Nga Vaka o Kaiga Tapu Pacific Family Violence Fono, Waipuna Hotel, Auckand. Friday 22 February

Talofa lava, malo e lelei, kia orana, taloha ni, fakaalofa lahi atu, ni sa bula vinaka, Talofa, Kia ora, tēnā koutou katoa, Warm Pacific greetings to all. 

I want to acknowledge everyone who’ve made the time to join with me this morning, my parliamentary colleagues, our civic leaders, the organisers of course of this event. I particularly welcome also those who have travelled from afar to be here. I especially want to acknowledge the presence of le afioga Maiava Iulai Toma, Samoa’s Ombudsman. I used to work for Maiava at the Ombudsman’s office in Samoa many years ago, and I learnt quite a lot from him and from that experience. Thank you for being with us.
 

Listen to these Real Stories about ourselves

Statistics don’t tell the full story of the harm and pain the victims of violence experience, and the rippling effects it has on families and the communities. Statistics don’t reveal how acts of violence affects all people, whether they are directly or indirectly, linked to that act of violence. Let me share with you some real life stories, that may be familiar to some of us to explain my point.

 

Otara Man beats on a Woman

A few years ago, as I drove out of the driveway of my aunt’s home, and before I could turn onto the main road, the front door of the house opposite, was flung open with a loud smashing sound. A group of people spilled out from the front door and onto the lawn.

It was a man punching a woman, with children running out of the front door. The man momentarily last his grip and the woman tried to run off, but he caught her, and punched her again and again in broad daylight. The commotion brought the neighbours out who just stood and watched.

I wanted to drive away. I didn’t want to be involved. But then she was on her back and he was sitting on her stomach holding her down while punching her in the face and then strangling her. The children were terrified and screaming from a distance. So I honked my car-horn loud and long and he stopped. I got out of the car angry at him, angry at the neighbours. I was angry I was even there and having to witness this senseless act. I heard him say some Samoan words, so my immediate response to him was “Kao ise umu, Ete fa’avalevalea”.

Then I called out in English, Stop that or I’ll call the police. He got off her, sneered at me and walked back inside the house. The children then ran to comfort the woman. She got up and supported by the children walked towards the neighbour’s house, who had been watching all of this this. So I drove off, still angry, having witnessed all that. Angry at the neighbours for not stepping in, angry at the man for that act. Angry at myself for not knowing what I should have done.

I reflected while driving away, that  I am the oldest of nine children, five of them are girls, and from Samoa where I was born to here in Aotearoa, it’s has been drilled into me, le feagaiga, by my father, that my role as a brother is to protect my sisters.

 

Baby Mona Abandoned in Mangere

In September 2017, the Mangere community buried a baby that a member of the public found dead, wrapped in a dirty t-shirt with the words “Samoan Pride” on it, abandoned under a tree, with no name.

No one came forward to claim the baby. I called her baby Mona after the name of the street where she was found. There was a Police investigation and no one came forward with any information to help identify the baby or the mother or the parents.

We held a service at the Mangere cemetery with the public. An invitation was publicised via the media to inform the mother or parents that they were welcome to attend, no questions asked.

The public donated everything to make sure the baby was properly buried – the funeral home services, the coffin, the flowers, the plot, the memorial stone, the musicians, even the lunch was catered and paid for by donors.

I wanted the mother or parents to know we didn’t judge her, and if she needed help, help was available to her.

I have six daughters. This was not something I would want for any mother to go through. I can’t imagine the torment, the ordeal this mother had to go through. The decision to abandon her child must have been torturous and heart-breaking for her.

 

Adopted Children Abused by Adoptive Father

A Samoan couple living in NZ adopted 9 children/young people through the Family Court of Samoa over a ten year period. All of these children/young people are relatives of the applicants. Between the years 2007-2014 the couple adopted four girls aged 5-13 years who subsequently obtained NZ citizenship. In 2017 the couple adopted a further five young people aged 18-20 years who all entered NZ as dependents.

The adoptive father of these 9 children/young people has a significant NZ Police history. He was the alleged offender in a number of family violence incidents and was convicted and imprisoned on two charges of indecent assault on a child under the age of 12 years. These convictions were in relation to sexually abusing his own biological daughters. This happened during the 1980s.

Since 2007, Oranga Tamariki received many reports of concern for this family due to incidents of family violence and alleged sexual abuse by the adoptive father. Oranga Tamariki is now working with the Samoa Attorney General’s office and the Family Court on how to better share information and coordinate the adoptions processes.

