Pacific | Politics

Samoan citizenship bill: Community drums up support as bill heads to select committee

Members of the Samoan community, including Samoan politician Leatinu'u Wayne So'oialo Fong (second from left) pictured at Parliament on Wednesday. Photo / Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai / NZME

Samoan community leaders are thrilled that a bill that may restore the citizenship rights for thousands of Samoans has passed the first hurdle - but say the real work now starts.

Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai, head of Pacific Community Engagement at the University of Otago, was among those who turned up at Parliament to support Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono’s Restoring Citizenship Removed by Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982 Bill for its first reading on Wednesday night.

Tofilau and former Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio are deputy chairs of the Mau a Samoa i le Siteseni 2024 committee - a movement supporting the bill and its purpose.

Members and other members of New Zealand’s Samoan community were present to see and hear the historic moment the bill reached enough votes to go through to the select committee.

Green Party MP and the party's spokesman for Pacific People's Teanau Tuiono. (Supplied/NZME)

“The real work begins now and the work we need to do is to identify those surviving people whom the law is referring to,” Tofilau says.

Other former politicians, as well as members of Samoa’s Parliament who are currently visiting New Zealand - Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Samoa Papali’i Li’o Taeu Masipau and cabinet minister Leatinu’u Faumuina Wayne Fong - also attended.

Tofilau says lobbying MPs for support to send the bill to the select committee stage was hard and now there is a chance to tell the real stories - particularly from those families affected.

She said the most recent census data from Samoa showed the population affected is less than 5000 individuals and the youngest of them would be 75 years old.

Collecting submissions of support begins

“If you think about it, 40 years ago when this bill was inactive, these people born between 1924 and 1949 were at their prime back then. They could have come and established their families.

Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai (far right) with members of the Samoan community at Parliament on Wednesday. (Supplied/NZME)

“With the time they do have left, whether it be a few years or more, they can enjoy what was rightfully theirs in the first place and make those establishments.”

Throughout the select committee stage, Tofilau said its members will collect community submissions, while different government departments will provide legal counsel. This stage gives members of the public the chance to share their views on the bill.

‘We owe it to them’

If the bill is successful in the end, it would grant those Samoan elders a direct pathway for citizenship, by grant, if they choose to apply. It would not flow down to their descendants, however.

The Samoan and New Zealand flags fly high at Parliament. Photo / Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai / NZME

Tofilau said of the community’s support: “When we come together, we come together.”

The group’s chairman, former National Party MP and Auckland councillor Anae Lupematasila Lima Arthur Anae, said it was a historical night and thanked Tuiono for organising the bill in the first place.

Anae also thanked the Act Party and NZ First for its support - which helped to get the bill over the line. The National Party was the only one not to support the bill.

“I want to say a very special thank you to each of those parties who supported this. I’ll start with [NZ First leader] Winston Peters and his team. He always said they’d be there for us, but I couldn’t be sure that was going to happen.

“They pulled through, as well as the Act Party [and leader] David Seymour,” he said.

“If they had given any indication they would have supported us, the National Party would have said you are coalition partners doing this - and that could have killed it all.

“The Greens Party, Te Pati Māori and the Labour Party all stood behind us strongly, which I am thankful for - putting National in their place so much that I felt for those guys in the house on Wednesday night.”

Reverend Victor Pouesi, of the Māngere East Puaseisei Congregational Christian Church of Samoa acknowledged the work of those Samoan pioneers and the need for younger generations to do right.

“I believe we owe that to them, to put the record straight and make sure we provide the opportunity for them [to] be recognised.”

Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai is one of 12 cadets in the Te Rito journalism programme, which has a focus on training more culturally diverse reporters to ensure newsrooms reflect Aotearoa’s multicultural society. Grace has a keen interest in telling Pasifika stories, South Auckland and sports.

- NZ Herald

Te Rito