21 Feb 2024

Parliament pauses out of respect for Efeso Collins

From The House , 6:55 pm on 21 February 2024

It’s been a sad day at Parliament with news of the sudden death of Green Party MP Fa'anānā Efeso Collins in Auckland this morning, barely a week after he gave his maiden speech as a Member of Parliament.

Raised in South Auckland, this New Zealand-born Samoan spent three terms on the Auckland Council serving as chair of the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board, and councillor for the Manukau ward. He was a leading voice advocating for people living on society’s margins.

As mark of respect Parliament adjourned until next week, but not before several party leaders or senior MPs spoke about Efeso Collins. 

Fa'anana Efeso Collins

Fa'anana Efeso Collins Photo: Supplied / Efeso Collins

"One of the first things that you notice about Efeso is his graciousness, his huge smile, and his reassuring voice. He was joyful, he was funny, he was kind, and thoughtful. He conducted himself quietly and kindly and gracefully," said the Green party co-leader, James Shaw.

"He worked to change not by forcing his ideas on others, but by listening and seeking out ideas from others. He was a man full of empathy, a man who knew that the first step towards change is an open heart, a man who embodied the idea that our work here is to serve the communities that we represent; to be their voice for change.

"Efeso Collins was a good man. He was called to come to Parliament because of what he could see of the worsening poverty, the inadequate incomes, the profound inequities that affect and shape Pacific communities that he came from. Aotearoa needed him. We needed him. Every day that Efeso came to work, I know that he carried the expectation of his South Auckland community. It was a responsibility that he wore solemnly, but he also made it look easy—fun, even," Shaw said.

Green Co-Leader James Shaw makes a tribute to MP Fa'anānā Efeso Collins.

Green Co-Leader James Shaw makes a tribute to MP Fa'anānā Efeso Collins. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The Prime Minister Christopher Luxon spoke next, acknowledging Collins' deep commitment to public service and advocacy for his Samoan and South Auckland communities in the various leadership roles that he held over the decades. Collins, he said, was just getting started in his promising Parliamentary career.

"I met Efeso almost two years ago, and, in fact, the two of us caught up just a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about balancing family and work life in this place and his hopes for starting out here. In all my interactions with him, Efeso was always so friendly, gracious, generous, kind, positive, and collaborative, with a lovely sense of humour. He certainly lived by the words he uttered in his maiden speech, which was to lead with the spirit of peace and love and service. He was what I would call a true servant leader," the Prime Minister said.

Fa'anānā Efeso Collins' empty chair in Parliament's debating chamber is adorned with a tapa cloth and an ulafala, before MPs arrive to mark his death.

Fa'anānā Efeso Collins' empty chair in Parliament's debating chamber is adorned with a tapa cloth and an ulafala, before MPs arrive to mark his death. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Opposition leader Chris Hipkins reflected on his long involvement with Efeso Collins after first meeting him in 1999 at a meeting of the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations.

"As so often is the case with student politicians, with all of the things going on in the world at that particular point in time, the student politicians from across the country had gathered together in Auckland to do what we were very passionate about and attack each other. And Efeso, as the newly elected president of the Auckland University Students Association, spoke some way into the meeting. I know that he was a believer that there is power in being the last to speak, and he spoke in a very tense meeting, and he began by making a joke at his own expense. And for the next 10 minutes or so, he held the entire room in the palm of his hand.

"He spoke with passion and with eloquence, and that is something that I will always remember him for. He could break tension with just a few words, he could bring people together effortlessly, and he could convey complex ideas in a way that captivated people's imaginations," Hipkins said.

Labour Leader Chris Hipkins embraces Green Co-Leader James Shaw in Parliament after their tributes to Efeso Collins.

Labour Leader Chris Hipkins embraces Green Co-Leader James Shaw in Parliament after their tributes to Efeso Collins. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Labour’s deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni also knew Efeso Collins from their university days.

"It would have been impossible for anyone to not know who Efeso was. He was a vocal advocate for workers, for the poor, for the vulnerable, for students, for our young people, for South Auckland, and for our Pasifika community. His priorities never wavered; they were God, family, and serving his community.

"Efeso may not have found his eventual home with the Labour Party but he continued to be part of our family. He may have moved out of our fale but he only moved to the fale next door. Our connection and history was too long and deep for that tie to be severed," Sepuloni said.

"Losing Efeso is a loss to our country and to our Pasifika community. There will be a gaping hole left in so many spaces. He called out racism; he challenged discrimination and unfairness; he held individuals, systems, agencies and organisations to account. He also shouted from the rooftops the amazingness and the aspirations of our Pasifika community.

Labour deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni speaks in Parliament after the death of Fa'anānā Efeso Collins on 21 February, 2024.

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"To the Green Party, we acknowledge your loss and we all share with you in the mourning that you are experiencing now; we mourn with you. Mostly we cannot stop thinking of Efeso's beautiful wife, Fia, and his two daughters. He was so proud of his wife and daughters. We pray that they are strengthened by the people around them wanting to bring comfort over the coming days, months and years."

The co leader of Te Paati Maori, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said that while Collins’ time here may have been short, the impact of his legacy was certainly felt.

"I think the other thing, too, is that it's a valuable lesson — in the significance of all it is that we do here, that we have our whānau, that we have our communities, that we ring our parents, that we hug our children, and remind ourselves, and I can't say this enough, how important our real lives outside of this place are. And sometimes we get that lesson at the cost of some of the most valuable people."

Representatives of the New Zealand First and Act Party opted not to speak.

Efeso Collins was the first sitting MP to die since Parekura Horomia almost eleven years ago

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