Nov 23, 2017 Last Updated 9:11 AM, Nov 15, 2017

Taking NZ in 80 days

Labour stuns electorate

IT took Jacinta Ardern just 80 days from taking over as leader of a political party to becoming New Zealand’s youngest prime minister. When she replaced Andrew Little as leader of the Labour Party, many political commentators saw her as a breath of fresh air but did not believe she would be able to wrest power from the National Party.

After a whirlwind campaign the Nationals under former Prime Minister Bill English held the greatest single majority in Parliament. Weeks of political manoeuvring saw the Greens Party sign a confidence and supply agreement with Labour and confirm four of its MPs would be in government but not in the cabinet  working on key campaign areas such as climate change, conservation and women.

The Labour-Greens deal included making New Zealand a net zero emissions economy by 2050, a substantial investment in alternative transport options such as walking paths and cycle ways, overhauling the welfare system and committing to protecting New Zealand’s 3000 threatened plant and wildlife species.

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Pacific voice grows in NZ

Islanders influence election outcome

Auckland: Over 330,000 Pacific people living in New Zealand now have a bigger voice in parliament following September’s General Election which saw the National Party re-elected for a third consecutive term in Government. The campaign trail was littered with revelations, lies and “dirty politics,” but voters stayed faithful to Prime Minister John Key.

Seven Pacific Members of Parliament will be sworn into the 51st New Zealand Parliament on November 20, the most ever Pacific MPs and one more than the six Pacific MPs elected in 2011. Two Pacific MPs have departed: New Zealand First List MP Asenati Lole-Taylor lost her place after controversially being demoted down the party list and Labour’s Indo-Fijian MP Rajan Prasad has retired. The new face is Labour’s Manukau East MP, Jenny Salesa, a former policy analyst who was motivated to stand after returning to New Zealand after nearly a decade living in the United States and finding Pacific communities were worse off than when she had left.

She becomes only the second Tongan to enter New Zealand’s parliament following Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni, who returns to politics after narrowly losing her seat by recount in 2011. Sepuloni is one of five Labour MPs elected joining Salesa, Su’a William Sio (Samoan), Kris Fa’afoi (Tokelauan) and Poto Williams (Cook Islander). National returns its two Pacific MPs, Maungakiekie’s Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga (Samoan) and List MP, Alfred Ngaro (Cook Islander). The nature of New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system could see List candidate Fia Turner become National’s third Pacific MP depending on the outcome of the Special Votes which were still being counted at press time. Turner is 53rd on the National Party list.

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Soaring demand for $NZ10 billion New Zealand milk and dairy products from the South Pacific region and parts of Asia has prompted producers to expand plant facilities in Christchurch last month. There are also projections for a 50 per cent growth in demand for New Zealand’s premium UHT milk over the next five years from the islands region and Asia. While Fiji is the largest importer of manufactured goods particularly dairy in the South Pacific, New Zealand regards the bloc of countries under the Forum collectively to be their seventh largest trading partner.

New Zealand has broad trade and economic ties with South Pacific Forum island countries – though the trend is greatly in New Zealand’s favour. Last year, New Zealand exported in between $NZ1-1.5 billion to the island countries – especially Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and the Cook Islands. In return New Zealand only sources imports of around $NZ100million every from the region.

Australian-owned Goodman Fielder - which also manufacturing operations in Fiji, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea – last month injected more capital in broadening its plant facilities in New Zealand to tap into the country’s burgeoning dairy sector. Goodman Fielder will upgrade its ultra-heat treated (UHT) milk plant in Christchurch to increase capacity amid booming demand for UHT milk in the Pacific islands and parts of Asia. “The premium UHT category in Asia Pacific is anticipated to grow by around 50 per cent over the next five years,” said Goodman chief executive Chris Delaney.

“This project will provide us with additional capacity to address this growing market through our iconic brand distribution capability. We are investing now to meet that demand and also plan for future growth,” he announced. New Zealand’s white gold industry employs 45,000 workers tending about 6.4 million cows. China alone buys $NZ7.7 billion of Kiwi goods of which $3billion is dairy. For New Zealand, dairy is the largest foreign exchange earner, accounting for 28 per cent of overseas sales in an economy where exports make up about a third of output.

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Voter apathy concerns NZ

New Zealanders go to the polls next year and political parties will again battle for the sizeable Pacific vote—provided they can get them to the polling booths. Despite Pacific people making up roughly 7% of the country’s population with six Pacific MPs in parliament, engaging them with New Zealand politics remains a challenge. This contrasts with the increasing number of Pacific candidates who ran in the recent local body elections and those who will run in New Zealand’s general election next year. A Pacific candidate ran for the Auckland mayoralty for the first time and a record 16 candidates of Pacific descent were elected in the local body elections in October. Still the turnout by voters was poor. In the Pacific stronghold of South Auckland, less than 30% of eligible voters cast their ballots— lower than the citywide average. An outdated postal voting process and the lack of media coverage were blamed. But electoral authorities don’t expect the same trend for next year’s general election because of the more efficient systems used.

Voter apathy: Voter apathy, however, remains a concern because past elections have shown the Pacific vote to be unpredictable. The fact remains; those residing in low income communities and especially youth (aged 18-24) are least likely to exercise their democratic right and Pacific people are among the highest represented in both groups. Pacific youth are mostly disengaged with politics, yet the most affected by the current economic climate. Since 2008, the number of Pacific youth receiving unemployment benefit jumped 616%. “What we have to get our heads around is that the Pacific population is young,” says former Labour MP, Carmel Sepuloni, who is aiming for a return to parliament next year after losing her seat in 2011. “The median age at the 2006 census was 21 years old for Pacific and 35 for all New Zealanders,” she points out.

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Cultural-based solutions, the answer?

An alarming rise in suicides and the first reported suicide of a youth under nine years of age has rallied New Zealand’s Pacific community into taking ownership of a social issue that has left many grieving families searching for answers. Statistics released last August reported 547 suicides nationwide over the previous 12 months from 2011-2012. Of that number, 31 were Pacific islanders, nine more than 2010/2011. In Auckland alone, 18 Pacific people took their own lives in 2011, including two persons under the age of 13. The number of youths taking their own lives had surged by more than 40 percent. Most were males. What was concerning was that the stats found young Pacific people were twice as likely to have depression, mental disorders, anxiety issues, or to make suicide attempts as the rest of the population. The self-harm methods used by suicide victims ranged from drug overdose to jumping off bridges. Hanging was the most common form (61%). The reasons are far more complex, however. Suicide has been described as a “silent killer” because it is rarely reported. The New Zealand media observe strict ethical codes around selfharm incidents because local authorities believe the publicising of suicide incidents only aggravates what is already a sensitive issue.

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