Inaugural NZ Pacific leaders forum with John Key at the Beehive
A historic forum with Pacific leaders, chaired by Prime Minister John Key was held at the Beehive on Tuesday, 6 April 2016.
Around 50 Pacific leaders from various church denominations, island communities and body corporates were at the inaugural Pacific Leaders Forum (PLF), in support of a collective and shared vision for a better future for their communities in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Leaders representing Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga and Tuvalu made the trip to the Beehive.
Front and centre of the initiative is Teleiai Edwin Puni. He felt compelled to do something to change the status quo for Pacific communities after more than 60years of settling in New Zealand with little progress.
“As Pacific islanders, we have been here for more than 60 years yet we have not really progressed. Other ethnic groups who came after us are progressing and we’re still waiting for things to happen,” he told Pacific Guardians after the meeting with PM John Key.
He said the PLF was created to be a platform that brings together Pacific leaders from the church, community and corporate world to turn the vision for better Pasifika lives into reality.
“At the moment, everyone has a piece of the same vision but they are working in isolation doing their own little thing. We also have different Pacific communities going at it alone and sometimes in competition with each other for the same thing. But by coming together we can push much more effectively and strongly as a united force.”
Change is needed, both in approach and mindset to make things happen and the PLF has identified four priority areas that will lead to the desired outcome.
“First priority the building of relationships,” said Teleiai. “Before we can talk business, we need to build the right relationships that sensitize the other parties and stakeholders about our vision and how we see the best way for that to be progressed. So our first stop was to meet the Prime Minister and government of the day to tell them about the vision and how we see it progressed.”
Teleiai said PM John Key acknowledged there is a huge potential for government and Pacific communities to work more closely together.
“He acknowledged that our communities have a point of difference. Because we live in a communal setting we can be mobilized and engaged quickly and in a very big way. It means that when the PLF starts engaging our community more, the Prime Minister and his senior ministers saw an excellent opportunity and difference that a collective voice can bring.
“And that is what he highlighted yesterday. He said that his government is interested to engage the PLF as there is unity rather than the competitiveness that sometimes takes place.”
The second priority is change the way Pacific communities are ‘engaged’.
“Perhaps it is time we have an input into how government agencies engage with our people.”
Teleiai said the usual means of engagement is not getting the information through. A collaborative approach between the PLF and government agencies will improve the current lack of result.
A number of leaders told Pacific Guardians that engagement is difficult as government officials are sometimes blasé and insensitive to the cultural nuances of Pacific communities. No matter the government of the day, the fact of the matter is that over the past 50 years, Pacific communities are still in the lower socioeconomic level, constantly underachieving, and the last in line to gain from national initiatives or special programs.
“Sometimes, there is a lack of accountability at the ministry side as we engage most of the time with officials which means for the majority of times, the information does not get through to decision-makers. And there is no process for the community to let senior ministers know about the difficulties they face, or the lack of information that filter through to the community about government programs and initiatives.”
Teleiai is confident that once the relationships have been built and mode of engagement solidified, that the third and fourth priorities can be actioned effectively.
“That’s when we get into economic development and social development.”
He re-affirmed that is why government was the first stop “followed by local government and Maori iwi” for PLF to develop closer ties and promote the Pacific vision.
“We are being strategic, we are setting up a Pacific blueprint that will realize our vision in concrete steps.”
He emphasized, “If we had done this 20 years ago, I believe our Pacific communities would have progressed and our people would have been economically better off than they are today.
“But that is wishful thinking, today we make that start. And that is why we, as Pacific communities need to come together and work alongside government, local government, Maori to ensure a broad base of opportunities is created for our people so that 20 years from now, we have young Pacific islanders who are in a good space to help lead New Zealand into a profitable and equitable future.”
Teleiai was specific to highlight the platform “is about us. It is not like a Ministry’s Pacific advisory board who are government mandated.
“PLF is about Pacific leaders, about getting them to unite on a platform where they share a vision. Our leaders have not been idle, in the past they been stepping forward, sideways, and backwards trying to better our people but because everyone’s been doing it in isolation, that is why it’s fragmented and not heard.
“That is the difference the PLF platform is bringing – a place where our leaders can step onto – unified as one.
“In the past and now, there is ethnic specific things where Samoans, Tongans, Tokelauan and so forth do on their own. But if we all do it this way, then we are stronger as we’re armed with a mandate from the community which when we call for action, it comes out loud and clear from one unified voice.”
He is quick to point out that the PLF is not saying to have the mandate of, or speak on behalf of all Pacific people in New Zealand.
But he confidently stated that it has a significant Pacific mandate, representative of a large collective of Pan-Pacific communities in Auckland, being New Zealand’s largest city with the biggest Pacific population.
“The Forum will continue its Pacific engagement and consultation process to allow other centres, organisations and individuals to participate as members in an open and inclusive manner that is consistent with the Pacific leadership spirit.”
He also made it clear that PLF is not about growing a Pacific mass from pooling together random leaders added Teleiai.
“Even though we are an inclusive platform, our view is PLF is a strategic combination of church leaders, community leaders and professionals. When you sum up our collective, you will find a concentrate of expertise, community belief and might, spirituality, and a pool of formal and informal networks that can drive a wedge through any obstacle. The potential for many positives coming through this platform is exciting.”
But there are questions of a hidden political agenda whispered at the periphery.
Teleiai and his group were at the forefront of the 2014 general elections calling Pacific people to vote for John Key and national.
Is the PLF part of Teleiai and his group’s political affiliation?
