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Fa’anānā Efeso Collins: MP, councillor, community leader, dad and husband.
Fa’anānā Efeso Collins: MP, councillor, community leader, dad and husband.

The BulletinFebruary 22, 2024

Collins knew the power of words, was often a man of few

Fa’anānā Efeso Collins: MP, councillor, community leader, dad and husband.
Fa’anānā Efeso Collins: MP, councillor, community leader, dad and husband.

Fa’anānā Efeso Collins died yesterday age 49, leaving behind his wife Fia and two daughters. His death brought quiet to parliament and a torrent of tributes, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Fa’anānā Efeso Collins, 1974 – 2024

There are days in this job where I’m working hard to string things together, filling space with rapidly acquired interpretations, summaries and my own words. Today is not one of those days. Pointing to the words of others following the shocking and profoundly sad death of Green MP Fa’anānā Efeso Collins yesterday is all that’s required. From those who knew and worked with Collins and those who’ve summarised his life and death for the wider public, the words are sincere and dignified exemplars of our capacity to craft meaning and publicly share and express emotion. Collins was a master of words in the most oratorical sense of the word, but, as RNZ’s Jo Moir writes, he also had an “ability to connect people and at times break tension with just a few words.”

Mad Chapman has penned an extraordinary obituary for Collins, sharing a defining anecdote about his brief stint at Auckland Grammar. For Chapman, the instant familiarity felt between Pacific people doing public-facing jobs made the bridge to familiarity very short when they met. She notes he spent his life being a bridge between Pacific people and the whole of Aotearoa, sharing that as his goal with her at Waitangi two weeks ago. I observed that interview at Waitangi while queuing for fry bread. Collins wasn’t looking around for the next chat as people of status sometimes do but looked to be deep in conversation.

Marked as a future leader, motivated by his kids

Collins first emerged as a student politician. He appeared on Holmes in 1999, making the case for joining student associations at a time when many were shifting away from compulsory membership. Our politics podcast, Gone by Lunchtime, was mid-record when the news broke yesterday. Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas spend the last part of the pod talking about Collins. Thomas, who first met Collins at university, describes him as exuding charisma and being “marked out as a future leader” even back then. Collins became an Auckland councillor and ran for mayor of the city before entering parliament for the Greens just four months ago. The Herald’s Simon Wilson spent time on the mayoral campaign trail with Collins. He makes many observations in his tribute, but Collins’s love for his kids and his motivation for being involved in politics stand out right now. Read in concert with this watch, a 2022 Tagata Pasifika interview after his family received death threats, it’s clear his family was his “whole world”. Stuff’s Steve Kilgallon also writes beautifully about Collins, noting his acute awareness of being a big brown guy with a preference for hoodies and basketball singlets who dressed carefully in public because “if you’ve got to dress a certain way for people to feel okay, and have a conversation, that’s the reality of it”. My husband and Collins talked about that as the two big brown guys in matching linen jackets at an event before Christmas. Kilgallon notes that one of his primary sources of discomfort on the mayoral campaign trail was “how those who opposed him didn’t share his measured approach to the debate.”

A solemn day at parliament

This morning, The Spinoff’s Joel MacManus joins Moir and others in the press gallery to provide a unique and moving account of a solemn day at parliament. “For one day, parliament felt like a different world, with everyone remembering just how fleeting and vulnerable life is,” he writes. MacManus quotes Green party co-leader James Shaw, who fronted a sombre press pack yesterday, just 90 minutes after finding out his colleague and friend had died. “It’s in moments like this where you see parliament, and parliamentarians, at their best. There’s a real scrap going on at the moment between the government and opposition over a number of issues. Everyone said this is bigger than any of us,” he said. For those wondering about what happens at parliament after this rare event, Stewart Sowman-Lund has a walkthrough of parliamentary protocol and convention.

Maiden speech given just last week

To end, a reflection from Grant Robertson. On Instagram, Robertson wrote that Collins looked directly at him while giving his maiden speech last week. “He was talking about his journey on rainbow issues. It was an important moment between us, that I will treasure. The speech is well worth your time, and an indication of what we have all lost.” For a time, Collins’s stance on marriage equality, informed by his Christian faith, created distance between him and others. He was public about the understanding he went on to develop and bridged the distance by acknowledging those hurt by his previous stance. Collins’s grip on the power of words to make ourselves understood and broaden our understanding of each other is on full display in his maiden speech. Yesterday, that speech became something else and now stands as part of his legacy. It is worth your time.

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