Tokelauan, Cook Islander, Niuean People Feel Discrimination In New Zealand

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While citizens, Pacific People’s feel second class, consultation reveals

By Lealaiauloto Fatu Tauafiafi in Auckland

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, March 17, 2013) – New Zealand’s constitution is under review. It aims to cover issues such as the size of Parliament, the length of the electoral term, Maori representation, the role of the Treaty of Waitangi and whether New Zealand needs a written constitution.

The review has come under fire for a variety of reasons, some critics claim it is working towards a predetermined outcome: namely, the creation of a written constitution with the Treaty, or its "principles", entrenched as supreme law.

However, a Pacific consultation started by the Auckland Council’s Pacific People’s Advisory Panel (PPAP) last week has brought to the surface a number of disturbing issues.

One of them is the discriminatory manner by which New Zealand has been treating its own citizens who are Tokelauan, Cook Islanders and Niuean.

People from these three countries are part of the New Zealand realm and are therefore citizens of New Zealand. Tokelau is currently a colony and is ruled by New Zealand, while Niue and the Cook Islands are self governing in free association which means New Zealand looks after their defence and foreign affairs.

After the first Pacific meeting held at the Auckland University School of Law, people from the three realm countries felt discriminated against. Thattheir rights as New Zealanders are not being recognized because they are being viewed as Pacific people.

According to Rev Uesifili Unasa, chair for the PPAP, "What they’re saying is they shouldn’t be lumped together as Pacific people. They are not saying that they are not Pacific islanders, what they are saying is that because they are categorized as Pacific islanders, that they are not getting their entitlement to political resources, and economic kudos as rightful citizens of New Zealand.

That they are entitled to the same rights that Maori and Pakeha are utilizing fully as New Zealand citizens."

The issue of language was used to illustrate the discrimination the second class treatment the realm countries feel is how they have been treated.

"The Tokelau, Niue and Cook Islands languages are under real threat of being lost and yet in New Zealand we have English, and Te Reo as recognized New Zealand languages.," recalled Rev Unasa. "So why are the languages of these New Zealand citizens not recognized as official languages of this country."

Discrimination is magnified when viewed in terms of statistics.

"The distribution of resources in New Zealand, for example, education or health is a case in point. For Maori they get their recognition as Tangata Whenua or as Treaty partners so they have the right to:

"Yet Niue, Tokelau and Cook Islands, are not recognized in this way even though their New Zealand citizenship is the same as tangatawhenua."

Rev Uesifili says the Pacific group understand the plight of the realm countries, especially when they are grouped with the other Pacific island countries.

"When we get lumped together as Pacific, we all know the issues and challenges, but we also know the resources we don’t get, and what political say we don’t get as Pacific people. So, the three realm nations are saying, why are we being treated like this when we are actually authentic Kiwis, that we are citizens of the ‘realm’ of New Zealand just like the Maori and Pakeha? From a Pacific perspective, we see where they are coming from."

It is one of the key reasons for organizing the series of Pacific consultations on New Zealand’s constitutional review.

Rev Unasa told the New Zealand Pacific, "in terms of our Pacific people, we’ve got to define a place for us in that constitutional future and how our people can actually claim their place in New Zealand. So part of the initiative from our Pacific point of view has been to establish these consultations."

After the first meeting, the three key issues centredaround the political voice of Pacific people, the rights of the realm countriesof Tokelau, Niue and Cook Islands, and in terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, how Pacific peoples should be placed within the bicultural partnership between the crown and Tangatawhenua.

Rev Unasa is calling on the Pacific community to take part in the constitutional consultation.

However, he admitted it is understandable if Pacific people feel these types of things have nothing to do with them.

"It is very hard for our people because we are so preoccupied with the essentials of life, of going to work, get some money, provide the food for our family, and do our community responsibilities.

"But the reality is that these things impact at the very grassroots levels and in our day to day lives that we don’t know about. Things like how do we get our representation into parliament, and into local government, how can we get our voice heard in terms of our Pacific interest in areas that decide on jobs, on education, health and so forth."

He showed how a strong Pacific voice in the Constitutional Review can make real changes to the way laws impact on everyday Pacific lives.

"The review is talking about how our laws are shaped and formed," he said.

"And those are important for us because they impact on our daily lives, on our young people being accused of things in the court."

The other important impacts on the daily lives of Pacific people is how health and educational resources get distributed according to how many people live in certain parts of the demographic.

"These things are all represented in the constitution but often get lost from our view. And that is why it is so important for us to say to our people ‘whilst these things may not necessarily impact on you today, they do impact on our children, our grand children and our families in the future" so we have to have an input into it."

It is why Rev Unasa is urging the Pacific communities, "our churches, our ministers, our community leaders to come togetherand talk about the things that are important and put in a submission as a church, as a family, as a community and as an individual, to this process."

For Niue, Tokelau and Cook Islands, it is a way to get rid of the discrimination against their rights as New Zealand citizens and addressed for their future generations.

The next Pacific consultation will take place on Monday, 18 March at the Manukau Civic Centre. And the week after, on the 25 March, at the Fickling Centre in Mt Roskill.

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