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Service to the community is a driving force for the new Labour MP for Palmerston North, Tangi Utikere. Tangi served more than 10 years with the city council, four of them as Deputy Mayor. He is the first Labour MP of Cook Island heritage to represent the electorate after replacing former Minister of Workplace Relations, Immigration and ACC Iain Lees-Galloway. Born and bred in Palmerston North, Tangi is proud to represent his city as the MP under a Labour government even though he wasn’t expecting it.
The former secondary school teacher looks forward to continuing his work in the community and says his sense of community service started from an early age. His career in local government and in education, working with youth in his community, led to discussions around the role of decision makers and he was left with the question, “do they reflect the community?” This prompted Tangi to take stock, “I realised it didn’t and so for me it was that drive and passion that led me initially to the council table, and then obviously on to central politics.”
The criminal justice system is another area Tangi is focused on. Prior to the election he was a commissioner with the Ministry of Justice Criminal Cases Review Commission. He says that sadly the number of Pasifika community are over-represented in the criminal justice statistics. It is an area he will continue to advocate for at central government level.
Environment is another area he will work on as a representative on the Environment Select Committee. He says it is important we don’t take for granted what we have, and must protect it for the next generation. He says we also need to be aware of the impact it has on the Pacific.
He is proud not only to represent his electorate but also to be one of two Labour MPs of Cook Island heritage. Tangi joins Christchurch East MP and Minister for Police Poto Williams as the two flying the flag for the Cook Islands. He says not only have they formed a good working relationship, he is proud to be working alongside the 10 Labour MPs of the Pacific Caucus.
Another area Tangi is proud of is his connection with the Palmerston North Pasifika community. He pays tribute to the Pasifika people who have over the years contributed to the development of Palmerston North and says the community is a strong one.
“I am a member of the Cook Islands community, but the particular strength here locally is that all of those communities of interest work togethe. We have a number of different groups who spend time with each other in a small community like Palmerston North. It means naturally we do get to spend a lot of time together.”
Tangi explains why education and family play a big part in his life, “I have 3 younger siblings Rachel, Luke and James. We will forever be very grateful to the sacrifice that my parents and grandparents have made.”
Their grandmother made the decision at an early age to come to NZ, leaving her family behind like many who came in search for a better life and without compromising on their cultural identity and cultural history. Tangi says this is why education has always been important for him and his family.
“It has been important for my parents as well, even though they did not avail themselves of the opportunities because it was a different time for them. My father [came to New Zealand from the Cook Islands at the age of 8]. I am extremely proud of, my mother [from Waipua]. My father still works as a market gardener and my mother is a community support worker, so they are well grounded in the community. They keep me and my siblings grounded.”
Image credit: Palmerston North Labour, Facebook