National’s Pacific MPs are gone, the Greens have their first, and Labour’s Pasifika caucus is now its biggest ever. But will any of this make any real difference to our communities?
Do you reckon Moses could have parted the red sea on Saturday night? Because even the bluest, most conservative seats in Aotearoa had no might against Labour this election.
We sat by and watched because it’s not new for us. Think back to the three Ms of Māngere, Manurewa and Manukau East that saved Helen Clark in 2005. These South Auckland and very much hearty Pacific Island electorates have typically pledged their allegiance to the Labour Party. Why is that? We’ll have to sit down over an ipu tī for that one.
Labour’s Pasifika caucus is now the largest it has ever been. Terisa Ngobi for Ōtaki, Barbara Edmonds for Mana and Tangi Utikere for Palmerston North won big and are now headed to the house. List candidates Lemauga Lydia Sosene and Lotu Fuli, local board chairs in South Auckland and tama’ita’i Sāmoa, could potentially follow. Being able to walk between those two worlds is one thing. Using that to wage better outcomes in the Beehive for those very worlds is another, a challenge they’ll issue upon themselves.
Takanini MP elect Anae Dr Neru Leavasa is one to watch out for. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has mentioned him a handful of times already for his work as a GP. He understands first-hand that health denominates all other social ills for us. Not only that, but Anae won by a majority against National’s Rima Nakhle in a race tipped as hers for the taking.
The National Party’s bloodbath means their only Pasifika MPs are gone. Not only do Alfred Ngaro and Fonoti Agnes Loheni lose, but so do we. For whichever cross-section of our village that partakes in those politics… who is it they see themselves in? Who is there on the bench to build bridges? Ngaro was the first Cook Islander elected to Parliament. He shot himself in the foot by posting blatant lies on Facebook about his opponent Phil Twyford’s abortion views. While he backtracked on those posts, the damage was done.
Fonoti, who entered parliament in January 2019 via the list following Chris Finlayson’s resignation, ran a hard-fought campaign in the seat that was once David Lange’s. Though she stood for nomination as National’s candidate in Botany and Takanini to no success, she and her team were on the ground till the bitter end. Her Māngere office was a hive of activity throughout the campaign, even starting a young Pacific professionals’ group. It’s devastating to see them leave. We’re back to square one, where National’s own Pacific Island Affairs spokesperson wasn’t even a Pacific Islander.
If the party is wise, Ngaro and Fonoti will rise back to shore in 2023. Nurturing their Pasifika talent, grooming the next generation of it then ranking them higher on the list – it’s what Labour has done well, and what National should do too.
National leader Judith Collins says the only diversity she concerns herself with is a diversity of thought, and in the same breath, frequently talks through her Sāmoan husband’s experiences as if she lived them herself.
Simply put, a Pacific person should be the only qualified person to talk on Pacific-ness. Pacific people speak not for point scoring and tokenism. They are speaking to their lived experience.
For the Greens, this election has gifted them their first Pasifika MP. Teanau Tuiono, of Ngāpuhi/Atiu descent, has a strong global track record in activism. He encapsulates social justice, indigenous rights and climate change. His family is firmly imprinted within the grassroots, something Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson has used as something of a taiaha.
Tuiono’s toolbox is equipped with hot button issues for young Pasifika folk, who may represent the only exception from Labour’s tidal wave. The days of voting Labour because your parents do are fading. The next generation of the diaspora is contributing more to political discourse.
We should not underestimate the fine ability of our young brown scholars, who are now fighting on the frontline of every social movement. They are realising systems and everything wrong with them. Systems built to comfort the status quo. Systems with the false allure of milk and honey. Lourdes Vano, the 18-year-old Green candidate who stood in Manurewa, is one of these rangatahi leading the charge up the cliff.
It’s fair to acknowledge that even if there is Pasifika representation in parliament, that Pasifika are still overrepresented in vastly negative statistics. It was not that long ago that New Zealand gasped in shock at South Auckland students dropping out of school to work, but it’s been happening for donkey’s years.
High rates of non-communicable disease, smoking and chronic conditions are few of the many issues plaguing Pacific health, with language barriers and low funding added to the mix. According to The Salvation Army, 29% of homeless people are Pacific. NZ’s Pacific population is only 8%. Pacific women are the lowest-earning workers in this country’s workforce. That’s been condemned by a raft of people, but are our politicians going to act on these cries?
I gladly beat my drum and cheehoo today for our newly seasoned Pasifika members of Parliament.
Tomorrow, I await a stake in the ground from them. From the māmās and pāpās to our pepe, the Pasifika community trusts them to reimagine and pave the way forward for real change.
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