“Every individual has a democratic right to their political view or religion,” he said.
“PLF is apolitical. It has nothing to do with my political view or affiliation.
“PLF is not about me – it is about our leaders coming together. This is about putting our collective interest together to better our situation.
“This talk about political agenda, I think, has also been a barrier to our progress as Pacific islanders in New Zealand.
“We get too sentimental, too aggressive with our political affiliations and it gets in the way of progress. Like religion, I’m Seventh Day Adventist, others are Catholics, others are EFKS, Metotisi but those religious affiliations has nothing to do with us as people.
“And that is how it is with PLF. It has nothing to do with political affiliations or political agendas, but it has everything to do with putting our communities interest uppermost which is best served when backed up by a unified front.
“So yes, there is a political perception but that is nullified in that I am only one of many. I have been voted to be the chairman of PLF and I’m honoured, but in due course someone will take over from me and that has nothing to do with their or my political affiliation or point of view.”
From the South Island was Reverend Fitifiti Luatua who represented Reverend Elder Tumama Vili, the EFKS Director for the Wellington region and the South Island.
He was excited by developments and potential the PLF platform could provide.
“This is an opportunity for us from the South to be part of the process. This is a good start and I can see that in the long run, things look positive,” he told Pacific Guardians .
“Personally I am so proud because this is one area that the government finds hard to nail down – engagement with our community.”
He is looking forward to how the PLF could better align educational programs that point young Pacific islanders to career choices that are in high demand and managerial level jobs.
“There is a need to choose strategically where the future of work and opportunities would be and then point our children to those key high value opportunity areas such as information technology,” said Reverend Fitifiti.
“In the small geographical areas outside of Auckland like Christchurch, the role of the Fraternal of Reverend Ministers serve as hubs for our communities. It will be very easy for initiatives to be actioned as the Fraternals are able to quickly mobilize our communities, something that our government agencies are not able to do effectively at the moment.”
Added Teleiai, “We need to build the economic side of our people and that means we need to raise our game, be more strategic and united in the direction that will achieve our vision. And that is what John Key was touching on when he said that when Pacific communities are organized there’s a tendency for government agencies to work with them. But when individuals come in one by one in isolation there is this competitiveness and fragmentation which is a disadvantage.”
The Pacific Leaders Forum is the first time that a Pan Pacific platform has been established in New Zealand.
“Through this platform our community has given us the ‘mandate’ and ‘one voice’ our leaders can use to inform our community, and mobilise our people in a way that will be hard to ignore.
“This is something we need to do now to allow our future generation the platform to realize their potential for our community and New Zealand society in general.”
The Pacific Leadership Forum is an alliance of Pacific organisations and senior Pacific Leaders united in the pursuit of their collective and shared Pacific vision.
The vision of the Pacific Leadership Forum is to:
- progress Pacific people so that they may live well, in dignity and prosperity in New Zealand;
- encourage Pacific people to participate in Government and Governance;
- promote Pacific self-determination and a better future for Pacific people in New Zealand while upholding our Christian and Pacific values;
- unite the Pacific Leaders and speak with one voice that is unified while acknowledging our Pacific diversity; and
- own our vision; our issues; our solutions with the support of others.
The key objectives of the Pacific Leadership are to:
- establish a Pacific Leadership Forum where it is Pacific Focus and Apolitical;
- carry and be the custodial guardian o Le Mamalu, Le Mana, the Dignity of Pacific people;
- establish direct and meaningful working relationships with the Government; Local Councils; Tangata Whenua; significant organisations and others to achieve our Pacific vision; and
- improve the well-being; health, economic, education, employment and social status of our Pacific people in New Zealand.
The Pacific Leadership Forum consists of significant Pacific communities and their respective elected leaders who have come together, united in their vision to progress a better future for Pacific people in New Zealand.
The Pacific Leadership Forum provides a Pacific mandate for their collective Pan-Pacific membership. To date, this is the largest unified Pan-Pacific Leadership Forum in New Zealand.
The Forum does not purport to have the mandate of, or speak on behalf of all Pacific people in New Zealand.
However, the Forum can confidently state that it has a significant Pacific mandate, representative of a large collective of Pan-Pacific communities in Auckland, being New Zealand’s largest city with the biggest Pacific population.
The Forum will continue its Pacific engagement and consultation process to allow other centres, organisations and individuals to participate as members in an open and inclusive manner that is consistent with the Pacific leadership spirit.
The Pacific Leadership Forum shall work towards the establishment of its Charter which shall embody the Forum’s mandate, and commitment to achieving their collective vision.
PROTOCOLS OF ENGAGEMENT WITH EXTERNAL PARTIES
The following will constitute the protocols of engagement and the modus operandi when engaging external parties.
United stand: The Pacific Leadership Forum shall agree on their unified understanding and position prior to engaging with external parties.
United voice: The Forum shall communicate their unified position with a united voice when in official sessions with external parties including the:
- New Zealand Government;
- Pacific Island Governments;
- Local Councils;
- Tangata Whenua;
- Significant Organisations; and
- Significant Others.
MEETING WITH EXTERNAL PARTIES
The Forum Members shall meet and discuss with the Governance body of the relevant and appropriate external parties ‘high level’ matters of interest to both parties. They shall also make decisions and reach agreements on significant specific priority focus areas for joint efforts.
The Forum shall seek to achieve win-win mutual outcomes when engaging with external parties.
Mr. Teleiai Edwin Puni
Pacific Leadership Forum
Mobile: (021) 618-042