14 Sep 2017

Pasifika candidates face off in Christchurch

7:43 am on 14 September 2017

Christchurch's Pasifika community have made it clear to National and Labour's Pacific spokespeople they want better mental health services and an emphasis on Pacific languages in schools.

National's Alfred Ngaro and Labour's Aupito William Sio faced off in the debate last night.

National's Alfred Ngaro, right, and Labour's Aupito William Sio, centre, in the Christchurch debate. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

More than 100 Pasifika voters crammed into a hall in Christchurch last night, many of them first-time voters keen to learn what the two biggest political parties could do to help their community.

Sarah Maindonald, a school counsellor, asked the candidates what could be done to better support Pacific youth's mental health.

"I am really concerned we have the highest rate of suicide in Canterbury for young people, but I only know of two Pacific counsellors in schools," she said.

National's Alfred Ngaro told the crowd the problem was starting to be addressed, with a Pasifika charity, Le Va, launching a suicide prevention training programme.

"It's great because it's a Pacific group, so it is Pasifika who are leading this approach," he said.

But Labour's Aupito William Sio said more needed to be done.

"You need to have somebody on site at school, for people who might need that one-on-one discussion," he said.

The teaching of Pacific languages in schools also sparked questions.

National has promised to invest $160 million to ensure primary school students have the opportunity to learn a second language, with priority languages listed on the National Party's website as Mandarin, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Te Reo and New Zealand sign language.

Mr Sio said he was surprised Pacific languages weren't included in the initial list of priority languages, given Samoan was the third most spoken language in New Zealand.

"That is revealing in itself because many Pasifika early childhood education centres were founded on the belief that bilingualism was valuable,' he said.

But Mr Ngaro said it was up to schools and communities to decide what second languages they would teach.

"Communities can choose ... which of those languages are in there - if they say [the community] is predominately Samoan, it can be Samoan," he said.

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