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Opinion: Talofa and tōfa soifua - Where to for Pasifika after the election?

As Pasifika MPs old and new head to Parliament following the general election, Mariner Fagaiava-Muller is urging them to make themselves heard.

Labour MP Tangi Utikere Source: 1 NEWS

Do you reckon Moses could part the red sea on Saturday night?

Because even the bluest, most conservative seats in Aotearoa had no might against Labour this election.

Pasifika sat by and watched because it’s not new for us. Think back to the three Ms - Māngere, Manurewa and Manukau East - that saved Helen Clark in 2005.

These South Auckland and predominantly Pacific Island electorates have typically pledged their allegiance to the Labour Party. Why that is? We’ll have to sit down over an ipu tī for that one.

Labour’s Pasifika caucus is now the largest it has ever been. Terisa Ngobi for Ōtaki, Barbara Edmonds for Mana and Tangi Utikere for Palmerston North won big and are now in the House.

List candidates Lemauga Lydia Sosene and Lotu Fuli wait in the wings. They are local board chairs on the Southside. They are tama’ita’i Samoa. Being able to walk between those two worlds is one thing. Using that to wage better outcomes in the Beehive for those very worlds is another, a challenge they’ll issue upon themselves.

Takanini MP elect Anae Neru Leavasa is one to watch out for. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has mentioned him a handful of times for his work as a GP. He understands first-hand that health dominates all other social ills for Pasifika. 

The National Party’s bloodbath means their only Pasifika MPs are gone.

Not only do Alfred Ngaro and Fonoti Agnes Loheni lose, but so do we. For those in the village that align themselves with their politics, who is it they see themselves in? Who is there on on Parliament's benches to build bridges? 

Ngaro was the first Cook Islander elected to Parliament. He shot himself in the foot by posting misinformation on Facebook about his opponent Phil Twyford’s abortion views. While he backtracked on those posts, the damage was done.

Fonoti ran a strong campaign in the Māngere seat that was once David Lange’s, having missed the nomination for Botany and Takanini. 

Her Māngere office beamed with activity throughout the campaign, to the lengths of starting a young Pacific professionals’ group. 

It’s devastating to see them leave. Malo le taumafai.

Now we’re back to square one, where National’s own Pacific Island Affairs spokesperson wasn’t a Pacific Islander.

If the party is wise, Ngaro and Loheni will be allowed to rise back to shore in 2023. Nurturing their Pasifika talent and giving them winnable rankings has been what Labour's done well - National should take heed. 

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National leader Judith Collins says the only diversity she concerns herself with is a diversity of thought, and in the same breath, frequently talks through her Samoan husband’s experiences as if she lived them herself. 

A Pacific person should be the only qualified person to talk on Pacific-ness. Pacific people speak not for point-scoring and tokenism.

They are simply speaking to their lived experience.

For the Greens, this election has gifted them their first Pasifika MP.

Teanau Tuiono, of Ngāpuhi/Atiu descent, has a strong global track record in activism. He stands for social justice, indigenous rights and climate change. His family is firmly imprinted within the grassroots. 

Tuiono’s is equipped with knowledge about the hot button issues for young Pasifika folk.

The days of voting Labour because your parents do are fading. The next generation of the diaspora is contributing more to the political discourse.

We should not underestimate the ability of our young brown scholars, who are now fighting on the front line of every social movement.

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They are realising the system is not designed for them - it is made to comfort the status quo. 

Lourdes Vano, the 18-year-old Green candidate who stood in Manurewa, is one of these rangatahi leading the charge.

We talk about brown faces in high places.

Although it’s fair to acknowledge that even if there is Pasifika representation in Parliament, Pasifika are still overrepresented in negative statistics.

Was it not that not long ago that New Zealand gasped in shock about South Auckland students dropping out of school to work? In reality, it's been happening for years.  

High rates of non-communicable and chronic diseases impede Pacific health. Added to the mix are language barriers and low DHB funding, which frustrate those in the medical profession.

According to The Salvation Army, 29 per cent of homeless people are Pasifika. Pacific people account for only eight per cent of New Zealand’s total population.

Pacific women are the lowest-earning workers. That’s been condemned by a raft of people, but are our politicians going to act on these cries?

I gladly beat my drum and cheehoo today for our new Pasifika members of Parliament.

Tomorrow, I await a stake in the ground from them.

They must make themselves heard.

To help the māmās and pāpās, the pepe. Us all. The Pasifika community is counting on them to reimagine and pave a way for real change.

Mariner Fagaiava-Muller is a 1 NEWS assignments desk co-ordinator and Re: journalist, from the villages of Iva and Lepā in Samoa and Nukunuku in Tonga.