Upending of the economy and society by the Covid-19 pandemic could be an opportunity to reset the New Zealand economy in a more equitable way, according to a senior Pasifika accountant.
Lisa Tai, a Rotuman New Zealander who is the head of the Pasifika Division at finance firm Deloitte, said she would like to see greater support for Pacific businesses and the Pacific workforce in the government's budget, which is announced on Thursday.
"It [Covid-19] has given us and the government the opportunity to rebuild an economy that is inclusive and ensures that all parts of society can contribute," said Ms Tai, who is also an associate director at Deloitte's Risk Advisory practice.
She has the perspective of a New Zealand raised Pacific Islander who sees the "challenges of navigating between the Pacific way and the New Zealand way" which are sometimes ill at ease with each other.
"We (Deloitte) are really focused on contributing and supporting projects and initiatives that are going towards the advancement of Pasifika people in New Zealand and the wider region."
She said it was exciting to see the government do the same in last year's budget. It showed a commitment "to challenging the status quo", one which Ms Tai claimed had not worked for Pasifika communities in the past.
"The budget identified Pasifika and Maori people's aspirations as being a priority for Aotearoa."
She described this as a milestone and a huge step in the right direction, citing the four pillars of the Ministry of Pacific People's Lalaga Fou strategy which provided advice for last year's budget.
"Thriving Pacific languages, cultures identities. Prosperous Pacific communities. Resilient and healthy Pacific people. Confident, thriving and resilient Pacific young people."
The sum total, she said, encapsulated the areas which need addressing in order to advance and improve outcomes for Pacific people.
Ms Tai would like to see the support continue in this year's budget for Pacific languages and culture which she said had been previously neglected.
"It's so important for us as a Pacific community, it's an integral part of our wellbeing and it's the core of who we are as a people," she added.
"And our languages and our cultures and our dance and our songs help us to maintain our identity. They provide us with a connection to the past but also to the future."
Last year's budget allocation recognised the fragility of language and culture, she said, and enabled the Ministry for Pacific People's to create the Pacific Languages Unit and to invest further in Language Weeks. This year has seen Rotuman included for the first time.
Ms Tai would like to see the 2020 budget build on this foundation.
And she said the Covid-19 pandemic provided the occasion to reset the economy.
"I think what that means for our people, for Pasifika, is that we need to ensure our communities and our businesses are provided with the opportunities to contribute and to be involved," she said.
"And to use what has been a horrible situation to rebuild and thrive."
There are some key steps which Lisa Tai would like to see taken in the 2020 budget in order for Pasifika businesses to rebound and thrive.
"The first one is around providing our Pasifika businesses with access to what is being described as the 'much anticipated' coming procurement opportunities," she said.
"So, making sure that we have a role to play and can be involved."
Workforce investment is another key area in order to grow Pasifika participation in business.
"Targeting investments that ensure that our communities have access to the right tools and resources to anticipate future workforce requirements," she added.
Ms Tai would like to see significant government investment in stimulating participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects) to grow Pasifika innovation, development and workforce participation.
Diversification of the Pasifika workforce in recent decades, said Ms Tai, showed how participation in the economy has developed beyond the traditional manufacturing and services areas.
"According to the MBIE [Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment] 2019 Pacific People's Labour Market Report 37 percent of our workforce is employed in skilled occupations."
New roles included managerial, professional, trade and technical according to Ms Tai who said it was important to keep this figure growing with investment from the government.
Beyond employment, Ms Tai said Covid-19 had shown how innovative the community could be when dealing with adversity. She used community-led initiatives as examples of this.
"Things like Prepare Pacific, a website dedicated to distributing Covid-19 information to our community," she said.
"The various community food banks and emergency support services."
All these initiatives need to be recognised and encouraged, she said, by being factored into forward looking initiatives in the coming budget.
Covid-19 provided an opportunity but also a tendency to become quite insular, according to Ms Tai, who urged for government initiatives to strengthen the regional community.
"In my mind, there's almost no border between us and the rest of the region because we're all connected through culture and more importantly through family," she said.
An example of that connection, Lisa Tai said, would be to be ensure that Pacific countries take priority when establishing a regional tourism and trade bubble once this can be safely achieved.
"This is a huge opportunity for New Zealand to step up."