Wellington Scoop

The Foster and Free Show

RNZ photos

by Ian Apperley
Finally, some progress in the Wellington City Council this week with Andy Foster picking Sarah Free as his new Deputy. The Foster and Free Show is on the road and rolling for now, though may still be hampered if there is a recount for the mayoralty.

Some years back, when Sarah was running her first campaign for Councillor out East, we met in my lair, the Strathmore Local.

Sarah has a great deal of energy about her and an optimistic disposition most of the time. Like all the Councillors I have the pleasure (usually) of meeting and talking with, we spent some time gossiping about local politics and her chances of landing a seat at the table.

Sarah is very earnest, she is one of those people where “what you see is what you get,” and she has a clever mind that engineers interesting debates about various issues. She told me that if she won that year, the family would be moving to Eastern Suburbs. She won and is now a close neighbour of mine, living around a couple of corners from my home in Strathmore.

I think that people potentially dismiss Sarah as a true Green, part of that ideological ilk that tends to lose their mind at a moment’s notice over anything that fits outside of their fanaticism. She’s anything but.

While she is left and green, she is also a rationalist and pragmatic. This makes her a good candidate for the Deputy role because she’s going to need to help balance the Council in its thinking around issues. Too often we see novice Councillors or the ideologists not thinking through an entire issue before spouting off, grandstanding, and then making a vote that they often regret later.

Sarah is well educated with a qualification in electrical engineering amongst several other academic accolades.

My thesis was on the impact improved home heating could have on school absence rates for children with doctor-diagnosed asthma. Verified absence data for 269 children participating in a randomised controlled trial, showed a statistically significant reduction of 28% in the number of days absent for those who had improved heating.

The media has largely played out the narrative of Foster being a centre-right Mayor being forced into choosing a far-Left Deputy, where the Councillors are already at war with him. Some more naïve commentators are still peddling the by-line that the city elected a New Zealand First Mayor, which is just stupid.

I don’t think Foster is on the right at all. If anything, he is more of a blue-green, like Jenny Candie, and I think that label fits his politics far more appropriately. He is an ardent conservationist and environmentalist but hasn’t drunk the deep Green ideological cool-aid. Neither has he supported the traditional right agendas.

Free is a thinking Green. With that education and experience, she is going to analyse and rationalise decisions rather than jump to ill-informed conclusions. There is a lot less emotion, and while some Councillors (on either side of the spectrum) are adept at throwing their toys at the first opportunity, this is something Free won’t entertain.

In short, Foster and Free are quite a good match. They are both experienced analysts who can bridge the gap between the far left and far right in Council.

Both Foster and Free are very-well respected out East. Foster for his stance on the Shelly Bay issues and Free because she is ever-present in the community across all walks of life. As I have said before, the eastern issues are a microcosm of the wider issues the city faces over the next triennium: traffic, climate change, development, and social aspects. In some ways, it will become a barometer and potential testing ground for new solutions to those issues that can be then deployed to the wider city.

I have criticised Sarah in the past for sometimes being silent on serious issues. She will need to find her voice far more in the Deputy role, trusting her instinct rather than sometimes overthinking things, the danger of an analytical mind.

Some weeks ago, during the campaign, Sarah Free visited me again in my lair, bringing along David Lee. Sarah had a nervous energy about her, a combination of perhaps over-analysing her chances in the election and the fact that the campaign trail requires a lot of your life, it’s demanding.

David and I were in no doubt that Sarah would romp back into the Councillor seat for Eastern Ward and much gossip was had about other’s chances, how people were campaigning, and future thoughts for the city. None of us suspected that the Deputy Mayor role would ultimately land with her.

Putting aside that pesky recount, to be or not be, I think we have a solid blue-green Mayor and Deputy who will work well together, with the Council, and the city. For more on Sarah, I’d suggest reading her blog.

First published by Inside Wellington.


  1. Derek, 30. October 2019, 14:32

    The Foster & Free show may well be cut before one is made if the Justin & Jill show gets a repeat showing.

  2. Pseudopanax, 30. October 2019, 16:40

    “An ardent conservationist and environmentalist” who in his first media interview after the election was to demand the government bring forward the bulldozing of four lanes to the planes through Mt Victoria and Hataitai over Light Rail and since has given full backing to airport expansion without a thought to the environmental misery inflicted ratepayers in the way or nearby…Corporate profits over a 21st century vision for Wellington that doesn’t include acres of yet more asphalt.. Enough Already!

