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Efeso Collins
Efeso Collins

PoliticsFebruary 21, 2024

Green MP Efeso Collins dies after collapsing at charity event

Efeso Collins
Efeso Collins

An emotional James Shaw has led tributes for the first term MP who collapsed while participating in the ChildFund Water Fun event at Britomart this morning.

Green MP and former Auckland mayoral contender Efeso Collins, 49, died in Auckland this morning after collapsing at a charity event.

Emergency services were on hand treating Collins after reports first emerged at about 9.30am. A white sheet was soon raised obscuring view. An ambulance and a rapid response vehicle were at the scene. 

By 10am people at the scene were seen with their heads down and in tears. Staff and emergency services gathered for a prayer led by Dave Letele.

In a statement, the Greens confirmed Collins was treated by an on-site medical team and they did everything they could to revive him. “We are grateful to them for acting so fast. Our thoughts are with them and everyone at ChildFund – the volunteers and staff – whose work Efeso admired so much,” the statement read.

The event outside Commercial Bay was advertised as involving celebrities racing each other while holding buckets of water. ChildFund works to bring safe, clean drinking water to children in the Pacific.

On the event’s website, Collins said: “As a dad to two young beautiful girls, I want them and children all over the world to grow up and reach their full potential and live full lives”.

‘Profound shock’: Green co-leaders, colleagues pay tribute

In a statement, the Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson said the news had come as a “profound shock” them both.

“Efeso devoted his life to serving and making a difference to the lives of those he met, including his constituents, colleagues, friends, and family. He held the deepest respect of the members of all political parties and communities,” they said.

“We will continue to aspire to the dedication and commitment Efeso showed to always put the greater good above our own. He showed us what that means every single day.

“We will miss Efeso dearly, but celebrate with gratitude the contribution he has made to Aotearoa.”

New Zealand had lost one of its kindest, most dedicated champions of fairness and equality, the co-leaders said. “We are absolutely devastated.”

Speaking at parliament, a visibly emotional Shaw told reporters that Collins was “truly the most beautiful man”.

“He was deeply committed and steadfast in what he believed in and stood for and championed, but he did all of that with a sense of grace and love.”

At 2pm today, statements will be made in the House by Shaw, prime minister Christopher Luxon, Labour leader Chris Hipkins and a member of Te Pāti Māori. Parliament will then rise until at least next Tuesday as a “mark of respect”.

Marama Davidson and other Green MPs have travelled to Auckland to be with Collins’ family, said Shaw.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins has also paid tribute to Collins, calling his former colleague a “jovial, positive, upbeat” advocate for his communities” and just one of life’s genuinely very nice people”.

He added: “I first met Efeso in 1999 when he was Auckland University Student Association president and on and off over the years I’ve had lots of different interactions. Efeso was a member of the Labour Party a long time, he ran for mayor of Auckland under a Labour endorsed ticket and shares a lot of values with me and the Labour Party.

“His family and friends are of course in my thoughts, this is such a tough piece of news to absorb.”

Prime minister Christopher Luxon, in a statement, said he was truly shocked and saddened by Collins’ death. “Efeso was a good man, always friendly and kind, and a true champion and advocate for his Samoan and South Auckland communities,” Luxon said.

“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go to his family, his community and colleagues.”

The Green Party 2023 caucus, including Collins (Photo: Facebook)

‘A passionate advocate’

Members of Labour’s Pacific caucus also paid tribute to Collins, including deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni. “Efeso was a passionate advocate for our community and a role model for the people of South Auckland and New Zealand’s Pacific community,” she said.

“We are thinking of Efeso’s wife and his two beautiful daughters, his wider whānau, friends and community. The loss of this courageous man will be felt by so many.

“This has deeply affected us as a Labour Party, our Pacific caucus members and MPs across parliament.”

On social media, deputy prime minister Winston Peters tweeted to say his thoughts were with Collins’ family and friends.

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown said today was a sad day for the city. “Efeso is someone I had a lot of respect for,” Brown said.

“He was a bold Pacific leader and champion for South Auckland, as well as a fierce and respectful opponent on the campaign trail for the Auckland mayoralty. Although we competed for the mayoralty, we actually became quite good friends and were very respectful of each other.”

Auckland councillor and former colleague Richard Hills said the news had left him shell shocked. “I honestly don’t want to believe it,” he said. “A life of service until the end.”

Wellington City Councillor Rebecca Matthews said she was “shocked” by the news about her friend.

“I met [Collins] when he was still in his late teens at Auckland Uni,” she wrote. “Even then the charisma and deep integrity was there in the man he would become.”

Broadcaster and former Green Party candidate Hayley Holt said on Twitter that Collins was “a beautiful man” and her heart breaks for his family. “All our thoughts are with you.”

A voice for the Pasifika community

Collins joined the Green Party early last year following the 2022 Auckland mayoral elections, in which he lost to Wayne Brown. At the time, Collins, who had been an Auckland councillor for nearly a decade, said he was weighing up his future career moves.

As Hayden Donnell wrote at the time, Collins’ decision to join the Greens was a departure from his political roots as a long-serving Labour member. “He stood under the party’s banner when he was elected councillor for Manukau in 2016 and 2019, and was endorsed by both Labour and the Greens when he lost the Auckland mayoral race to Brown,” wrote Donnell.

At number 11 on the Green list, he was elected to parliament last October. During his maiden speech, which was only delivered this month, he reflected on his time as a youth worker.

“As I speak this evening, I’m mindful of the many young people who are navigating these at times treacherous and unsettled waters in life, filled with so much potential, energy, and hope, yet too often misunderstood. In my time as a youth worker in South Auckland, I’ve spoken with hundreds of young people with massive dreams for the future.”

He focused on the challenges facing young people, especially in the Pasifika community: poverty and climate change. “I’m here to help this government govern for all of New Zealand, and I’m here to open the door, enabling our communities to connect better with this house,” he said.

In conversation with Toby Manhire before his mayoral campaign, Collins spoke of his desire to be a voice for Pasifika and for South Auckland in politics. “I’m hopeful that they might look at my candidacy and think, hey, that’s one of us. He speaks for us. He understands what we’re going through,” he said.

Collins, who grew up in Ōtara, was the son of Sāmoan migrants and became the first in his family to attend and graduate from university. “This achievement was the result of familial sacrifice and a system that looked to assist those less fortunate in life, to have a fighting chance to succeed,” he said.

He had five siblings and two children. In their statement, Davidson and Shaw acknowledged Collins’ whānau. “A beautiful family has lost a dedicated father, husband, and community leader,” they said.

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