Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Public service a labour of love for Pacific people in the supercity

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Around 50 candidates of Pacific heritage have put their hands up to stand in this year’s local body elections. Photo: Upper Hutt City Council
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Gladys Hartson | Senior Journalist

As eligible voters received their voting packs in the mail, it’s worth noting that around 50 candidates of Pacific heritage have put their hands up to stand in this year’s local body elections. 

Understandably, a large number of those candidates are standing in Auckland and while many are standing as independents or are aligned with other political groups, the  Labour Party ticket appears to be the party of choice when it comes to those Pacific candidates.

As part of Leon Carlton Iusitini’s Master of Arts thesis at the University of Auckland in 2013, he surmised that the Labour Party ranks highly among Pacific people in New Zealand, ‘primarily due to the party’s history of engagement and mobilisation of Pacific communities and its representation of their broad interest as a socially disadvantaged, predominantly working class ethnic minority.’  

In 2019, successful Auckland candidates who were endorsed by the Labour Party included outgoing Mayor and former Labour government minister Phil Goff (despite running as an independent) and councillors of Pacific heritage included, Manukau city councillors, Fa’anana Efeso Collins and Alf Filipaina, Maungakiekie/Tamaki councillor Jospehine Bartley and former Chairperson of the Mangere Otahuhu local board Lemauga Lydia Sosene, who has since resigned her post to become a Labour List MP. 

This time around, Fa’anana, who is running for Mayor as an independent with the endorsement of Labour and the Greens, is seen as having a strong chance of winning the Mayoralty. 

And among those running again under the Labour ticket are Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board Chairperson Tauanu’u Nicholas Bakulich, Maungakiekie-Tamaki Councillor Bartley and Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board member Lotu Fuli.

Labour Optimistic

Tauanu’u who has served three terms on the local board says there is a lot of energy amongst the team. He says they are optimistic about their chances getting their candidates over the line. 

“We’ve got quite a big team this year. We’ve probably exceeded again the number of Pacific island candidates running under Labour endorsed tickets,” he says.

“When you’ve got a big group and there’s lots of camaraderie and sharing. There’s certainly an element of excitement.”

Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board Chairperson Tauanu’u Nick Bakulich. Photo: Twitter / Tauanu’u Nick Bakulich

Otara Papatoetoe local board member Lotu Fuli who has held the role of Chairperson and a member of the board since first elected in 2013, is also hopeful that the team will get more Pacific candidates elected come October 8.

Lotu is standing for the position of city councillor for the Manukau Ward. If successful, Lotu will replace Mayoral candidate Fa’anana Efeso Collins and will be only the second Pacific woman to be elected as a councillor for the supercity.

Adding to this, Lotu says, “excitement is also building at the prospect that the city will have its first Mayor of Pacific heritage for the biggest Polynesian city in the world.” 

Meanwhile Bartley, the first Pacific woman Auckland city councillor elected back in 2018, is taking nothing for granted. She says it’s about finding the balance between campaigning and work. 

“We have to work for every vote, but it’s very hard at the moment because council hasn’t finished so we still have to do our job as councillors,” she says

“All the readings, preparing for committee meetings and then also the community functions and events and so you have very little time to go door knocking or do phone banking.”

Councillor Josephine Bartley says she is working on finding the balance between campaigning and work. Photo: Tagata Pasifika

The impact of COVID-19 continues to play a major role in people’s lives and Josephine says having the support of the Labour Party during this campaign is timely. 

“All my previous campaigns, it’s been my family and my friends that have carried me through and have done everything,” Bartley says.

“This campaign, it’s different because everybody’s been affected by COVID and trying to balance everything in their lives which is understandable. I don’t want to be an added burden to them, so I’ve actually had to rely on the party this time.”

Low Voter Turnout

Low voter turnout for the local body elections continues to be of concern not only in Auckland, but in other parts of the country. 

According to statistics from the 2019 elections, Auckland had the second lowest turnout. This was notable in parts of South and West Auckland and suburbs such as Glen Innes. Voter turnout was particularly low among 26-30 year olds with the higher turnout in the age range between 76-80. 

Lotu says it needs to be addressed given that only 22% of eligible voters turned out in Otara at the last election. She says the voting process needs to change to adapt to the times and to increase youth participation. 

“Particularly our younger generation, and we know that those who don’t vote tend to be young, tend to be brown and tend to live in areas like mine in Manukau and in Manurewa,” Lotu says.

“This is a generation of internet and emailing, Facebook and Instagram, so you can imagine what it’s like for those who just turned 18, 19 or 20. I think that the biggest barrier is the fact that it is a postal vote, there’s quite a bit of difference.”

From left-Councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins, local board chair Lotu Fuli and councillor Alf Filipaina. Photo:Auckland Council

Tauanu’u says there is anecdotal evidence that residents who have moved addresses, for one reason or another, might miss out on casting their vote. He says, another reality is that voting is not seen as a priority.

“Registering the votes is certainly not one of the highest priorities for households who’ve got other things to face and especially if they’re being severely impacted by COVID. It is paying the bills, the cost of living, and attending to the family and the children.”

Josephine says the voting system for local body elections has to reflect the changing times.

“Well where can you find a postbox these days? We need to cater to all different ways to vote that are easy enough for people to get to and for some it is online especially our disability community.

“For a lot, it will be having places where they can just go and drop their vote that are easy to get to like our libraries or the supermarket.” 

Despite the challenges of campaigning during a global pandemic, Tauanu’u, Lotu and Josephine are committed to serving their community at local government level. Tauanu’u is heartened to see more Pacific people are willing to give it a go. 

“Our people are natural leaders, very good organisers and good advocates. I think it’s certainly a role that can come naturally to our people,” he says.

“I would certainly encourage anybody thinking of standing for public office to speak to people who have the experience around campaigning and secondly perhaps align themselves with more political groups who can assist with how everything works.”

Pasifika community are encouraged to let their voice be heard and get out and Vote in this year’s local body elections. Photo: Marlborough District Council

With voting papers now posted out, Josephine Bartley has a simple message, “Vote.”

“We earned our right to vote for how Auckland is run and so we should use it because others will… so often I keep hearing people say what about us, what about our voice, well this is how you get your voice heard, is by voting and getting representatives in there that look like you that have your background and can bring that to the decisions that are made and how the city is formed or built into the future.”

Voting closes at midday on Saturday 8 October. Preliminary results are expected to be announced later in the day. 

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