Local elections are being held via postal vote all over New Zealand from September 20 until October 12. Lei Shi has profiled four Pasifika candidates in the Auckland elections. Today’s candidate is Will ‘Ilolahia, who is standing for the Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) elections, which coincide with the mayoral, council and the local board elections.
Report – By Lei Shi
The only non-European, non-Māori candidate at the Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) elections wants to bring more patient-focus to the board.
Tongan-New Zealander Will ‘Ilolahia is also focused on emphasising local, ethnic communities rather than the systems.
Speaking to Pacific Scoop, he says he wants to bring his experience as well as a Pacific perspective to the next district health board.
Will ‘Ilolahia is a community leader, who represents City Vision.
He was famous for the Polynesian Panthers Party and the reggae band Herbs, back in the 70s and 80s, but now his focus is on the coming elections.
After climbing more than 60 steps up the staircase, we are face-to-face in his central city apartment.
From health to politics
‘Ilolahia says his most important reason for standing for the board is because he has faced several deaths lately.
One of my aunties and another uncle died. I myself also have been in the hospital back in 1996 when I was paralysed for four months, so I know what it’s like to be a patient, and I also know what it’s like to have good service.
A lot of people I know, they go to hospitals, and are shuffled like cattle. Pregnancy checks are good examples. Mothers go in, drop a baby, are discharged, and later on you find out there are complications.
If they stayed in for a few more days, we could perhaps be able to find out the problems.
“The preventative programmes are not working. For Pacific communities, there are heaps of health-related programmes on radio and TV. As a former broadcaster and a producer, I can see why they are not working, and I want to make sure that preventative dollar is doing preventative job.”
One of ‘Ilolahia’s suggestions is to have more community focus “rather than system response”.
“But don’t get me wrong. The front line staff, they do their best, the doctors the nurses. We know some hospitals are under-staffed, and that’s when mistakes happen, and that’s what I’m concerned about.”
‘Ilolahia knows how brilliant Auckland hospital staffs are, when they saved his life in 1996.
He was going through a lot of stress and was paralysed for four months when admitted to Auckland Hospital.
He says he would not have been back on his feet if not for the excellent medical expertise and care.
‘Ilolahia says that experience always reminds him of the importance of having a great health system.
“I have six children and 12 grandchildren. That’s another reason I want to stand. I want to make sure that the system I was lucky to have will be in place for them too.
“We are losing a lot of good people to overseas because they can get paid more, and we need to change that.”
He is also very conscious of his own health and fitness.
“I started rugby league in Tonga when I was young. I went to the hospital to fix my knee, and now I know every floor of the hospital.
“Just recently, one of my daughters-in-law who does boxing has been trying to get me do a bit of boxing. And as you can see, the staircase in the building is also good exercise.”
He is darn right. The builders forgot to install lifts when they built these apartments back in the 40s, but the staircase can be a friend of someone who wants a job on the district health board.
Guarding a great health system is paramount, but ‘Ilolahia also wants to introduce changes to policies to better cater for the needs of the diverse ethnic communities in Auckland.
There are lots of doctors out there driving cabs. They were doctors back in their countries but they can’t get in because they don’t have English as their first language. But that doesn’t mean they can’t save lives.
We need to put more focus on our ethnic communities. If you look at the projected ethnic makeup of Auckland in 2030, the board should have at least three non-Pākehā members out of seven to reflect this.
If you consider the entire population of the city ethnic-wise, it’s a crucial part of my campaign.
‘Ilolahia’s parents came to New Zealand from Tonga just after World War II, and he was born during the baby boom in 1951 in Auckland’s CBD.
“I am the only child, and we were one of the first Tongans who came to New Zealand. I went to school in England, and later came back and went to Mt Albert Grammar.
“I finished my degree at Auckland University, then went to Hong Kong to do preventative youth work. I have been through a lot of changes, and I call myself a ‘change consultant’.”
He is very proud of his childhood experience and he thinks it has greatly influenced his world views.
“I’m related to the Tongan royal family. The old king had a lot of scholarships then and we got to go to England, and some went to Japan. We didn’t go in one batch.
“There I first experienced racism as a 9-year-old. I lived with some relatives in a terraced house in Paddington, next door to a Trinidadian guy named George Washington. George and I used to talk a lot about island life because we were both Islanders.”
He says he was discriminated against at school and later he started the Panthers Party because he wanted to change that.
“The trip to England is very important to my life. I also stood up against the Springboks tour, for me that was the civil war. I’m glad that I took the right side.
“We experience the same thing. I want to be able to represent the new migrants as well, the Asian, African communities for example. I have been known as an activist, but I have also been known to install changes for the betterment of the country.”
The numerous posters of the Panthers Party, of Herbs and of his other achievements, on the wall of his study, seem to show that things have changed for the better since those troubled times.
“I’m a community independent, and the reason I am standing for City Vision is because they asked me to. I’m proud to be a leftie. If we all stayed on the conservative side, this country would be a very dull place.”
‘Ilolahia has also been a member of a community board for Auckland Council, and an elected Tongan community leader.
He points out he has a degree in sociology, and is chairman of the Pacific Media Council. He therefore says he can bring ADHB a “link of different groups of people that use the system”.
But he admits there is one big obstacle for him, and other candidates, to become a health board member.
“The problem with the voters for ADHB is that a lot of them don’t vote.”
This problem also comes from the STV [Single Transferrable Vote] system, which means ADHB is ranked towards the end and candidates have their family names from A to Z, and my surname doesn’t start with A or B, so if voters don’t get to the end then I’m in trouble. But it’s a problem for all candidates.”
He says he would like to see all Aucklanders take hospital board elections more seriously.
Speaking of change, ’Ilolahia says he is leading the change by being an urban Polynesian.
We’ve lived in this apartment for four years, although my partner would prefer to live in the country. Not a lot of Pacific people live in apartments, but this is the way it’s going to go.
At the moment, Auckland is going through this unitary plan. For me I’ve come back to where I was born.
I got my first real apartment experience in Hong Kong and I loved it. We are going to live in high-rise, but hopefully not like in Hong Kong, you know, the really high-rise.
But unlike in Hong Kong, where apartment dwellers can opt for a public transport system by getting rid of their private motor vehicles, the “urban Polynesian” still drives a car.
“I’ve always liked Mitsubishi. I’ve got a Mitsubishi Colt. It’s quite compact.”
Lei Shi is a Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism student at AUT University writing for Pacific Scoop.