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Pacific Advisory Group needs more time, money, says chair

Apr 13th, 2014 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Lead Story, News


PACIFIC FORUM: The outgoing Pacific Advisory Group for Wellington City Council. Image: WCC

PACIFIC advisors to the council need more time and money for what they do, says the outgoing chair of the Pacific Advisory Group.

After two terms, Tina McNicholas is taking a much needed break from a role she says requires changes by the Wellington City Council.`

“If you are keen to do the job and to do it well, it requires a lot of your time, especially as chair,” she said.

“You have to really love the work or really believe in it and have the time and resources to commit to working over and above the standard two hours.”

The Pacific Advisory Group was established in 2003 to create a link between Wellington City Council and Wellington’s Pacific communities.

There are currently 15 seats in the group, made up of representatives from Wellington’s seven main Pacific nation groups – Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga and Tuvalu.

The group has recommended to council that the number of seats be increased to 19 to enable some of the smaller Pacific Island groups to be represented.

Ms McNicholas, herself a member of the Fijian community, said there are many people who have been participating in the Pasifika Festival, the Pacific Forum and attending council meetings but currently can’t participate.

“They are contributing to council events but because they aren’t part of the correct ethnic group, they can’t be part of the formal discussion around the council table which is silly really.”

They have also proposed more meeting time to make the work of the group more meaningful and effective.

“The role is one thing, but providing meaningful input and being able to have the time and resources supported right throughout the three years is another thing altogether.”

Elections for the group are held every three years and it is the only advisory group for council that is elected and not appointed.

There is currently a limitation of two consecutive terms for someone serving on the group and because of this limitation, Ms McNicholas will not be standing again this year.

There have been a range of amendments made to council, including the removal of the limitation on consecutive terms.

The group believes there needs to be continuity, especially with the introduction of the Pacific Action Plan.

It will require a significant amount of commitment, people with an understanding of the framework and outcomes and a critical mass of people who are willing to drive it.

“You can’t get that with a completely new band of people every three years. You need continuity, even If it’s only 30-50% of the group carrying on,” Ms McNicholas said.

The Pacific Action Plan is a document that has a vision for the next three years and has been developed by the group.

As chair of the group, Ms McNicholas was determined to have a plan of action put in place.

She said for her, the approach to the work of the advisory group was to be more deliberate and strategic about the way they engage and last year she recommended to the council that a Pacific Action Plan was the way to go.

Councillors Paul Eagle and Sarah Free will work with the group over the next three years to help achieve the visions set out in the action plan.

“I think it’s going to be transformational,” Mr Eagle said.

“I think that we will finally be delivering things that Pacific Islanders want and in a way that they want us to do them.”

Some of the initiatives in the plan include doing more for elderly Pasifika people and making sure their needs are taken into account, and housing – there need to be appropriate policies and rules in place so Pacific people can live together and do things that suit them.

Mr Eagle has worked with the Pacific Advisory Group for one term already and said the feedback he gets is positive.

He wanted to work with the group because he represents Wellington South which has a strong Pacific community.

“I think it is important that you have a genuine interest and that you do want to advance the needs of Pasifika people. I think it’s absolutely vital.”

Mr Eagle said one of the things the group really want is something iconic, like a fale.

A new community hub is being developed in Newtown and he would like to see Pacific designs worked into the architecture.

“It could become a multi-cultural centre, but the design should reflect our multi-racial communities,” he said.

One thing that has remained unaddressed is the need to have a Pacific person not only on the council but in leadership roles within the council, Mr Eagle said.

There has only been one Pacific Island councillor, Tala Cleverly, a Samoan woman who was the Labour Party city councillor for the Southern ward more than 25 years ago.

“I’m hoping to see Pacific people standing at the next election and they would be welcome,” Mr Eagle said.

The council is very good at being mainstream and doing things that are best for the majority, Mr Eagle said.

“The statistics are changing, we are becoming a much more diverse city literally, we are becoming a lot more colourful to the point where Maori and Pacific people will be the majority and we need to plan for that, we need to be smart about how we cater for their needs.”

He said it is great the council is doing small things but the time has come where they need to step up and listen to Pacific people and put some challenges back on the city.

There are two Pacific Forums held each year and they give people a chance to meet the mayor and councillors.

They also give people the chance to sit down and let the council know what they think about the mayor’s vision for the city.

“The great thing is, I can guarantee you, when you put something down in front of Pacific people, they will have a different perspective and it’s that different perspective that the city needs to reflect in its decision making,” Mr Eagle said.

Ms McNicholas said with the proposed changes to the terms of reference and having the Pacific Action Plan to work from, hopefully the new Pacific Advisory Group will be more useful and meaningful.

“Hopefully they’ll go on to achieve even more things than we have.”

Nominations for the group are currently open and the election will be held on 14 April at the Michael Fowler Centre at 6pm.

 Image: Wellington City Council

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is a Whitireia journalism student originally hailing from Tauranga with a love for polar bears and airplanes. She is currently covering the Lyall Bay/Kilbirnie area of Wellington.
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