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 Rev Uesifili Unasa.
Report – By Lei Shi
In the race to be Auckland’s next mayor Rev Uesifili Unasa is asking voters to embrace the city’s diversity.
Speaking to Pacific Scoop in the middle of the campaign, the independent candidate says his message to voters is to use the mayoral race as an opportunity to think differently about Auckland’s multiculturalism, and to “unite our differences”.
Rev Unasa is very open and articulate about his political ideas. He says he has the ambition and the values to lead the people of Auckland.
He says he stands as an independent mayoral candidate and he wants Auckland council’s policies and resourcing to work more for the less well-off communities.
He sees Auckland as one big multi-flavoured cake, and he likes to see all Aucklanders enjoy as many flavours and toppings as they can instead of hanging onto the chewed corners.
“I want to make the central city everybody’s city. I find people from South Auckland or the North Shore don’t find the central city theirs.
“We’ve spent billions of dollars on the waterfront, but many people think it’s a place for the rich. It’s everyone’s waterfront, so that thinking needs to change,” he says.
Rev Unasa lives in Parnell, a place he describes as “at the high end of the city’s affluence”.
It has a wealthy community, easy accessibility to the CBD, waterfront, the universities and the shopping precinct.
Well positioned and within walking distance to almost everything he needs, he still cannot do without a car.
“I currently drive a red Holden Vectra, and before that was another Holden.
“I bought it because my work requires me to travel long distance, and also I needed a bigger car for the family, one that doesn’t easily break down, although red isn’t my favourite colour,” the Reverend explains.
Rev Unasa also enjoys sports and says he used to play cricket and rugby.
A family guy of faith
Family is important to him and he spends time with his parents who are still fine, and his siblings who all live in Auckland.
Perhaps some of his appeal to the Samoan population might be in his family story.
Like many, his family came from Samoa and he grew up in West Auckland.
He becomes nostalgic when he recalls the old days when people came to Auckland CBD for a movie because it was cheap.
“But now the city has evolved into a kind of city that is more about your community, but not anything else.”
He went to Kelston Boys High School, the only single-sex high school in West Auckland and is very proud of it.
“It was our local school, where we made friends and we knew everybody from around the area. I value single-sex schools, but I am not sure whether it’s better or worse than co-ed schools.”
History and theology
After that he went to two universities for tertiary education – the University of Auckland and the University of Otago, to study politics, history and theology, and also three theological colleges in both New Zealand and Samoa.
“I don’t have a strong background in business. But I think the mayor is not supposed to be a businessman.
“The mayor should be a leader, to bring all people together, to facilitate people who have different interests, to listen to the voice of different communities, and to shape a vision for all.”
He says business should not override the interest of others and wants to bring this concept to the council.
“The lessons from the late financial crisis are that the business people have been given some great role, but have failed the community.
“For us, we don’t need more business; we need more compassion, and more people-focused policies,” the Reverend tells.
He says that some of the policies he is promoting will mean change to people who might not want any change.
Another thing is that to help the poor may make some people uncomfortable. For example, people in Parnell may pay more rates than those in Papakura and Papatoetoe.
It may not seem fair, but it is important to share the sourcing and the development of all areas.
People feel their jobs and communities should be looked after, but not at a cost to others.
Rev Unasa says he likes some of the National Party’s policies.
“Emphasis on education, encouraging self-help, and more entrepreneurship. These are the good ones.
“But what I found hard about National’s policies is the over-emphasis on wealth creation. Money,” Rev Unasa says.
“National is in power so its policies have a great impact on new migrants, the Pacific communities and all Kiwis.
“I’m part of the living wage campaign, so on this issue I prefer Labour, and I like both parties for addressing the housing issue.”
Talking about gambling, he says he does not think gambling itself is a problem, but rather that vulnerable communities are likely to be negatively affected by it.
He says most New Zealanders gamble, whether it is a lotto ticket or blackjack.
The Reverend’s concern is that some families already in bad shape, are too desperately looking for that golden ticket.
“The new casino is a done deal. For Auckland mayoralty, it is to make sure there are safeguards around those facilities, to protect those who are vulnerable, especially problem gamblers, also young people and students who may be drawn to that.”
He confesses the hardest thing during his campaign so far has been talking to people about the importance of “your vote counts”.
Many people have already made up their minds even before they know. In my view, it’s not healthy.
We need to think outside our thinking, whether it’s a Pacific person, Māori person, Asian person, or Pākehā person.
We need to look at things differently. We cannot think that this is the only person who can do the job for us. We are a big city with different ideas, diverse people, but a lot of them are locked into their own thinking.
Coffee and tea
Rev Unasa says although he is still a coffee person, he has started to drink more tea lately.
When asked if he checks the coffee labels for fair trade or egg trays for free range, he says: “I don’t really check these labels, we tend to buy what we like.”
Perhaps it is just as hard for candidates to sell their political ideas as free-range chickens try to sell their eggs.
As Rev Unasa says, whether you are a Christian, Hindu, Muslim or any other religious person, or not religious at all, he sees this campaign as about bringing the best out of everyone, not judging people.
“I like Nelson Mandela. He’s not a politician, but he works in that arena to inspire people, and he was involved for change, not for the sake of being political.”
Lei Shi is a Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism student at AUT University writing for Pacific Scoop.