Pacific Island Festival: Celebration of Life and Wellbeing of Older People

  • Robyn McDonald
Senior Citizens

Pacific Centre, 400 Richmond Road, Ponsonby Auckland

Talofa Lava
Malo le lei
Bula Vinaka
Taloha ni
Faka'alofa Lahi atu
Kia Orana
Kia ora

Mr Malagaupu Sapolu, Malia Hamani, Reverend Sio, David Wood, Mrs Nava Vaka, Mr Ama Tangitepu, Mr Teakaitoa Tavave, Mr Lauama Tuala, Mr Tonumaipea Tofaeono, Mrs Mema Aspinall, Mrs Amelia Talauta, Mrs Molly Pihigia, Mr Esau Noue, Mrs Tina Lanifole, Mr Semisi Tai, Mrs Latu Tavulo, Mr Kilifi Heimuli, Mrs Amelia Fifita, Mrs Fale Puka, Mr Faailoga Leota, assembled guests...

Thank you for inviting me here today to help you celebrate the experiences and lives of Pacific Island senior citizens.

In many ways I feel I am in familiar territory. I am lucky enough to have family connections with the Pacific Island community; my sister-in-law is Rarotongan and my nephew is half-Rarotongan. I have also visited many of the Pacific Islands and enjoyed the rich and powerful cultures you have developed and brought to New Zealand.

This has given me an insight into some of the challenges facing many Pacific Island older people when they move to this country. The difference between our cultures are large and diverse, and settling in this country is a major change in your lives.

To see you all here today thriving and enjoying your lives is living proof of the strength older people have.

Over the last 18 months, in my role as Minister for Senior Citizens, I have been privileged to see this strength in senior citizens across New Zealand.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a meeting with Pacific Island community representatives in Wellington to identify the specific needs of Pacific Island older people. The meeting was requested by my Ministerial Advisory Council for Senior Citizens.

Members of the Advisory Council are active representatives, like yourselves, of the older community. The Advisory Council reports directly to me and provides grass roots feedback on both current and proposed Government policies and issues affecting older people.

As Minister for Senior Citizens, I have a Unit under my jurisdiciton called the Senior Citizens Unit. The unit reports to me as the Minister and provides me with key policy advice on issues and policies affecting older people. They also develop strategies and comment on policy issues affecting older people such as housing and health with government departments.

One of my tasks and the tasks of the Unit is to ensure government policy maintains and improves the quality of life for senior citizens.

At the meeting with Pacific Island representatives I heard about the issues facing you in your daily lives. One of the issues they raised was the difficulty of many older people to make contact with others in the community.

Many older Pacific Island people have come to this country to be with their families. Family is of paramount importance in Pacific cultures and is to be celebrated. However we all need other forms of social contact to learn new ways of thinking and to confirm our own experiences of life.

Meeting new people is not always easy at the best of times but when you are in a new country and a new culture it can be that much harder. Finding out how to move around a new city, making use of the facilities available to assist you in your daily lives requires local knowledge.

Local knowledge is gained by meeting and interacting with local people who know what is going on in the city.

Representatives at the recent workshop in Wellington said more support needed to be available to help older Pacific Island people to make contact with each other and make the most of the resources around them - without having to rely on their families for everything.

It is great that the family has such a strong place in Pacific Island culture. Many people could learn from the love, strength and support that exists in these families.

However we all need some degree of independence and with many older Pacific Island people so reliant on their families, neither side gets the independence they need.

This Pacific Island centre is one way of helping older Pacific Island people meet each other. The fact that we can all meet here to talk and take part in activities together, opening people up to new ideas and experiences - is a good thing. I applaud the work being done here by the Methodist Mission and North Health to provide this service and facility.

It is initiatives such as this that will provide Pacific Island senior citizens with a greater degree of independence and a better quality of life.

Assisting Pacific Island senior citizens to develop independence is one of the areas that will be discussed between the Senior Citizens Unit and the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs. There are others, and these are being identified through the discussions between the two parties.

However to identify and develop policy solutions to these issues means we have to make a concerted effort to talk to Pacific Island older people who will benefit from these changes.

The Senior Citizens Unit will continue to conduct ongoing consultation and discussions with Pacific Island community representatives to identify the issues facing older people and the policy changes necessary to make your lives better.

To me it is important that we as a Coalition Government promote positive ageing to enhance health, financial security independence, self-fulfillment, positive community attitudes, personal safety and security and the physical environment.

I see my role as a vital one in Government. I am your advocate at all levels of government and intend to speak very loudly and clearly when issues that will affect you come up in discussions.

The advantage to you is that I am a strong advocate for your needs and I intend to ensure improvements are made to Government policy and in the way society values our older people.

When I was briefed on senior citizens issues after taking office 18 months ago I was very impressed with the work being done by the Senior Citizens Unit and of other organisations such as Age Concern, Grey Power and the Pacific Centre.

It all illustrates quite clearly how team work and co-operation can help further positive initiatives and policies aimed at older people.

The emphasis on a more positive approach is also supported by the Government's Coalition Agreement. In the agreement we stated that our general policy direction will:

" ensure that retired persons live in the relative comfort and dignity that their age, experience and previous labour clearly justifies, and that they are not discriminated against but encouraged to contribute their knowledge and endeavours to the local community."

This direction supports the fact that our population is ageing. By 2001, our the number of people 65 years and older in our population is expected to increase by 25,250. In the decade to 2011, the number is expected to increase by 84,650 people and by the year 2031, the number of people over 65 in our population is expected to reach 940,000.

With such a massive increase in the number of older people in our population we have to look at how this will impact on government's policies in areas such as health and community support service provision.

Protecting the rights and improving the quality of life for senior citizens is very important to me. Older people have a lot of wisdom and exeperience to share with younger generations. The insights you have gained in your lives can help in making decisions for the future.

I am always reassured that older people in the Pacific Island communities are valued for their wisdom and experience. The acceptance of older people in your families and communities means valuable life lessons can be passed on and built on by younger people to improve everyone's quality of life.

I want the same consideration and respect for older people that is displayed in the Pacific Island communities to be shown throughout New Zealand society. Intergenerational programmes such as Super Gran in Christchurch provide young people with support and role models to manage their lives. It is this partnership that will help our country to mature and develop into the future.

In October we will celebrate the contribution of senior citizens through the United Nations Year of the Older Person. The aims of this year are to prepare for an ageing population and promote positive attitudes to ageing and older people.

The Coalition Government has approved $500,000 of funding to develop some long-term programmes that will assist older people to achieve greater qualities of life.

I am excited about this forthcoming year and the opportunity to positively promote the essential place of older people in our society.

I look forward to hearing how you will celebrate this year and wish you all the very best with the remainder of this festival