National leader Judith Collins vows to take 'important' Pacific Peoples spokesperson role 'very seriously'

Judith Collins is vowing to take her new Pacific Peoples spokesperson role "very seriously", describing it as "very important" now that National has been left without any Pasifika MPs. 

"The portfolio is important to me. I was the spokesperson in 2005 and 2006, and have been involved with Pasifika communities for many years," the National leader told Newshub. 

"Unfortunately, the election result left us without any Pasifika MPs in our ranks, which is why I took over the portfolio. I wanted to send a clear message that those communities are not only important to the National Party, but to me personally."

Collins added, "I take this portfolio very seriously and want to make sure Pasifika communities get the representation they deserve."

In the lead-up to the election, Collins was accused of "weaponising" her husband's Samoan ethnicity during a TV debate against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

"My husband is Samoan so, talofa," Collins said, after Aorere College head girl Aigagalefili Fepulea'i Tapua'i asked the candidates what they would do to support students forced to abandon their education to support their families. 

Collins touched on her understanding of the issue, revealing how her husband David Wong Tung had been encouraged to leave school by his family in order to find employment.

Fepulea'i Tapua'I - among others - was unimpressed. The student described Collins' response as "clownery", while commentators on social media accused the National leader of "weaponising" her husband's ethnicity as a "shield" against accusations of racism.  

But Collins didn't go down without a fight. She described the criticism as "disgraceful" and questioned how people could "disrespect" her husband like that. 

"He is Samoan. Not only is he Samoan, he was born in Samoa, raised in Samoa, grew up in a little village on Savai'i with his grandma. How dare people disrespect my husband like that? I just thought that was disgraceful."

The Pacific population in New Zealand is increasing and now tops 381,642, making up 8.1 percent of the population, according to the 2018 Census. It's up from 7.4 percent in 2013. 

A spokesperson for the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, overseen by the Minister of Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio, said Pacific people face several challenges in New Zealand. 

"Right now, there are people across Aotearoa for whom these challenges are not a statistic, or a news story, they are the day-to-day realities of life," the spokesperson told Newshub. 

"Pacific communities have faced the challenges of COVID-19 and the ministry has played a key role in engaging with them - in a language they understand - the importance of the response for their health and wellbeing."

The spokesperson added, "Government cannot solve every one of these challenges, of course - but we cannot stand on the side-lines either." 

National leader Judith Collins has appointed herself Pacific Peoples spokesperson.
National leader Judith Collins has appointed herself Pacific Peoples spokesperson. Photo credit: Getty

Collins appointed herself Pacific Peoples spokesperson in her latest caucus reshuffle. The role was previously held by Alfred Ngaro, the first Cook Islander MP. He lost his place in Parliament after National only received 25.6 percent of the vote. 

National lost much of its diversity after a crushing election defeat. Along with Ngaro, National said goodbye to Māori female MPs such as Jo Hayes and Harete Hipango, Indian-born born MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, and Filipino MP Paulo Garcia, among others. 

After securing 56 seats in 2017, National now has just 33 MPs and only three of them - deputy leader Shane Reti, former leader Simon Bridges and Melissa Lee - are not white. Dr Reti is Māori and has now been promoted twice by Collins.   

Despite helping Dr Reti rise up the ranks, Collins has often talked about how her caucus members are chosen based on merit and not to fill a diversity quota. 

"I've never really thought ethnicity was all that important - I'm an ethnic minority in my own home," she said in July, referring to the fact her husband is Samoan. 

"I am someone who believes [the decision should be made] utterly on merit... you pick the right people for the job, and that job is to do what you have to do and not worry too much about how they look, what their gender is or anything else." 

National struggled to quash diversity questions earlier this year, after Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye - both Pākehā - took over the leadership from Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett, who are both Māori. 

Kaye, who has stepped down from politics, came under fire for trying to pass off Pākehā MP Paul Goldsmith as Māori, in defence of a lack of diversity in the party's top 12 at the time. 

Kaye said Goldsmith was "obviously Ngāti Porou", the iwi located in the East Cape and Gisborne regions. Goldsmith corrected her, saying he was not Māori and simply had "connections with Ngāti Porou".