I can’t help but wonder if members of the offending adoptive father’s extended family knew about his abusive history? And if so, what did they do about it?

These stories and many others are real life experiences and is happening in our homes and our communities.

Our reported levels of family violence are disproportionately high as also is the suicide rate amongst Pacific youth.

These are uncomfortable facts and real-life stories that we have failed to acknowledge for far too long.  We have to collectively recognise the problem.

I think this is now taking place, but we need more of it to happen and our young people are leading the charge.

Recognition must also include the darkest of our community secrets – sexual violence.

The rate of sexual violence amongst Pacific communities is almost twice the national average.

We have been keeping sexual abuse in the shadows. It is distasteful and uncomfortable because both the offenders and the victims are known, or related to us.

We have to collectively confront this shadow world full-on.

It does nothing for the victims. It provides the abuser with the license to abuse; and the cycle of violence and sexual abuse repeats itself with the next generation.

There is nothing noble in clutching at the fig leaf of denial.  As a community, we need to acknowledge it is real, and confront it, no matter how unpleasant it is. We need to be brave and we need to be bold.

So, how do we tackle violence and sexual abuse in our homes and communities? Is it unrealistic to aim for the elimination of violence and sexual abuse in our homes? 

 

The Government’s Response
 
From a Government perspective, ending family and sexual violence is one of our greatest opportunities to improve wellbeing.  This is the year of the Wellbeing Budget, and one of the five priorities for the 2019 Wellbeing Budget is “Lifting Maori and Pasifika incomes, skills and opportunities.
 
This government will look to enabling an integrated and effective system, and encouraging community innovation in solving some of the big challenges we face as a country.
 
The Government is committed to doing what will enable the prevention of family violence and sexual violence, and ensure systems respond appropriately to those affected by these forms of violence.
 
We need a system where Maori and Pacific leadership and practice is valued and integral to our processes, and kaupapa Maori, and Pasifika solutions, are nurtured and supported to thrive and inform processes.
 

The Family Violence Bill & Family Violence (Amendments) Bill

Last year, the Government passed the Family Violence Bill & Family Violence (Amendments) Bill, which sends a strong signal that New Zealand is committed to tackling family and sexual violence and provides a greater access to justice for victims.

The changes will support a more integrated system, improve civil orders to better support victims, such as making it easier for a young person to apply for a protection order. The change means that a young person can apply for an order without the need of a representative.

The changes will ensure better recognition of family violence in the criminal justice system, in addition to introducing modern criminal offences to reflect the dynamics of family violence offending and to also prioritise the safety of victims of family violence.
 

Joint Venture
 
Then there is the Joint Venture. Last year, the Govt announced the formation of a Joint Venture across ten government agencies to address family and sexual violence. For the first time, chief executives of these government agencies along with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively responsible for delivering a national strategy to reduce family and sexual violence.
 
But what is our response as Pacific peoples of Aotearoa to this challenge? I have long believed that by drawing on the best in our traditions we can be the authors of our own solutions. Solutions developed by, and for Pacific peoples.
 
I have advocated and will continue to advocate with my Ministerial colleagues for Pacific solutions authored by Pacific peoples for Pacific peoples.  I see the Ministry for Pacific Peoples playing a greater role in ensuring our communities have ample opportunities to participate in all this development, and that key government agencies work closely with our communities providing the necessary investment and support.
 
We are the fastest growing population– 62% NZ Born – Pacific Peoples of Aotearoa, with 43% under the age of 14 yrs who whakapapa to Maori.
 
My engagements last year highlighted even more – a rising new generation, that I call the Generation 4Bs of Pacific Aotearoa – they are Brown, Beautiful, Brainy and are either Bilingual/Bicultural.

And despite the increasing population of a rising generation of New Zealand born – they identified for me that Pacific languages were highly valued and an integral part of their cultures and identities. This is such an important strength and foundation for us to build and grow. Our languages, our cultures, our arts are valued by our young people and is recognised as an asset in Aotearoa.

When I asked them if there was anything in our culture that they would like to see eliminated as we set our sights for the future, they were united. “Taofi le fasi ma le sasa” “Stop the beatings”.
 

Generational Shift

There is a generational shift in our communities that continues to gain momentum. Our young people are determined not to repeat the faults of the past. They promise a better future.

We have to be ambitious for our children – the future of our families, and we have to encourage that ambition and confidence in order to fully realise their potential and the potential of our communities.

