(L-R) Robyn Lesatele, Eden Iati, and Kristoffer Lavasi'i. Photos: Supplied

Migration and housing have dominated election speak so far. Seeking views of life and the electorate from different perspectives, Teuila Fuatai speaks with four young Pasifika people

Robyn Lesatele, 22, Samoan

Robyn Lesatele is in her final year of conjoint Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Art degrees at Auckland University. The 22-year-old, who is head of the Pacific Island Law Students Association this year, is aiming for a job in public policy once she graduates.

As a young Pacific person in Auckland, she wants her community to have its needs and wants represented fairly at government level – but the biggest barrier to this is the lack of understanding around New Zealand’s electoral system and its impact on Pacific participation in elections, Lesatele says.

“We’re not going to get our way if we don’t vote,” Lesatele says with a wry smile on her face. “I know of people who don’t vote because they don’t get it. People enrol, and that’s great. But then they ask what am I voting for and why, and that’s a different story.”

Policies that implement civics education at school level will increase understanding and engagement in the electoral process, especially for Pasifika people, Lesatele believes.

“I didn’t know that John Key basically got free tertiary education, not until I got to university – that’s important!

“Knowing those kinds of things, and being able to react in an informed way is something that we all need. High school students need to know what a policy is and how that is going to affect the decisions we make after school, for ourselves and our families.”

Eden Iati, 21, Samoan 

At 21 years old, life is centred around family, study, friends, work and other community and social commitments for fourth-year Otago University student Eden Iati.

Yes, the housing crisis is important, and yes – trying to figure out what is going on with New Zealand’s migration policies are crucial – but there are things that hit far closer to home which will matter come September.

“As a young person who is Pasifika, family and community is a huge thing. The way we grow up is so different to a lot of ways other people grow up. When we’re in a state where our families are in poverty, it fully affects us because we’re all together. If we’re successful together, then we’re successful, but if we’re struggling, then we all struggle together.”

Because of this, addressing poverty and the major drivers contributing to inequality in Pacific communities is what Iati will be looking at in the lead up to voting day.

“Pacific youth: often, if we are working or studying towards a job, it’s so that we can contribute back to our families.

“Sometimes, this means our families can inflict poverty on us unintentionally, because we contribute so much to them and forgo other opportunities to do that.”

Policies and initiatives that target older Pasifika people – like parents and grandparents – around how schooling, and other forms of education are not only essential to earning good jobs but also leading healthy lifestyles, will help bridge a generational gap that seems to only exasperate social problems in Pacific communities.

“It’s so cool, when you talk to Pacific youth, they never just say these are the issues affecting me, they talk about the things that affect their family,” Iati points out. “But, we’ve had welfare reform after welfare reform … and we still don’t see much difference being made with our Pasifika communities. Educating our parents and grandparents in a way that they’ll actually listen and understand the advantages of more long-term, sustainable education and job pathways must be looked at,” she says.

Kristoffer Lavasi’i, 19, Samoan and Palagi heritage

Kristoffer Lavasi’i grew up in the small Waikato town of Ngaruawahia. A second-year student at Waikato University studying law and arts, the 19-year-old believes preventative measures that address the increasing number of people struggling with mental health problems, particularly Pasifika youth, should be a key election issue.

At the most severe end, Lavasi’i points to high suicide numbers in the Pacific community.

Research from the University of Auckland’s Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath shows Pacific people have the highest rates of suicide attempts, plans and thoughts than any other ethnic group in New Zealand. Policies that push for more education around mental health and mental well-being at high school-level are ones that Lavasi’i would seriously consider when deciding which candidate and party to vote for.

“At that age, there are so many complex things that are occurring at that same time. You’re going through puberty, you’re going either to tertiary education or into the workforce, and it’s in those types of areas a lot of things happen.

“People can probably tell you what schizophrenia is, what psychosis is, but they don’t know or understand the nature of things like stress or anxiety.”

Mental health education needs to be targeted at high school level, and it needs to be mandatory, Lavasi’i says.

Nera Tautau, 19, Samoan

Nera Tautau grew up in Porirua, surrounded by family members who relied on state housing for warm, dry shelter. This year marks her third away from her home town, as she studies toward a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Arts at the University of Otago in Dunedin.

“Housing is a big one for my family and I, especially because Pacific people are so over-represented in state housing,” Tautau says.

A Statistics New Zealand report on the 2013 Census showed 41.5 percent of Pacific people that lived in households with landlords were living in a Housing New Zealand property. The short supply of social housing, as well as the sub-standard conditions of many of the homes must be addressed, Tautau says.

“Not everyone can get an equal footing or equal start in life if they don’t have the bare necessities.

“Housing and shelter is a basic human right. It’s the biggest concern for me this election.”

Close to this, is the need for more investment in teachers and schools, particularly those in lower-socio economic communities where many Pacific communities live, Tautau says.

“Teachers have to be paid better. They are the frontline of our education system. To have a good productive society, you have to start with good education, and if we can’t even have that foundation with good teachers then it’s hard to move up.”

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