New Zealand Labour Party

Maiden speech - Jenny Salesa

Jenny SalesaLabour MP for Manukau East, has given her Maiden Speech in Parliament.

Kia ora tatou katoa, Good afternoon.

Malo e lelei, Fakafeta’i ki he ‘Eiki pea ‘oku ou tuku pe ‘a e Kololia moe fakamalo ki a Sihova he koia pe taha ne lava ai e feinga ko eni. Tuku mu’a keu hufanga he ngaahi talafakatapu, kae ‘ata mo e ki’i fefine tu’a mo ma’ulalo ko eni ke fai atu ha ‘uluaki lea ki he Falealea ‘o Aotearoa, Nu’usila.

My congratulations to the Honourable Speaker for your election, and to the election of the deputy speaker Chester Borrows, and the assistant speakers Lindsay Tisch and my Labour colleague Trevor Mallard.

I would also like to acknowledge my predecessor from Manukau East, Ross Robertson, who served our communities for 27 years, and was himself an assistant speaker of the House.

On Monday, here in this house, I swore an oath of loyalty and service to this parliament, and our nation.

It is such an honour and a privilege to enter this house, with its history and traditions.

This is the house of government, and with that honour comes enormous responsibility, and it is a responsibility that I feel as I stand here, for the first time, today.

I was honoured to take the Parliamentary oath, but it is not the only oath that I feel bound by.

Since I was selected to be the candidate for Manukau East I have sworn another oath, an oath to the people of Manukau East and to other hardworking people in New Zealand: the kind of people who do a lot and only ask for a little.

People who really, only ask for a just and equitable society.

The oath I have taken - is to serve, to listen, and to work for the people of Manukau East—the reason I have come to this house—is to represent them, to bring their voices into our Nation’s conversation, to remind our nation - of Manukau East,

And to make sure that our government works for them, as well as others throughout New Zealand much like them.

The oath I made is to stand with, and for, everyday working New Zealanders, the young and the old - the people who are the backbone of our nation.

We should remind ourselves that many of our nation’s voices have not always carried into parliament.

We would do well to listen more carefully to many of the voices that have not always been heard clearly in this house: the voices of our poor, of our young, of our seniors, of new migrants, of women, of Maori and Pacific New Zealanders.

Parliament is the People’s house, and we would do well to remember all of the people when we sit here. Let us remember most of all those we do not hear, those who do not have the money, or the power, to gain the ears of their representatives.

I come to this House today as a proud New Zealander, as an Aucklander and South Aucklander. I come as an immigrant to this country from the Pacific and as a Tongan.

The fact that a girl from Lotofoa, Ha’apai and Nuku’alofa, Tonga can be elected to the New Zealand parliament says a great deal about the strength of our democracy.

I was born and raised in our Pacific island neighbour - just north of us in the beautiful Kingdom of Tonga. My family moved to Aotearoa New Zealand so I could complete my education when I was 16 years old.

My upbringing - was always one that celebrated service.

I grew up with a father who was for many years the only Pharmacist in Tonga. If he didn’t go to work, people couldn’t get their medicines. I saw what a difference he made in people’s lives, and how much everyone gains when we honour others with our hard work.

For my father who is 84 years old and who is here today, a life spent in service to others was the true hallmark of a Christian life. For my mother, as she went to work in a factory in South Auckland, then as a part-time cleaner in the evenings, her service to our family was from a mother’s love, her commitment to her church and community.

Not only did my family—many of whom are here today—make my aspirations possible, they also gave me the values of service and hardwork that made them achievable.

My way of serving has been through my work as a public servant in policy and funding, and through voluntary work in the community, but behind this are the values and work ethics of my parents.

  • Respect your elders and respect others.
  • Love and serve your family.
  • Help those in need, and serve your community.
  • Work for a just and equitable society.
  • Be humble and act with humility.
  • Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.

These are Tongan values. They are New Zealand values. They are Labour values. These are my values.

The challenge has been how to put these values into action. Labour values, when put into bold and smart policies, have been completely transformational and have made New Zealand the wonderful country it is.

I joined the Labour party because it is the party that shares my values and ideals.

However, I stand here today for the Labour party because not only is it a party of values, it is the party of ideas: of bold and wise change, of transformations that have lifted the living standards of all New Zealanders and which have made our country prosperous, but also more humane and a better place to live.

  • Labour delivered social security to New Zealand in 1938.
  • Labour created the forty hour, 5 day working week, with eight annual holidays.
  • Labour recognized the Treaty of Waitangi and allowed for claims to be retrospective.
  • Labour made New Zealand nuclear free.
  • Labour codified universal, free healthcare.
  • Labour promoted Samoan independence and global decolonization.
  • Labour stopped the Springbok tour in 1973.
  • Labour passed the New Zealand Bill of Rights.
  • Labour created KiwiSaver, the Superfund and the Supreme Court.
  • Labour recognized Te Reo Maori as an official language of our country - Aotearoa.