  3. greenwelly, 30. October 2019, 17:10

    It’s unlikely that the result will be overturned,
    If you go through this Code of Good Practice, you will find that there are fairly strong checks and balances in place and systems have to be certified by the Secretary for Local Government. i.e the Head of DIA. If they complied with the set down rules for determining what gets counted and what does not, it will be pretty cut and dry.

  4. Derek, 30. October 2019, 19:06

    I can see an appeal if the Foster and Free show gets cancelled.

  5. GillyT, 31. October 2019, 9:11

    That’s not all Psuedopanax. Foster’s about to appoint a climate change skeptic (who’s recently seen the light if we’re to believe him) to head up the Wellington’s transport portfolio.


    (Displayed prominently on Sean Rush’s website)

  6. Tye Blackstone, 1. November 2019, 8:35

    Oh no we can’t have a non-believer in the business of climate change.

  7. Richard Keller, 1. November 2019, 21:13

    Sarah Free deserves a prominent role on WCC, best the Transport portfolio. Being Deputy Mayor will submerge her more than the Transport role. Shawn Rush will be a disaster on transport as a typical denier.

  8. GillyT, 2. November 2019, 8:17

    Not sure what being a “believer” has to do with anything Tye. Sean Rush campaigned in part on his climate science masters credentials and if he is a climate skeptic, which the submission posted above would strongly imply, then eastern ward voters were misled.

  9. Andrew, 2. November 2019, 9:21

    What is wrong with someone being a scientific sceptic? Some critical thought and consideration of information before making decisions is a good thing. There is a big difference between a sceptic and a ‘denier’.

  10. GillyT, 2. November 2019, 11:03

    Sean Rush is free to take up whatever position he likes on climate change, Andrew. The issue is not that, but that he permitted publication of campaign literature that misled eastern ward constituents into thinking he is a) a supporter of climate change policy to cut emissions in order to focus on “low carbon energy” and b) undertaking a masters degree in climate science, which he is not.
    Now he is going to be offered the transport portfolio? To paraphrase Hamlet, “There is something rotten in the state of Wellington”.

  11. Pedanticus, 2. November 2019, 11:06

    I think outside North America it’s sceptic whereas in North America it’s skeptic. Can I be an agnostic?

  12. Andrew, 2. November 2019, 15:47

    Well if that is the case Gilly, it sounds like he has some answering to do!

  13. Glen Smith, 3. November 2019, 0:32

    Sean Rush’s submission appears to regurgitate a large number of the usual climate change denial arguments (that CO2 isn’t really long lived in the atmosphere, that the medieval warm period disproves CO2 as a cause of warming, that temperature rises aren’t really due to humans, that rising oceans aren’t really due to humans etc etc). He has a very large section devoted to 3 of the top climate change deniers (who were clearly chosen for the court case for that reason) but ignores the 97% of climate scientists who agree man-made climate change is real and a major threat to our future. For specific scientific debunking of climate denial arguments I would recommend this summary which goes through the science of each argument in basic intermediate and advanced levels. His position is not surprising given his 25 year career and current law practice based on oil gas and the energy sector. Thankfully he is only one vote on the council.

  14. TrevorH, 4. November 2019, 7:17

    @Glen Smith. I read your “summary.” There is actually no “consensus” about man made climate change, nor does science proceed by consensus. The core of the scientific method is skepticism and the relentless testing of ideas by hypothesis, experiment and observation. It is incredibly dangerous to assert a scientific theory as dogma.

  15. Curtis Nixon, 4. November 2019, 10:04

    Aside from roads, climate change and other issues, I find the Foster and Free combination refreshing. Add to that the mixed allegiances of the other councillors. A bit like the mixture we have in the Beehive at present.

    The previous WCC iteration seemed dull and deadly – I suspect if Andy survives the recount that the next 3 years will be anything but!

  16. GillyT, 4. November 2019, 16:15

    @ Trevor H: of course science doesn’t proceed by consensus. However, there IS a consensus among scientists about where the weight of evidence lies in relation to climate change and its causes. That’s the opposite of dogma.

  17. TrevorH, 4. November 2019, 16:35

    @GillyT: any apparent “consensus” has been carefully manufactured by policymakers. The politicisation of climate change science has been well documented by Professor Judith Curry and others.