The future of Pacific peoples are intertwined with New Zealand’s future, in the way a rope is made from weaving together the different strands of coconut husk sinnet. In the end, our families, our nation will be the stronger for it.

Next year, I’ll convene a summit to discuss Pacific leadership and the generational transition, and the preparation that we have to make for the future.
 

Build Strong Foundations
 
I’m also a believer our responses to tackling these long-term challenges must include building strong foundations for the future. Value based foundations that identify our strengths as a people and rebuild those cultural foundations that enhances our ability to lift our community’s present and future well-being.
 
Last year I and our Ministry undertook a talanoa process of targeted and meaningful conversations with Pacific focus-groups. We captured the voices and highlights from those conversations in a published report called, the Pacific Aotearoa Lalanga Fou report. 
 
Lalanga Fou identifies the concerns, hopes and aspirations of approximately 2,500 Pacific people, including those from community organisations, youth, people with disabilities, businesses, NGOs and churches.

On a national basis, our communities identified four key priorities:

  • Thriving Pacific Languages, cultures and identities
  • Prosperous Pacific Communities
  • Resilient and healthy Pacific peoples
  • Confident thriving and resilient Pacific young people.
     

 These goals are very close to the Vision Statement of the developers of Nga Vaka o Kainga Tapu and organisers of today's Fono - The Alliance Community Initiatives Trust:

Strong Families, Strong Communities, Living Well Together

This link is important because it shows that we’re thinking alike. We’re on the right track in terms of achieving lasting social and economic change within our communities.

I want to acknowledge and commend your approach. That you see yourselves, not so much as a front-line organisation, but rather as a catalyst for social change.

You’re seeking to remedy problems at the root by addressing the broader social and economic drivers that generate them. That approach allows for the development of innovative programmes that address the challenges facing our Pacific communities in a holistic way. But more importantly, it empowers our people for change.

The issues you’ve identified of housing, health, education, economic independence and social cohesion. All are closely interlinked.

They are based on the indisputable fact that nothing exists in isolation, that the problems that afflict our communities must be addressed as a totality.

Your approach is a genuine community-based response that draws on our own cultural knowledge and traditions.

Our people and the organisations that serve our communities are a significant strength. We have to recognise this more, and collectively coordinate our efforts and share in our successes.

That requires us to have a common purpose and a clear vision for our whole community.

Through engagements last year we delivered a refreshed Pacific Aotearoa Vision:

Pacific values are our anchor, with each generation weaving the foundations for the next to stand on. Pacific communities are innovative leaders within Aotearoa, the Pacific region and the world. We are confident in our endeavours, we are thriving, resilient and prosperous Pacific Aotearoa.

Pacific Economy
 
As our approach is holistic, another significant foundation that we can build on is the Pacific Economy. Released last year by Treasury, PBT and MPP, we can confidently acknowledge that Pacific People’s contribution to New Zealand’s economy is $8 Billion. 1,500 Pacific business employers and 500 NGOs, including churches. Pacific people contribute 27,000 voluntary hours per week.

That’s despite the inequalities that exists. The challenge that I have given my colleagues in Government and Parliament, is imagine how much more we can contribute if we eliminated the challenges of inequalities in housing, health, education, incomes and violence and sexual abuse in our homes.

 

Pasifika Proud
 
Can I acknowledge again the Trust with your impressive achievements to credit. All have been achieved and run by Pacific communities right here in South Auckland. Most significant for this Fono is, of course, your Pasifika Proud campaign.

It has proved that by drawing on our own cultural practices and traditions we can rebuild relationships within families.

It has provided frontline workers with a new set of tools. And they are proving very effective. Pasifika Proud is a beacon to us all. But it is just the beginning.
 

A call to action

Nga Vaka o Kaiga Tapu is a shining example of the truth of our belief in ourselves. Our belief in both secular and faith-based approaches to family violence. In each case, they have proved highly successful. They are approaches based on the application of ancient wisdom in a modern context.

 We are here to take the process to the next stage. We are here to answer a call to action. I believe we are ready to answer that call.
 

Conclusion

I am confident that this Fono will demonstrate yet again that, by drawing on the best in our cultural traditions, by recognizing the value of our strengths as foundations to build upon, and recognising the role of our young people to visualise a future where we are confident in our endeavours, thriving, resilient and prosperous, we can be the authors of our own solutions.

Kia kaha, Soifua.