These are the kind of ideas that made Aotearoa a better place, for everyone. I look forward to being part of a Labour government that resumes such far-sighted and transformative government in the future.

These past few months have reminded me that in our great country, there is still much work to be done.

In large parts of New Zealand, including where I come from, child poverty is not a policy abstraction, but a lived issue, one that too many families face or have known.

Hundreds of thousands of New Zealand children now live in poverty. The Fifth Labour government showed that with smart government and good policy the numbers in poverty can be reduced. But in the last few years the number of children in poverty has grown.

Let’s not forget what poverty really means in this country. If you are a child in the most deprived parts of New Zealand you are 25 times more likely to go to hospital with rheumatic fever. If you are poor you’re five times more likely to die of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy. These children--remember--are New Zealand children.

Child poverty affects health.

And child poverty - also affects education.

Research confirms what some teachers and principals tell me - that in some schools - up to half of their students move from school to school each year because their families are moved from house to house.

This is such a problem in so many of our schools that it has a name: “Churn.”

This is real insecurity, not even knowing where you will live; and this insecurity of tenure is not just a housing problem, but a problem for families, and for us as a nation.

It is a problem of education, health and opportunity.

Almost every day, I see families coming into my electorate office asking for help with housing.

Many of these families do not have a place to live in, many are homeless, some live in garages, some live in cars, some live temporarily with relatives until they are asked to move on.

Most of these families are on the urgent priority list for housing - Priority A. In 2007 there were 133 families on the Priority A waiting list. In June this year there were 3,188 on the same list waiting for a house.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. Treasury estimates tens of thousands of New Zealanders are in “severe housing deprivation”.

In 1935 the First Labour government realized that in order to ensure both the quality and quantity of housing, it was not enough to sit back and wait. Government had to lead. Showing that leadership, the first Labour Government built thousands of homes.

Those Labour state houses were little slices of Kiwi paradise, within the reach of all New Zealanders. Like the policies that sat behind them, Labour’s state houses were built to last.

But New Zealand is no longer at the forefront of social housing and home ownership. We have gone from a nation that made bold and wise investments in the lives of families to a nation which has one of the lowest rates of social housing provision in the developed world at only 5%!

Politicians on both sides of this house grew up in social housing. But things have changed since then.

Doing it hard in New Zealand used to mean living in a three bedroom brick and tile house on a quarter acre. Now doing it hard in New Zealand now - means living with your six children in a car, or waiting for nearly a year on our most urgent housing list, or living in a caravan or a garage.

I came from Tonga to New Zealand because of New Zealand’s schools and universities. I have no doubts that a quality education is still the best way forward in New Zealand.

But even education is shaped by child poverty. We have a high quality education system, but it is also highly unequal.

The challenge for us as a nation is to ensure that all students get the same chance in schools, and we have not been meeting this challenge.

We now live in a country where the most important predictor of your future educational performance is your socio-economic status.

Some progress has been made, but not enough.

We have Not addressed the root of the problem.

We kid ourselves if we think that all problems we see in education can be solved within schools. Because so many of these problems do not originate in schools.

When kids are sick, cold, and hungry, they’re not going to be as ready to learn.

Seriously addressing child poverty, ensuring that the hundreds of thousands kiwi kids in poverty get out of it - is the giant leap we need to make in education.

It is one thing to give a speech about it, and declare child poverty a priority. But if we do not have a hard target, if we do not have genuine priorities that we publicly measure, these will all be so many empty words.

We will talk the talk about child poverty, and the numbers will continue to grow.

As they have.

People can’t eat a speech; people can’t live in a promise, a consent or a plan; and a white paper doesn’t fill a student’s empty stomach.

These past few months have reminded me, again, of how we are all tied to each other. The road to parliament is not one that can be travelled alone, nor should it be.

Today I thank, with all my heart, my family, friends, supporters and colleagues who made my journey possible. For me, these are people who live Labour values, and their commitment to serve has been inspirational. Their words have been full.

To my husband, Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa, my daughters, Mahalia and Esmae, my parents: Samiu and Loketi Latu and my parents in law Ieremia and Yvonne Salesa; my whole campaign and volunteer team, especially Matila Latu-Ali, Leila Boyle, Michael Clatworthy, Aiolupotea Sina Aiono, Dawn Trentworth, Felicity, Lotu, Sefita, Paane, Kite, Seini & Moeaki, Akesa, Siale, Salote, Leilani, Fia, Lile, Reece and Fa’anana you have my deepest gratitude. To my Labour whanau, especially Vui Mark Gosche, Su’a William Sio, Carol Beaumont, Carmel Sepuloni, Hermann Retzlaff, Nick Bakulich, Jerome Mika, and Judith Tizard, thank you.

Malo ‘aupito. Tu’a ‘ofa atu.

No Reira Tena Koutou, Tena koutou Tena Tatou Katoa.