Tongan Labour MP on Language, Housing, Serving Communities in Parliament

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How Can I Help? That’s Labour List MP Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki’s go-to question when working with constituents. Based in Papakura in Auckland, Anahila says service to the community is a driving force not only in her personal life but also in her capacity as a Member of Parliament. She believes the role is integral to connecting people and make sure they are well informed about services and organisations that are available for access.

A social worker by profession the former Public servant remembers when she first entered Parliament in 2017. She says it was surreal. “From being a person who was door knocking, delivering pamphlets or supporting candidates here there and everywhere, I’ve gone from that to being a Member of Parliament.”

I’m sitting in a meeting of government Ministers being chaired by the Prime Minister and I have a duty and a responsibility to bring the best every time. I really believe it’s an honour and a privilege. We have a short time to do it and I’m honoured to be someone who is an MP in New Zealand and helping the community where I can.Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki

Housing, Health, and Wellness are key issues for Anahila particularly around housing. She says making sure people have a home that is safe, warm, and dry is fundamental. The Labour government recently announced housing policy changes, lifting the income caps on First Home Loans and First Home Grants and extending the bright-line test from five to 10 years. This is seen as an effective capital gains tax on investment property where profits from the sale of property within 10 years of buying it could see a tax increase. Anahila hopes policies like these will help people who are trying to purchase their first home.

“The reason why I always say that housing is important it’s because without a roof over our head we can’t really start to make a home. Housing for me is number one because I believe you have to have somewhere safe to live before you can even start to think about health and education.”

She acknowledges there are still challenges with wait times for families trying to secure housing which leads into another part of her role, to ensure people have the right information about what they are eligible for and to access the support they need. Anahila says there is no quick fix, however commits to connecting people with those that can provide outcomes and solutions.

Anahila says being able to converse in both English and the Tongan language is also helpful in this area especially for members of her Tongan community where English is a second language. Anahila provides a daily bi-lingual video blog keeping her constituents and community informed. She says her blog is important especially with the state of social media that is inundated with information. She says people sometimes can’t tell the difference between what’s fact and what’s fiction. She says breaking down the information in both Tongan and English can ease some of those barriers to information.

You bring in a different contribution when you speak another language. It’s not just the language that you speak,  you bring in the culture. I tell people it’s cultural intelligence because with that intelligence you don’t go to a school to learn it. You learn that as part of your life growing up.”Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki

Anahila is proud to be one of the 10 Pasifika MPs that are part of the 65 member Labour Caucus. She says they are all aware of the expectation from the Pasifika community. She’s pleased they have an input into the decisions made, not only by their Pacific Ministerial colleagues, but the policies and decisions made by government as a whole.

“I always say there’s no need for interpreters because we’re here at the table.” She accepts there is a responsibility to fulfil the expectation from Pasifika, but also sees that New Zealand as a country has grown, and highlights Pacific people can be Cabinet Ministers and can make decisions for all of New Zealand.

“We have a process to ensure that the Pacific voice is respected in Parliament and also connecting members to the Pacific community which are part of our daily lives.”

Staying true to oneself is what keeps Anahila going in the world of politics. It’s about relationships and it’s about looking after people. She makes no apology for being a proud Labour Party member based in a constituency where opposition leader Judith Collins is the electorate MP.

It doesn’t stop Anahila serving the community, “no one walks around with labels that say I’m National, Labour, Greens or New Zealand First. It doesn’t matter if people approach me and they have an issue I ask how can I help?”