21 Apr 2017

Parliament a voice for Pacific young people

3:22 pm on 21 April 2017

A hundred Pacific young people will get the chance to discuss problems they face and find solutions when the Pacific Youth Parliament session begins today.

100 Pacific youth parliamentarians are meeting in Christchurch over the next three days.

100 Pacific youth parliamentarians are meeting in Christchurch over the next three days. Photo: Supplied / Jeff Bell

The youth parliamentarians got a taste of the issues yesterday, preparing them for the following three days when they will polish their arguments as the parliament sits in Christchurch.

Organiser Josiah Tualamali'i said about 80 percent of the 13 to 24-year-olds were from Christchurch and the remainder travelled from Dunedin, Rotorua, Hamilton and Auckland.

MPs, academics and professionals presented and answered questions yesterday about issues facing the country.

Today, the youth MPs will meet and hear from youth lobbyists. On Saturday Parliament will sit and on Sunday a Bill will be finalised outlining what's best for Pacific people.

Second year nursing student Philomena Petaia, 22, lives in Christchurch but is originally from south Auckland.

She decided to get involved in Pacific Youth Parliament (PYP) because as a young person living in a Western-structured society it was hard to get her voice out, she said.

She was particularly interested in the housing crisis and health inequality for Pacific and Māori people.

She said some at PYP had lived in damp houses, and were currently living with chronic conditions due to poor living conditions.

"They [the children] don't have the opportunities they need to get good jobs because of parents being on minimum wages and not having enough money to put them through schooling," she said.

"I think that through PYP it gives us the opportunity to say that. It's so difficult for us to listen to goverment at the moment because they're dishing out policies and laws based on their experiences.

"But they haven't really lived through the struggle that we have as youth growing up in south Auckland or Canterbury where the conditions are not that great for us."

Pacific struggles fell on the deaf ears of politicians most of the time, she said.

Second-year social work student Sea Muaimalae, 19, was voted Prime Minister for PYP and also felt strongly about housing.

"Housing is a massive issue, not just for my Samoan community but for the [whole] Pacific community as well. Overcrowding is a natural thing for Polynesians. They don't see it as homelessness, they're happy to do it."

Because he was a New Zealand-born Samoan he had to walk both paths and felt like he had a responsibilty to find a housing solution that worked, he said.

"I'm still just learning about the housing crisis. I don't know the solution yet and there isn't just one answer for it."

He learnt in a discussion yesterday that the government had sold off some state houses which he wasn't happy about, he said.

"I've pretty much lived and been brought up in state houses. I've come from a low [socio-]economic family, we don't earn a lot. And I know people who struggle to find houses and get chucked on the waiting list to find state houses. So I think selling off state houses wasn't a smart move."

Josiah Tualamali'i said this was the second Pacific Youth Parliament to be held. The first was in 2010 and those who were involved had gone on to do great things, he said.

"Now our team is in positions of influence and is creating change which is noticeable. Riki who was the Leader of the Opposition is now the team leader of the Pacific group at the University of Canterbury. Ash who was the secretary to the Prime Minister, she's now doing her PhD in Pacific Studies. Ma'a who was the Minister of Finance is now a lawyer."

He said the four-day event cost $80,000 to put on but thanks to sponsorship - mainly from Christchurch City Council, the Ministry of Education, Pasifika Futures and the Lotteries Commission - everything was free for participants.

Mr Tualamali'i said he was excited for the future of the country.

"Each of these young people here are going to go away and be able to be more confident.

"Push back against the systemic bias and sometimes overt racism and other things which are huge barriers for our Pacific people participating. Say 'I have a place to stand.'"

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs