Carmel Sepuloni’s deputy prime minister appointment is symbolic for NZ, Pacific leaders say

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Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni will be officially appointed on Wednesday along with Chris Hipkins.
Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Leaders in the Pacific community believe the appointment of the country’s first deputy prime minister of Pacific descent will bring positive change.

New Prime Minister Chris Hipkins – who takes over from Jacinda Ardern just nine months before the general election – yesterday chose Carmel Sepuloni as his deputy.

She also made history 15 years ago when she became New Zealand’s first Tongan Member of Parliament.

Reverend Setaita Veikune of the Methodist Church of NZ said Report tomorrow Kelston’s MPs would serve as an inspiration to the younger generation, especially girls.

“This is a visible example of what we can achieve and proof that for our people the sky really is the limit,” she said.

“Carmel, a Tongan, Samoan woman as Deputy Prime Minister, I believe makes a profound contribution to eliminating negative stereotypes and reducing unconscious biases against us.

“This alone does more for our communities than many realize, such as reducing barriers to progress, which are against us in several spaces.”

So said the leader of the Pacific community, Sir Collin Tukuitonga Report tomorrow this was a historic moment not only for their community, but for the entire country.

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“I think it’s a statement from ourselves as a nation that maybe we’re growing up and getting serious about inclusion.”

Sepuloni’s experiences and networking in Pasifika and Māoridom communities would be beneficial as she supports Hipkins’ leadership, he said.

Veikune hoped that Sepuloni – who currently holds portfolios for Social Development, ACC and Arts, Culture and Heritage – would work with her to advance the Pasifika community.

“I find her very strong in her quiet and humble way… She brings strength, courage and determination to do what is needed, and I believe her humility is something that will help us move forward immensely.”

In a 2017 interview with E-Tangata, Sepuloni said she thought about entering politics at a young age, with the ambition to help create a fairer society.

“Interestingly, growing up – and friends still remind me of this – I always said this is what I would do. That I was going to be a politician. And they thought it was so funny then,” she said.

“We can see the inequity around us, whether it’s health statistics or education outcomes. Pay inequality. All those things that we see in our own lives, the lives of our families and our communities. So I think it’s really hard to somehow have no political feeling.”

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As Minister of Social Development for the past five years, Sepuloni has steadily reformed the system through measures such as increasing benefits, adopting a less punitive approach to sanctions and overseeing a review of the Work for Families welfare scheme.

Write in the Herald at the time of the ram raids last August, Sepuloni thought back to her time as an educator for at-risk youth with tertiary students.

“I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and punitive approaches to young people – or people in general really – who are already dealing with complex challenges don’t. I liken it to knocking someone over who wants and trying to get up stand, shouting at them to get up.”

But in 2021, a report from the Child Poverty Action Group found that almost three years after the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s 42 recommendations for reviewing the system, none had been fully implemented.

Sir Collin said it would be difficult to place all the blame solely on Sepuloni – it was more complicated than that.

“She would have to build a consensus between a number of parties to get that implemented, she’s taken some of the recommendations, but I think it’s a bit rough to just force it on her.

“There will be expectations and some will say now that she’s in the role of deputy prime minister that she might have a little more say and influence to get these things done.

“There is no question that there are serious social issues in our communities that need to be addressed. I expect Carmel will need to lead that process of consensus building and action based on those priorities.”

While Sir Collin acknowledged that he was among those who criticized the government in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic for its “sluggish and sluggish” response to the outbreak in Pacific communities, he said they eventually got to the point straight end.

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