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OPINIONPoliticsMay 1, 2024

Efeso Collins deserved better than what parliament offered yesterday


Two months ago, MPs unanimously voted to give themselves a week off in Efeso Collins’ honour. On Tuesday, most were too busy to give even an hour of their time. 

The day Fa’anānā Efeso Collins died, parliament felt different. In a building that operates at a breakneck pace, everyone stopped and took a moment. It broke the facade. MPs remembered they were people before they were politicians. Leader of the house Chris Bishop adjourned the house for a week out of respect for Collins, his colleagues and his family. It was supposed to give time for parliamentary staff to organise a proper commemoration, a fit sendoff for a member of the noble and august institution that is the New Zealand House of Representatives. 

That formal commemoration took place yesterday afternoon, nine weeks after Collins collapsed at a Childfund charity event. Unlike the hastily arranged tributes that flowed in the house on that day, the formal commemoration on Tuesday afternoon was a sad reminder that politics never stops. 

The parliamentary order paper, which sets out the schedule for the day, listed the commemoration as simply: “Acknowledgement of death of Fa’anānā Efeso Collins”, with time for three 10-minute speeches and six five-minute speeches.

It was scheduled immediately after an hour of oral questions, typically the most politically charged moments you’ll see in the house. Both the opposition and the government were on top form as they hounded each other about the Fast-track Approvals Bill, Pharmac’s funding, cuts to Oranga Tamariki, and cellphones in school. They jeered and yelled so much you often couldn’t even hear the questions, let alone the answers. 

Barbara Edmonds paying tribute to Efeso Collins (Image: Parliament TV)

When speaker Gerry Brownlee finally called for the change of topic towards Collins, it felt like just another piece of parliamentary business. The MPs who considered it not relevant to their portfolios started filing out. David Seymour, Chris Bishop and Winston Peters were among the first out the door. 

Marama Davidson opened the proceedings by paying tribute to Collins’ widow Vasa Fia Collins, who watched from the public gallery, along with whānau and loved ones who had flown down from Auckland. “Your leadership, grace, humility and strength have been nothing but extraordinary,” she said. 

Several of the speeches were honest and raw. Barbara Edmonds was the clear standout, openly shedding tears as she began. “When we as MPs come to this house, we come holding the voices of many. When we come as Pacific MPs, we come holding the voices of our nu’u, our villages, and our ancestors who travelled the Pacific Ocean. Today, we honour him; Fa’anānā Efeso Collins, the ancestor he always knew he was.”

Willie Jackson got some laughs with light-hearted roasts about how he hated when Collins called him matua, and how much he struggled to make Collins toe the party line as a Labour councillor. Erica Stanford ribbed Collins about winning the AUSA presidency by promising to put a pizza parlour on campus, but said the two always stayed in touch, even though “I was the Tory Pākehā girl from the North Shore, and he was the liberal Pasifika bloke from the southside.”

The mostly empty seats of parliament about halfway through the commemoration ceremony (Photo: Joel MacManus)

But at other times, it felt all a bit too procedural, a paint-by-numbers eulogy. Like any parliamentary debate, every party had a speaking slot and no one wanted to yield their time. Simon Court from Act talked about one evening when he shared a taxi with Collins. More and more MPs trickled out, especially from the government benches. After about 30 minutes, both Chris Luxon and Chris Hipkins were gone. 

Efeso Collins was a member of parliament for only a few months. These speeches might be the last time his name appears in Hansard. On the day he died, MPs unanimously voted to give themselves a week off in his honour. On Tuesday, most were too busy to give even an hour of their time. 

It was no longer a moment where a shared sense of humanity rose above politics. For too many in that chamber, they were just politicians, in the very worst way. 

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