There are mixed thoughts on how a National-led government will represent Pacific peoples
Which Pacific voices are influencing our incoming government, and how the National party may eventually get a Pacific MP
There are mixed thoughts on whether Pacific communities will be represented, after the final vote counts revealed there will be no MPs of Pacific heritage in the incoming government.
Pacific Blues is the Pacific-arm of the National party. Speaking to Levi Matautia-Morgan on Pacific Mornings, chairperson Christian Malietoa-Brown says people can’t complain if they didn’t vote.
“We had a lot of Pacific people that chose not to be part of the [voting] process this year and it really hurt us, and hopefully we can remember that for next year.”
Te Atatū candidate Angee Nicholas only lost by 131 votes, and Malietoa-Brown points out the fate of list candidate Fonotī Agnes Loheni was decided by a narrow margin.
“Agnes is right on the cusp. If we had 0.5 of a percent more, then Agnes would be in.”
But political commentator Richard Pamatatu says the candidates weren’t made a priority.
“The Pacific candidates were not high enough up on the list to get in, and that’s something National really needs to think about. It can have as much rhetoric as it likes about ‘we’re trying to diversify’, but it hasn’t been able to do that successfully, which means the nuances of policy development will be missing.
“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. That means for the Pacific population it’s not going to have the kind of access to policy making, to thinking, to the cabinet table, to the power, that had happened under Labour.
“To be fair to National, when it had Peseta Sam Lotu-Iinga and Alfred Ngaro inside the party who could offer advice, thinking, context, that’s going to be missing in the National Party, which, when you look at the lineup … is basically a party for white people, because it’s full of whiteness.”
But Malietoa-Brown counters the criticism by pundits and community leaders that National doesn't prioritise Pacific candidates, by saying that's how democracy works - you get what you vote for.
“My first question to these political pundits and community leaders, did you vote for National? And if you’re out west in Te Atatū, did you vote for Angee because she only lost by 100 and something votes?”
He says if Pacific people don’t vote for the Pacific National candidates, then they can’t complain that National doesn’t have Pacific MPs.
“It’s like going to the superbowl and you’re supporting one team and then you get angry when the other team doesn't do what you want,” says Malietoa-Brown.
Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon says they aim to improve outcomes for all New Zealanders, including Pacific communities. But Pamatatau says long term issues for lower socio-economic groups need to be addressed.
“When we look at the metrics around the Pacific population; home ownership, health, income etcetera, pockets of the Pacific population don’t have the same numbers as everybody else.
“Once a government is formed, maybe Mr Luxon and some of his MPs will recognise that here is a section of the population that is growing, that is fertile, it’s having babies, and if you don’t look after them, maybe in 10, 20, 30 years you’re going to have real trouble on your hands.”
From left: National list MP Fonotī Agnes Loheni, Pacific Blues chair Christian Malietoa-Brown and Te Atatū candidate Angee Nicholas
Malietoa-Brown helped run former National MP Fonoti Agnes Loheni’s election campaign in 2017, and has also run several times for the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu local board. He argues there are still Pacific voices in key National-party positions.
“We have people, not only on the board, we have people as Deputy Regional chairs, electorate chairs, we have a lot of people across the National Party infrastructure that will make sure that we don’t get left behind.
“Our job is to train candidates and look for candidates. Over the last two, three years, we’ve worked hard on policy. Ruby Schaumkel, she was our policy chair and she wrote this whole immigration paper that went all the way to caucus … it was specifically about overstayers and what we can do to help them.”
Filling the void for Pacific representation, former National MP Anae Arthur Anae says New Zealand First leader Winston Peters will be a strong advocate for Pacific interests.
"Winston has a very strong affiliation with the Pacific - right across the Pacific nations when he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs
“He was absolutely loved by the people, he did a brilliant job, so I'm really pleased we have another voice for us with Winston being there.”
Is there still hope for a Pacific MP in government?
PMN election specialist Justin Latif says a spot could still open up for Loheni, if she wants to take it.
“There’s a number of older MPs with National and a lot of life happens over three years. I think there’s a very good chance Agnes does go in, but it’ll really be up to her at this point now to reconsider … so it’s really going to be an interesting time for her deciding, ‘Do I keep myself there in the ring, or do I maybe let someone else below me go?’.”