With no MPs with Pacific heritage in the incoming government, will MPP survive the coalition negotiations. .
MPP or no MPP? That is the question for the incoming government, given ACT's desire to dismantle MPP.
Coalition talks for the new government are underway, and negotiations could determine the future of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples.
ACT leader David Seymour has pledged to abolish the Ministry, among others, in a bid to cut public spending, having made a pre-election jibe that almost doesn't bear repeating:
“In my fantasy, we’d send a guy called Guy Fawkes in there and it’d be all over, but we’ll probably have to have a more formal approach than that.”
The ministry’s work includes support for Pacific languages and cultural events, business, education, housing and employment opportunities, and advocacy work including the Pacific Wellbeing Strategy and closing the pay gap for Pacific peoples. And the previous government's 2023/2024 budget allocates over $39 million to different Pacific-related programmes, a drop of $3.3 million on the previous year.
Former National MP Anae Arthur Anae says dismantling the ministry would be a mistake.
“It would be a very foolish thing for any government to do that … they’ve got to accept the fact that we are part of this nation. We have come here since before the fifties and we’ve made huge contributions.
“People tend to forget just what the Pacific community has given this country, not only in sports, in academia, in business, in everything … give people the opportunity to prove what they can do.”
While Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon has also emphasised that MPP will stay, with no MPs with Pacific heritage in the incoming government, it’s worth looking at why it was set up and what would it take to dismantle it.
The Ministry of Pacific Peoples Head Office in Manukau. Photo/Google Maps
How to make and break(down) a ministry
The Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs was established in 1984 when the David Lange's Labour government swept into power, with Richard Prebble as the first Minister. Prebble was considered a staunch advocate for Pacific communities in New Zealand, having worked in Fiji and because he held the seat of Central Auckland where there was a large concentration of Pacific constituents.
Prebble later joined the ACT Party, and became its leader from 1996 to 2004.
Constitutional law expert Graeme Edgeler says scrapping a Ministry just needs a law to be passed, if the political will is there.
“If they really wanted to, it could be day two of parliament sitting, and they could just pass it under extreme urgency.”
Edgeler says in the case of winding up, office equipment, computers and vehicles would be returned once their lease expired, staff redirected to other roles or have their positions wound up in line with employer obligations. Any leftover funding would be returned to the Treasury and another government branch would become custodians of any significant cultural gifts and take over administration of any ongoing scholarships.
Edgeler says another option could be merging several ministries.
“We used to have the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs, and now we’ve got slightly separate ones. Depending on how they wanted to organise it, the new Ministry of Disabled People could be folded into Te Whatu Ora or the Ministry of Health or something like that.”
Pacific Blues chair Christian Malietoa-Brown says scrapping the ministry doesn’t make any political sense, and would be strongly opposed by the Pacific arm of the National party.
“We would raise a lot of chaos within the party if they even start talking about it because the fact is, Pacific communities are struggling more than ever. It does not make sense to get rid of the ministry that’s specifically targeted towards that.”
Envisioning a new future
ACT list MP Karen Chhour told Radio New Zealand the incoming government wants to redirect funding to ministries that make a difference.
“When you add a double layer of bureaucracy, money just gets wasted on overheads and upper management. We’d like that money to be closer to the ground where people can actually make a real difference … if we just tighten our belts and we make sure that every dollar spent has a good result, that's what we'll be proud of standing by.”
But Pacific politicians are keen for the ministry to stay, while agreeing there’s room for reflection and improvement.
Green Party list MP Fa'anana Efeso Collins says he’s proud of the leadership shown by the former and current CEO, but adds that progress needs to be in a format that’s measurable.
“We wouldn’t have to worry about people shutting you down if you can show the data that you’re being effective, that’s going to be a game changer.”
Meanwhile, former Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio is hoping good sense will prevail and is banking on a National MP to ensure the ministry is retained.
“Dr Shane Reti was the Pacific spokesperson for National, and I’ve got every confidence that he will understand the importance of the role of the Ministry of Pacific Peoples.”
If not, Anae says there’s always the handbrake: New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters.
“Winston will back us, I’m pretty sure on that, to make sure that it is not touched.”