25 Aug 2017

Pasifika call to action as election nears

5:08 pm on 25 August 2017

by Laree Taula

It's seventy years since the first wave of Pasifika migrants came to New Zealand shores in search of a better life, believing that this was the land flowing with milk and honey.

But the stark reality for many Pasifika people living in New Zealand is a somewhat different story.

A series of events in Wellington this week highlighted the most pressing issues for Pasifika people as the general election draws near.

Candidate placards in Porirua.

Candidate placards in Porirua. Photo: Laree Taula

Active participation

This week, Wellington entrepreneur and philanthropist John Fiso announced the movement he is starting - 'The coalition of the willing'.

"I think that the way we think about solving our problems in this modern economy and this modern society needs some reflection and I think it needs some changes," Fiso said.

"If we don't have a view on some of these things then we are likely to be promoting the status quo which means that you must be happy with the status quo. If you don't reflect on it, and you perpetuate what's already there, then you can't have any complaints.

"We need to change the way we think and maybe reflect on some of our bias, some of our preconceived ideas, some of the way we got the information to start with.

According to Mr Fiso, Pasifika should start "thinking for themselves" by being an active participant in the democratic process.

"It's not beyond the realms of reality to say if a Pacific Party actually, if all Pacific people voted for a Pacific party, we would meet the 5 percent threshold and hold the balance of power in what the polls would say at the moment."

Mr Fiso favoured a collective approach to dealing with all of the challenges facing Pasifika. He will hold his first meeting for 'The Coalition of the Willing', on 5 September at the Dowse in Lower Hutt.

He said in the first instance, the most important thing was that Pasifika "vote full stop".

John Fiso awarded the Officer of New Zealand Order of Merit, ONZM presented by Dame Patsy Reddy Governor General at Government House May 2017

John Fiso awarded the Officer of New Zealand Order of Merit, ONZM presented by Dame Patsy Reddy Governor General at Government House May 2017 Photo: Simon Wolfe

Panel debate

Another event held this week in Wellington central provided an opportunity for Pasifika business people and others to see how political parties' policies align with the needs of Pasifika people.

The meeting was hosted by the Pasifika Business Network, a group with the aim of supporting Pasifika business people. One of the Network's founders, Sandy Antipas, kicked off the panel discussion with a gloomy statistic. He said only 1.6 percent of Pasifika business people owned their own business and that this had been the case for years, putting Pasifika at the "bottom of the barrel".

The panel was made up of the Green Party leader James Shaw, - The Opportunities Party candiate for Rongotai Paddy Plunket, ACT Party candidate for Rimutaka - Gray O'Sullivan, and Labour candidate for Rongotai - Paul Eagle. Mr Antipas asked the panel to comment individually on issues relating to education, health and the digital world.

Mr Shaw said housing was a critical issue for all of New Zealand, but in particular one in which Pasifika people were disadvantaged in. He pointed out how Pasifika were over-represented in worrying statistics that saw too many people die each winter due to living in cold, damp housing.

The first Pasifika woman to become a New Zealand Member of Parliament, Luamanuvao Winnie Laban

The former Labour MP and now Assistant Vice Chancellor (Pasifika) at Victoria University, Luamanuvao Winnie Laban was among audience members at the Pasifika Business Network event. Photo: Supplied

The Greens leader also spoke about the diabetes epidemic and the need to think about a sugar tax to improve health outcomes. Ms Plunket agreed with Shaw about the sugar tax but Mr O'Sullivan disagreed, saying a sugar tax, like a cigarette tax, was a regressive tax and would hurt Pasifika disproportionately.

"Let me confirm that James, you do agree that taxing sugar is a regressive tax?" Mr O'Sullivan said, to which Shaw replied, "Yes".

The candidates recognised that education was a key area for enabling better outcomes for Pasifika people.

Ms Plunket said very few Pasifika people were going into masters level study.

"We need to get people really getting knowledge and expertise in subjects when they've got the ability to do so, so they can use that knowledge to make a really important contribution."

"You have to be a rich person to study masters, and that's got to change," Ms Plunket claimed.

Mr Eagle said education was one of the big pillars for the Pasifika community, but he saw a lack of available educational resources. He suggested getting rid of the "donation" arrangement for public schools that parents are obliged to pay for their kids. He said Labour wanted a free compulsory education system "to be just that, free".

He said that "when Pacific people use their raw talents and creativity, combined with technology, great things can happen".

Mr O'Sullivan said the ACT party wanted less money thrown at failing systems and strongly advocated the benefits to Pasifika of partnership schools - an ACT policy.

According to the candidate, partnership schools would also help protect and foster Pasifika languages.

Pasifika youth potential

After Auckland, Porirua has the largest Pasifika population in New Zealand. Porirua's Cannons Creek and Waitangirua are areas of particularly high deprivation for Pasifika people.

Community leaders in Porirua have spoken about the two big H's affecting Pasifika people - health and housing.

Caroline Mareko chair of Aotea College's board and a senior manager with Whanau Manaaki Kindergartens has grave concerns for Pasifika families, especially children.

"At the moment it's not great for our Pacific communities," she said.

State housing in Porirua.

State housing in Porirua. Photo: Laree Taula

"If we address health and housing, but also people being able to afford the basic necessities, then they will be able to be active participants within their own community, but also within their own family."

The Chief Executive of the Porirua Whanau Centre, Liz Kelly, said housing was a top priority for Pasifika people right now.

"The issue is overcrowding and of course with overcrowding you get health issues and social issues. There's a lot of complexity that are associated with housing. One of our whanau that came, they were actually a Pacific Island family that came, there were 22 who were in that house."

The Pasifika population in New Zealand is youthful and growing - just under half is under 20 years old.

The head girl at Mana College, Tepora Kirisome, identified a good education as a priority for Pasifika youth. She said she hoped other schools provided the same sort of help her teachers offered, in an increasingly multicultural education environment.

"It's not only just from the Pacific islands. It's also from countries like Syria and Korea. I see that they find it really hard to not only learn the English language but also getting to understand what they're doing inside the classrooms."

Tepora Kirisome can't vote herself yet, but she encouraged her peers, not to just vote for someone they liked but to look at the policies of every party and see if they're doing what Pasifika youth valued.

"I value family, culture and religion. I believe that we're all equal," she said.

Porirua city's first ever Maori mayor, Mike Tana has a big heart for Pasifika people and their place in Porirua.

"If you can get the housing right, and improve the health of our Polynesian population, then their education will come," he said.

Porirua College's Tokelauan performers stand proud at this year's Northern Polyfest.

Porirua College's Tokelauan performers stand proud at this year's Northern Polyfest. Photo: Laree Taula

Mr Tana spoke about great initiatives that were happening for Pasifika people in Porirua that had been supported by benevolent individuals who put in their own time and resources. He said one example was the Virtuoso Strings Orchestra made up of over 160 students from eleven different decile 1 and decile 2 schools around Porirua who had been given an opportunity to learn and excel with a musical instrument.

"I think there's so much potential here but there's also a duty of care that our governments should take to ensure that they get a fair chance to be happy, healthy, housed here in Aotearoa, here in Porirua."

He urged Pasifika people in Porirua and across New Zealand to vote.