Speech at the Affirming Works 'Young Free & Pasifika (YFP) Conference', Mangere, Auckland

E nga mana, e nga iwi, e nga reo, e nga karangaranga maha, tena koutou katoa.

Oute manatu o lea ua savini fa’apunaomanu lo tatou mafutaga. O lupe sa vaoeseese ae o lenei ua fuifuia fa’atasi ile alofa ma le agalelei ole tatou Atua Silisiliese. Malo le soifua manuia. Warm Pacific greetings to one and all.

I want to acknowledge the presence of Affirming Works Founder, Emeline Afeaki Mafile’o. I remember when you first established Affirming Works and you came to the Otara Community Board to present and seek support about 2001. I think that was before you met Alipate, and certainly before you had children. And you’ve continued to champion Pacific youth ever since, and I commend you for that.

I thank Ann-Helen Nu’uali’itia, the CEO of Affirming Works, for your strong advocacy and championing our youth.

Dr Siautu Alefaio, I acknowledge that in having you give our morning devotional, you are following in the footsteps of your dear father. Thank you.

I thank and acknowledge also the presence of our community leaders, parents, teachers all of you present. I thank Lemauga Lydia Sosene, Chair of the Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board for making the time to come and support this launch. Thank you Lemauga for all you do on behalf of our Pacific peoples. You have been a strong contributor in our electorate and I have always viewed you as my right hand person in Mangere.

Thank you for inviting me back to speak at the Young, Free & Pasifika Conference, which I really enjoyed attending back in 2018.

A mistake many people make is to think of future leaders as those that rise to positions of power.

Whilst that may be true for some, many of our best leaders will be found sitting across from us at our dinner tables, cooking & washing dishes for others, quietly serving people in our communities voluntarily, setting up businesses to respond to community needs, or negotiating protective measures for the vulnerable or for those who are reluctant to raise their voices.

I say to those who hold a variety of leadership roles and positions – what will you do with that position?

New Zealand’s story isn’t written by those in positions of power, but by the countless acts of people like you who go on to work in communities’ right across the country.

One of the privileges of this job is that I get to meet many of these great leaders – and today is no exception.

I always get so much out of these conversations – hearing about people’s lives, their families and their ambition for the future.

And I am always struck by how every leader I meet shares one thing in common: a commitment to doing what they can to shape the world around them in a way that makes sense to them and their families.

That is what I think of as leadership.

We’ll have people here who want to become teachers, engineers, scientists, politicians, sports people, doctors, lawyers.

Every one of you will change people’s lives in some way.

But whatever your goal, the path ahead will be forged by hard work and perseverance.

Sometimes it will take dreaming big – and an ability to keep dreaming big when others try to knock you down.

At other times it will require grit and determination.

Leadership is diverse. It is made up of different personalities, cultures, languages, and generational outlooks.

There is no secret. No shortcuts, no quick fixes. And it won’t necessarily be easy.

You are bound to come across roadblocks along the way, and you may even come across people who want to resist the ideas you have.

You have a big job ahead.

But if you face it with confidence, faith, resilience and good sense of humour, I am certain you’ll get to where you want to be.

Being a young Pacific person in Aotearoa New Zealand is not easy.

Many of you will be wrestling with lots of things and have all sorts of questions about who you are, and the world around you.

You need space to explore your identity in a way that is meaningful to you, unconstrained by the expectations or definitions of others.

This can be hard, because every step you take, you also carry your families and communities with you. 

Their stories become your stories – and they travel with you.

What that means is that right now, you are standing at a place where your past is coming into direct connect with the potential of your future.

That brings with it plenty of uncertainty, but we are here today to build and strengthen these connections for you – and for future generations of Pasifika.

The goal today is for you to know that when you take the next step into your future you have more of what you need to achieve wellbeing and realise your potential.

And what better place is there to remind ourselves that when we give outstanding young people like you a chance, you can succeed?

You may just need a little bit of help, or encouragement – and that’s what Affirming Works is all about.

What you will take away with you after today is a set of skills that you will carry with you for years to come.

My job, like those of my colleagues in government, is to create the conditions for you to put those skills to good use.

To create the space for future leaders like you to emerge. 

Whether it is by building a more accessible education system; supporting our mental health services; or promoting the arts, we play a really important role in this – and we always want to hear your stories to make sure we’re getting it right. 

Listening to what New Zealanders need has informed much of what next week will be our first ever Wellbeing Budget.

Governments can’t dictate to you what your wellbeing should be. But what a Government can do is to make the maintenance and improvement of your wellbeing as a central focus of our policy. That’s what this Government is doing with our Wellbeing Budget.

This is all about doing things differently - not because of the economic benefit, but because of the good it creates in people’s lives.

We are here today to achieve the same.

To give you what you need to make your lives – and those of your families and friends - better, more fulfilling and more prosperous.

