Opening PACIFICA AGM Conference "Communities Working Together"

  • Robyn McDonald
Senior Citizens

Talofa Lava, Malo le lei, Bula Vinaka, Taloha ni, Faka'alofa, Lahi atu, Kia Orana, Kia ora. It is my great pleasure to be here this evening to open your AGM conference. I acknowledge the key role PACIFICA is playing in helping Pacific Island women in contributing to family and community life. Your theme "Working Together" fits closely to my own heartfelt thoughts on what government should mean - that is "Communities working together".

From my own personal experience in the past, governments have too often arbitrarily decided what is good for communities and then proceeded to implement their own decisions in an autocratic manner. I believe the introduction of mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) is initiating a major change in governmental attitudes. It means acknowledging a wider range of views which does include different cultural perspective's.

We have more Maori, women and other ethnic (Asian and Pacific Island) representation in Parliament than we have ever had. And I am honoured to be able to participate in such a diverse Parliament. MMP to me means more consultation and more discussion with communities prior to government policy decisions being taken. In my own portfolios - that of Senior Citizens and Consumer Affairs - consultation is a key factor in our policy development process. For I believe how else are we - your representatives - to know what can best be achieved through policy, and in particular, when such policy requires practical implementation.

To ensure a better New Zealand, it essential that communities work together and the government alongside them. And that is why I am very impressed with PACIFICA and the aims of your organisation. Inspiration and concern for all are fundamental to each and everyone of us. And life is about how we put them in to practice. The analogy of weaving as part of your theme reflects to me what New Zealand's society is all about. We are weaving cultural diversity and understanding together to create communities which accept values, skills and talents that not only blend, but complement each other.

The spirit of the Pacific contributes greatly to local communities, for you have strong sense of identity and a richness of tradition and cultural heritage from which we can all learn a lot. In terms of Government, there has been considerable and recent efforts to acknowledge the contribution of the Pacific Island community. And to also ensure inclusion in policy and key programmes. In December last year, the Minister of Health, Bill English, and the Minister of Pacific Islands, Don McKinnon launched "Making a Pacific Difference: Strategic initiatves of the health of Pacific People in New Zealand" The strategy addresses the health problems faced by Pacific people, and it delivers solutions to improve, promote and protect the health of Pacific people.

The Pacific Peoples Health Charter is a key feature of this strategy and a major element of the strategy is participation. Participation in my view means that your voices must be heard, particularly, to ensure that the policy and the service is culturally appropriate. And this leads me on to my own Consumer Affairs portfolio.

Last year, we went through a re-focusing exercise to take the Ministry closer to its target consumer groups, and importantly, back into our communities. Our Advice line was not being used by our target groups - that is low income, Maori and Pacific Islanders. So we closed the Advice line and moved to our new approach of a Consumer Information Service which consists of three regional teams. These teams are now getting out into the communities providing information and assistance to our target consumers. The reality we face is ensuring that consumers know their rights. We have two outstanding pieces of legislation - the Consumer Guarantees Act and the Fair Trading Act. And if people don't know their rights, it's very easy to lose substantial amounts of money. That is where the Ministry of Consumer Affairs comes in - helping both consumers and traders realise their rights and responsibilities.

The Ministry has appointed a Pacific Island Co-ordinator to its Auckland Regional Team. Currently, there is a focus on a series of radio programmes on Pacific Island radio in conjunction with a series of newspaper articles in the main Pacific Island newspapers. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs recognises the uniqueness of our Pacific Island communities. We want to work in partnership with Pacific Island communities to achieve our goal. Our goal is to identify opportunities for encouraging co-operation and community input which we consider vital. I do believe that PACIFICA should play an important part in helping us to receive direct input from the Pacific Island community. I want your knowledge and your views on consumer issues of interest to be put forward. The Ministry is currently discussing a formal protocol to be developed by Consumer Affairs and the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs.

This protocol I believe, will further integrate Pacific Island community input into Consumer Affairs policy and information activities. In other areas, I was particularly delighted to have PACIFICA represented at last year's Infant Products Safety Forum. The points raised were very useful in terms of how better the Ministry could deliver safety information to Pacific Island parents and grandparents. Especially the need for instructions to have graphics, and that practical demonstration is the most effective way of providing information to Pacific Island consumers. Last week, I released the discussion paper and the "Agenda for Action" which was the result of the hard work by the Forum participants.

We have invited further comment on the action plan, and I look forward to hearing more of PACIFICA's views on the Forum paper. It is most important for us to listen to the advice we receive from the Pacific Island community. My Ministry also works closely with Pacific Island countries by providing information and training in the consumer affairs area. We also work closely with the South Pacific Consumer Protection Programme through discussions and presentations for visiting South Pacific consumer affairs officials. Most recently we had officials from Vanuatu and Fiji visiting us.

Wearing my other hat - that of Senior Citizens, I am very keen to have more discussions with Pacific Island representatives on issues they believe are important to senior citizens. The population trend indicates that by the year 2011, the number of older Pacific Islands people will have doubled, and will represent 2 percent of the total population aged 65 years and over. As I said earlier, we are weaving cultural diversity and understanding together. And part of this weaving means also ensuring that the needs of older Pacific Islanders are integrated with our policies and programmes. We need to also weave into all of our communities, the concept of extended whanau and families and to emphasise how important older family members are.

I admire the care by Pacific Island communities of older members, and the acknowledgment through such care, of their considerable value and contribution to community and family life. Next year is the United Nations International Year of Older Persons and its theme is "Towards a Society of all ages". Planning for activities is only just beginning within government, and I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on how we can ensure full participation by Pacific Island communities and older Pacific Islanders.

In closing, I would like to thank PACIFICA for this opportunity to talk to you this evening and I look forward to working with you in the future.