Angee Nicholas (standing right) with fellow National party member Fonoti Agnes Loheni. Photo: Supplied/RNZ

Several members of New Zealand’s Pasifika community have shared concerns that the new National-led government won’t have a Pasifika representative. 

Labour had 12 over its last terms, including the deputy Prime Minister, Carmel Sepuloni. 

There’s just one new blue Pacific MP, Cook Islands lawyer Angee Nicholas, who flipped the Te Atatu seat, a former Labour-strong electorate. But her victory is far from secure – she holds a margin of just 30 ahead of special votes. 

Fonoti Agnes Loheni is on the list, but not high enough up to get in on current tallies. 

Add to that, National’s coalition partner ACT wants to disband the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, although Christopher Luxon says he won’t. But who will lead it? 

National’s history of including Pasifika MPs is not great. 

And Auckland University of Technology’s culture lecturer Richard Pamatatau says two of four former National MPs have spoken to him about the difficulties of being inside National, and how they were expected to perform in a certain way. 

He says National has tried to find Pacific candidates, but hasn’t put them high up enough on the list to get in. 

“If National want to have a ‘Pacific MP’ in a safe electorate then why haven’t they got the Pacific person standing on the North Shore ….. or in East Coast Bays … or any of the really blue seats? So there’s a problem there…. it assumes a person of ethnicity would necessarily stand in what we think of as the ‘Pacific’ seats. South Auckland seats. 

“But that’s problematic because we don’t ever talk about the ‘white people’s seats’ do we?” 

In spite of the heavy alignment with Labour over the years, Pamatatau says the values of many conservative Christian Pacific families do align with National. 

“There is a conservatism there with the church-going families, there is a love of hierarchy, and there is a sense of duty.

“At the same time I think there is also a sense of duty and mana that won’t be recognised in National. And to be fair to Labour, it has really recognised how it can milk the Pacific population for votes, and increasingly over time it’s got better at elevating Pacific people into Cabinet, into more important roles. Plus, there is more of a comfort with diversity in the Labour Party.” 

Also talking to Susana Suisuiki on today’s episode is Khalia Strong, a senior journalist at the Pacific Media Network. She moderated the Pacific candidates election debate. 

She sees problems coming up with having a non-Pacific person in charge of their ministry. 

“Pacific people already have a marginalised voice, and when someone comes in and tries to speak for them, that’s problematic.

“We know the importance of having a ministry – that’s been set up since the 1970s – that space was fought for and yes, there have been questions, rightly so, about spending recently, but that shouldn’t erode the reasons it was set up.” 

She fears that ministry might be in for significant funding cuts. 

“I think this is an adjustment time … but we need to realise that politics isn’t everything. Yes it affects our daily lives but it doesn’t affect who we are as people. That heart, our families, all of that will continue to go on, so I think sometimes we almost give too much power (to the government) … we kind of put the government as this person that’s going to feed us and pay us and look after us, but we have those tools ourselves.

“Yes, some of them are made more difficult under existing structures. 

“But the government isn’t there to be our parent.” 

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