What this looks like will be different for many of you. 

Some of you may want to come away from today feeling better equipped to overcome shyness and learn to speak up about what you believe in.

Others may want greater clarity about who you are, to meet others like you and to find a place where you belong. 

But all of you, I’m sure, want to be assured that you can – and will - make good decisions about the people you surround yourselves with and the choices that will shape your future. 

At this time I want to reflect a bit on some of the women that have had an influence in my life.  Most people won’t know that my political team in Mangere is organized by six women who call themselves the Mangere Angels. They are ably led by Lemauga Lydia Sosene who is here.

Louisa Crawley was the first Pacific Senior Private Secretary to the Minister for Pacific Island Affairs back in 1986. She was a member of PACIFICA Inc., and encouraged and supported me into the political arena. She taught me to trust ourselves, our own voices and to be confident in who we are.

Liz Lee-Lo Smith from Wellington, championed workers’ rights for Pacific people working in hospitals, hotels, restaurants. She taught me to be courageous in advocating to do the right thing for others.

Fili Fiu, of Onehunga and the Komiti Pasefika of the Service & Food Workers Union. She taught me perseverance and endurance. Even near her final hours, she was still delivering Labour Party leaflets because she wanted a Government that would love the people and our communities.

These three women were powerful voices for our Pasifika communities in their time. They were fearless, courageous, determined, and they loved our communities.  They were all part of the Pacific Sector of the NZ Labour Party and were champions for Pacific voices in Parliament.

My own mother Sene, daughter of Tiumalu from Satapuala village, was another great influence in my life.  She taught me, “whatever thou art, act well thy part.”

My grandmother Taemanu, daughter of Leuta from Falefa village, was a woman of faith, and taught me the power of prayer and the belief in the spiritual realm that surrounds us all.

These women taught me that, “Ole ala ile pule ole tautua – our leadership path is to serve others.”

Their actions and leadership was to do the right thing for others.

When you leave here today – and move on to the next stage of your journey – you will, I’m sure, remain part of the Affirming Works family.

You will also become the role models for the people who follow you here.

The most influential of what any young person learns is what they see modelled.

Whatever we see as we grow up helps construct our world view and is a major factor in how we embrace who we are and the path we chose to take.

That’s why positive role models and mentor support is so important.

Providing a foundation for future leaders to stand on, takes a lot of patience and trust.

Leaders also need spaces where they know anything, and everything is welcome - anger, despair, tears and hope.

That’s what today will provide for you.

You don’t have to be a particular type of person, or better at one thing than the next – because what you will get here is a sense of community, of belonging.

And you will meet people who care about you and are willing to walk alongside you, to guide you to the decisions you want to make.

People like Emeline and her husband Alipate, who continue to dedicate their working lives to giving young people the best of who they are through Affirming Works.

To both of you, thank you for everything you do – and thank you inviting me to be here today.

Your passion, commitment and energy are an inspiration to us all.

You also teach us that leadership is a collective endeavour.

Leaders may emerge because of their own hard work, but the reason they can do this is because of the people that paved the way for them, and the people that stand alongside them now.

The job we have in government is to ensure every person in New Zealand, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how they started, can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.

You are part of that vision.

And just by being here you’ve already shown what you’re made of.

You have a sense of purpose and ambition that, I’m sure, will take you as far as you want to go.

The work you pursue will not just be a means to earn money, and provide for your families, important though that it is.

It will also be a source of identity and purpose in your lives. 

Whatever path you chose, travel well – take with you positive support networks and people who care about you.

Parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends.

And people like Emeline and Alipate – and the whole team at Affirming Works. Your success will be their success too.

Finally, let me share with you a recent experience. I was in Fiji last week to deliver New Zealand’s statement at the Climate Action Partnership Programme in front of the leadership of the Pacific region. New Zealand will stand in support of the 1.5 degree goal that the Pacific leaders have championed and accepted at the Paris Agreement in 2016. We will work with the Pacific region to amplify their voice and support them as much as we can through our Pacific Reset policy.

I conveyed to the Pacific leaders, that as Minister for Pacific Peoples of Aotearoa, I represent a rising Pacific population in New Zealand that is interested in what happens to the Pacific region. I refer to this rising population as Generation 6 Bs.

This generation will inherit this region when we are long gone. They want to know what actions leaders are taking to safeguard and protect their beloved Pacific home. I refer to Generation 6 Bs as the modern-day explorers, navigators of the world today. They are the new breed of innovators and creators of the modern-day global digital economy.

Generation 6 Bs are - brown, beautiful, brainy, bilingual, bicultural and bold.  You are that generation and I hope you never forget that. You should be confident in all your endeavours, and be thriving, resilient and prosperous Pacific Aotearoa.

I hope you enjoy your day. Thank you. Faafetai. Soifua.