Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Deputy Prime Minister taking nothing for granted in lead up to election

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Gladys Hartson | Senior Journalist

With less than three months until Kiwis go to the polls on October 14, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Carmel Sepuloni says her party’s taking nothing for granted.

The DPM and Acting Prime Minister when Tagata Pasifika spoke with her, after recently receiving the traditional Samoan tattoo for women (malu), acknowledges it will be a tight race. 

In the October 17, 2020 general election, the Labour Party captured 50.01% of the party vote and gained 65 seats in parliament. The result was the highest share of the party vote, the highest number of seats, and the first single-party majority government achieved under MMP.

And while she has been through several elections since first entering parliament in 2008,  she says it is an exciting time.

“The last election was an anomaly, you don’t usually have a landslide like we had at the last election in this MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) environment, so this is more of what I am used to.

“We have to fight for every vote, we have to prove to New Zealanders that we are the political party that is best placed and committed to serving them,” Sepuloni says.

Of Samoan, Tongan and European heritage, Sepuloni made history becoming the first woman of Pacific heritage appointed as Deputy Prime Minister in January this year.

As the Labour MP for the electorate of Kelston in Auckland, she holds some key portfolios including Social Development and Employment, Arts Culture and Heritage and Workplace Relations and Safety.

While her schedule is demanding, she says her priority is to serve not only her constituents in Kelston but also communities across the country on the challenges facing them.

“So number one is cost of living. We’re not alone in this, but that doesn’t provide any great level of comfort to people in my electorate, even though we know other countries are facing the same challenges.

“How they get by on the daily is the number one concern; being able to put food on the table, pay the rent or the mortgage, and get through what is a challenging time at the moment,” she says. 

And Sepuloni says the government is not blind to the impact on New Zealanders and that they are listening. 

“It’s the reason why we introduced so many of the things in the most recent budget, to respond to the everyday needs of New Zealanders. That is the number one issue. Of course there are other issues that are of importance; climate change, crime, for Aucklanders it’s congestion, all of those things are important, but cost of living is the one that comes up more often than not.”

Sepuloni acknowledges that immigration also continues to be a concern and a key issue for the Pacific community given the recent matter of the ‘dawn raid’ conducted on a Tongan man at his home in Auckland.

“And as we said to the Pacific community, there are particular pieces of work that continue to be explored behind the scenes that we haven’t yet named, but we continue to work with our Minister for immigration on that,” she says.

With Parliament set to concluded on September 8, Sepuloni says the work continues as the countdown begins to election day. 

Having held the seat of Kelston since 2014 and winning by a 15,000 votes margin 2020, Sepuloni is expected to win her seat in October, going up against National Party candidate Ruby Manukia-Schaumkel and Democracy NZ candidate Leao Tildsley.

She says her focus continues to be, “do my job to the best of my ability with the people at the heart of it who I set out to serve when I came into this role and every other role that I’ve been in.“

Whether as MP for Kelston of Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sepuloni says it is a privilege and is well aware of the responsibility that comes with the job.

“We came here, our grandparents and our parents, they went to work at very hard jobs. We haven’t had the easiest journey or pathway. We are still overrepresented in statistics, not for good reasons unfortunately, and so for many in our Pacific communities this achievement of being DP was owned by them all,” Sepuloni says. 

“And it’s indicative of more to come as far as I’m concerned. As I said before, it was a glass ceiling that I broke through; others broke through many (ceilings) before me to allow me to get to this point. Me breaking through this one, provides an opportunity for the next generation to go even further.” 

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