax system. During weeks when Parliament isn’t debating, which align with school holidays, I am home on the North Shore doing electorate clinics and meetings. Cabinet sits on a Monday, and I will sometimes need to present papers alongside travelling around New Zealand and internationally, such as COP28 in Dubai, to represent New Zealand's interests.

What are the key initiatives you are working on that will benefit the North Shore?
The biggest issue currently facing the North Shore is the cost of living, and as Minister of Revenue, I’m working hard to deliver tax relief to Kiwis who need it. Our government is also laser-focused on lowering inflation, and we’ve already passed a law refocussing the reserve bank solely on that target. This government is working hard on restoring law and order and delivering on crucial transport priorities; we’ve started work on harsher sentences for criminals and better support for victims; we’ve cancelled the wasteful light rail project to focus on transport projects that deliver; and I’ll be advocating for the North Shore every step of the way.

What does Simon Watts do to relax away from all the hard work?
Family time is the priority. I spend much of my life away from home, so I do my best to protect time for my family, who look after me. I am fortunate that I have a fantastic wife and two beautiful boys. I also do a volunteer ambulance shift when I have time and keep fit by running, doing F45, and being the co-captain of the Parliamentary rugby team.

Issue 149 February 2024