Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tongan local body politician says Pacific People must exercise their political voice

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Maria Meredith at Auckland Domain. Photo: Danielle Meredith
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Local Democracy Reporting | Free Public Interest News Service

Tongan local body politician Maria Meredith says her Pasifika community must exercise its political voice with Auckland Council announcing its annual budget next week and the upcoming general election.

Chair of the Maungakiekie-Tāmaki local board and Pacific Vice President of the Labour Party, the Glen Innes resident was spurred into action on hearing Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban DNZM QSO quote: ‘if you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.’

Six years ago, the mother of four was working as a senior manager at the University of Auckland while fitting in PhD studies when she received a call to stand for her local board. ‘It dawned on me, what’s the use of this knowledge if I’m not sharing it.’

Her successful 2018 by-election campaign was a family affair, with husband Eugene and her children, and also extended family members door-knocking around the Maungakiekie-Tāmaki ward.

‘I think we surprised people in the community going door to door because they aren’t used to meeting politicians who look like them. My kids are very shy, it was our first experience campaigning together.’ She found success again during the local body elections in 2019 and last year in 2022, as well as being appointed the chair of Maungakiekie-Tamaki Local Board, she was appointed Vice President Pacific for the Labour Party in 2021.

With sisters and late mother. L to R Anne Fuataimi, Maria Meredith, Olga Williams and foreground Anna Maria Tu’itavuki Anau. Photo: Supplied.

Aotearoa New Zealand born and raised in Herne Bay; the 57-year-old was all too aware of the local issues facing her own Tongan community and other Pasifika communities.

‘In my local community we had for many years produced statistics that show poor outcomes in education, housing, health, infrastructure and environment, etc. Yet, Tāmaki is an amazing, diverse and vibrant community rich with history, great people and a beautiful landscape.’

She cut her political teeth having assumed leadership roles since her school days, going on to chair her local school’s Board of Trustees for a decade and helming the Auckland Pasifika Festival advisory committee to name just a few.

‘I always had my nose in a book as a child, and as the eldest of five I was used to taking the lead.’ She says Pasifika communities will readily act when they’re highly motivated; the Broadcasting Standards Association figures show Pasifika make up the largest number of complaints about the use of profanity on radio and television. However, when it came to civic matters, Pasifika communities shied away. They were heavily underrepresented in the 40,000 plus submissions on the Council’s annual budget.

Meredith challenged her community to engage with local body and central government politics, as well as putting themselves forward to represent their communities. She says the recent death of her mother Anna Maria Tu’itavuki Anau brought home the importance of Pasifika stewardship.

Her parents’ leadership was on display having founded Siasi O Tonga Houeiki (originally established in Tonga in 1929) during the 1970s in their Herne Bay family home, the first official church opening two decades later in Grey Lynn.

Growing up with these values shaped Meredith’s worldview, ultimately leading toward a life of service.

‘We step into that space so that we can influence policy and bylaws, we can have a political voice. If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu – but it’s deeper than that, we owe it to our families to serve to the best of our abilities.’

Auckland Council will decide on its revised annual budget next week on Thursday June 8.

Local democracy reporting

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