Asenati creates history in NZ parliament
Late on Thursday evening, 25 September, a significant Pacific milestone was achieved inside New Zealand’s parliament.
A bill developed and designed by a Pacific member of parliament (M.P.) was introduced, debated and passed its first reading.
But it did more than just pass, it blasted through with flying colours as members of the House voted unanimously for it to go to the next stage.
For a bill introduced by a member of the opposition, to pass unanimously is not only meritorious, it is exceptional.
New Zealand First MP, Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor, born and raised in the Samoan village of Safa’atoa Lefaga, migrated to New Zealand at the age of 17, knows well the historical significance of the achievement. Especially as she is a first term parliamentarian.
And even though the excitement is hard to suppress, Le’au Asenati is first and foremost a realist.
In an exclusive interview with the Pacific Guardians, she calmly outlined that her bill has only passed the first step on its journey to becoming law.
“There are three stages left on that journey, the committee stages, the second and third readings in the House. If it passes those stages then it will be quite an achievement for our Pacific community.”
But there is no hiding the fact that having her Sentencing (Protection of Children from Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill, pass its first reading unanimously is “right up there” noting the political environment it was introduced into.
Le’au Asenati explained, “The most fascinating thing about all this is having everyone in the House supporting the Bill in its first reading.
“Especially so since I am in the opposition, and knowing very well that my party, New Zealand First, is the National government’s enemy No.1. So to have a bill not just pass through the members but pass through unanimously in its first reading is a huge, huge achievement.”
It was difficult to contain the emotions as Le’au Asenati relayed the significance of the occasion.
“Deep down inside there is that emotional feeling of excitement, of having achieved something of worth. When it happened, one of the first images that came to my mind were of my mum, my dad and the village that I come from. Of the Samoan and palagi matua that blessed me in my journey, and acknowledging my Christian values, all of them were party to shaping this bill,” she smiled as the magnitude of the achievement slowly settles on her shoulders.
“But it was also the realization that this is my very first bill in my very first term. And I am even more challenged as this is now also a message, an opportunity, for our Pacific communities and any New Zealander out there, that while I am here in parliament, to use me as their tool to develop bills that will assist them in the long run, if not for ourselves then for our children and future generations.”
Historically, not many MPs of Pacific heritage have stepped onto the milestone that Le’au Asenati stood upon on the evening of 25 September, 2013.
From Anae Arthur Anae and Vui Mark Gosche in 1996 to the current five members in New Zealand’s 50th parliament, only Vui Gosche as Minister of Transport, and Housing introduced bills in the House.
Charles Chauvel, together with Lianne Dalziel, got the Crimes (Provocation Repeal) Amendment Bill ‘adopted’ in 2009. Other than those two, no other Pacific MP has managed to come close. Although Luamanuvao Winnie Laban did introduce her Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Amendment Bill in 2009, but it was defeated at its first reading.
There were no such opposing voices to Le’au Asenati’s bill except acknowledgement for bringing the bill to the House.
National MP, Tim MacIndoe summarized many of the members that spoke.
“I have to say to Mrs Lole-Taylor that I am a little bit jealous, as I have been here longer than she has and I too have a bill in the members’ ballot that has never looked like being drawn,” he told parliament.
National he added “is supporting this bill at its first reading so that it can go to the Law and Order Committee so that submissions can be made on it and it can be given due attention.
“We know that a key to reducing crime long term is to stop children from entering the criminal justice system. This is a bill that may well contribute to that end. It will, I am sure, play a constructive role.”
Mike Sabin also a member from National said, “Members’ days are a good opportunity for backbenchers to contribute to the work of Parliament. Some bills have merit; some bills do not.”
And as a former detective, he was particularly happy to speak up in support of Le’au Asenati’s bill as a possible instrument to protect innocent children from exposure to dangerous environments, especially homes that are being used to make methamphetamine or “P”.
He told the House, “…children in those environments, by simply crawling around, would actually pick up those chemicals. They are, typically, putting a lot of things in their mouths, so trace elements of those volatile insolvents and acids, drain cleaner, and so forth, are being ingested by the children.
“Then, of course, those chemicals are producing methamphetamine, which is often smoked in that environment as well. So the children are ingesting that smoke, and the residue from the smoke also falls and they ingest that. Not only are they being poisoned but also they are ingesting the methamphetamine.”
Le’au Asenati’s New Zealand First colleague Dennis O’Rourke added, “We in this House have a sacred duty to do all we can to protect children, and this bill is one way of doing just that.”
He pointed out that the essence of Le’au Asenati’s bill is found in clause 5, which says that it is “an aggravating factor in the consideration of sentencing of an offender aged 17 or over for the crime to have been committed in the presence of a minor if the actions undertaken to commit the offence put the minor at risk of harm.”
Mr O’Rourke pinpointed the important role the bill can play in the justice system.
“Although there is nothing in the law currently that would prevent a court from taking that into consideration as an aggravating factor, they too often do not do so. So it would be much better if they are required to do so as a mandatory measure.”
In concluding her introduction, Le’au Asenati told the House, “I am reminded of H Jackson Brown Jnr’s words: ‘Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you’.
“During the development of this bill, the memories of my dear eldest nephew reminded me of the difficulties he faced in his first 17 years. If you are listening now, Ioane, I just want you to know that I do love you. Your experience encouraged me to ensure that this bill came to the House.”
The bill she continued, “brings a unique focus to the way in which New Zealand deals with criminals who continue to ignore the rights of our children to a safer and secure environment—an environment where they can grow up to become good citizens with aspirations to be great leaders of our future generations instead of professionals in criminal activity or leaders of some gang-affiliated organisation.
“Criminals should have no right to endanger innocent children. The people of New Zealand expect us to fix this problem. Our children are the future of this nation, and if the individuals around them are not taking responsibility to protect them from harm and a cycle of abuse, and, plus, are initiating them into a life of crime, then surely it is time they are held accountable for their actions.
“Punishment is not for revenge but to lessen crime and reform the criminal.”
She also reminded New Zealand Pacific readers that her bill is not just for the Pacific but for all New Zealanders.
“People out there seem to think that if you’re a Pacific MP that you’re only looking out for things for the Pacific. I tell you now that I am not here to advocate just for the Pacific.
“Having said that, the knowledge that I have as a Pacific islander is an advantage as it helps me ensure that whatever I do, I’m incorporating Pasifika perspectives into them. In that sense, we do things much better than non-Pacific islanders as we automatically cater for Pacific perspectives and cultural views from the outset.
“It means that this bill is not being introduced just for Pacific families and children but for all New Zealanders. However, included in the bill’s development are the needs of Pasifika which a non-Pacific islander person will not see when developing a bill. It avoids having to put another bill through the House just to cater for Pasifika as has happened in other instances in the past.”
The bill will now go to the Select Committee stage where the public can make submissions. And Le’au Asenati urges the Pacific community and New Zealanders to make submissions or attend select committee hearings personally.
While members of the public wanting a detailed explanation, she is more than happy to meet with them.
“If any community out there want me to, I am happy to book myself to come and talk with them about the bill, bit by bit about what it means. It would also be a good opportunity for them to ask questions.”
As the process of law-making takes its course, the achievement by Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole Taylor underpins and adds to the immense and growing contribution made by people of Pacific heritage to the positive development, well-being and history of New Zealand.
Le’au Asenati Lole Taylor can be contacted at:
Wellington: 64-(0)4-817 8367 Mobile: 021 248 9922.
Auckland: 64-(0)9-278 5402
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Asenati.Lole-Taylor@parliament.govt.nz