Opposition Leader Tina Browne. PHOTO: CI NEWS. 20022835
There is a moving scene from 2020 that struck me deeply. I will carry it with me for a long time, writes Opposition leader Tina Browne.
It was seeing two young mothers, pushing their toddlers in
prams along the main road of Avarua, followed closely by their other children.
All the children were under the age of 10. Other young mums walked with demonstrators,
leading their young ones by the hand. The young mums had joined a public
demonstration in our main township against the adding of chemicals to the
Rarotonga water supply; they also objected to the To Tatou Vai Bill.
As a mother and grandmother, the sight of those young women
taking to the main road with their children, conveyed the strongest of
messages. That is takes courage to disagree with the government and make your
convictions publicly known. The courage of those young mums should remind us
all that small steps taken in the right direction, can bring about change for
the better, the beginnings of building a better apopo for our tamariki.
These same women again turned up at the vaka consultations,
to express their well-researched and justified concerns about the controversial
To Tatou Vai Bill – which contained wide sweeping laws that would, amongst many
things, encroach on landownership, traditional values and our culture. These
young mums and the many others who objected to the To Tatou Vai Bill can take
some satisfaction from the assurance it will be redrafted and represented to
our vaka communities for a further round of consultations. The same applies to
the Agriculture Bill. It started with small steps to stop something that was
wrong, and initiate the change that will improve laws which apply to us in the
It must be asked why the government has attempted to
introduce laws that would threaten and take away our civil liberties. One can
only conclude that the government does not know what making our people a
priority actually looks like? Does government even understand what the word
priority means, when ascribed to our people and not just their own supporters.
What has become very evident is this; the government knows
how to prioritise their own materialistic needs above those of our country.
Look at the resources they spend on themselves, thousands spent on luxurious
offices, expensive four-wheel drive vehicles, the many appointments of people
in critical roles without the necessary experience to give our people the
confidence that they are in good and capable hands.
In a global pandemic, what has separated countries that have
fared well from those that have recorded thousands of deaths and plummeting
economies, has been key people at the top their health sector. Such as Dr
Ashley Bloomfield, the NZ Director-General of Health. A hugely qualified man
with a vast medical background. Combined with the support of his medical
colleagues and the Prime Minister, Dr Bloomfield has been the face and voice of
the health response for New Zealand. His expertise and keen medical advice have
helped New Zealand navigate its way through this pandemic through to the other
side with minimal deaths. New Zealand has set an example for the rest of the
We must emulate NZ’s example when appointing a permanent
head to lead our Te Marae Ora – ministry of Health. We cannot put our people
and country at huge risk by compromising the appointment of a new Secretary of
Health. We need the best possible person in this critical role. A person who
will not be compromised by politics, who will not be afraid to disagree with
Cabinet and put our people first, a person who will be honorable and have the
public interest at the forefront – all the time.
Appointing someone who is less qualified and experienced
than what is required of the position of Secretary of Health would be a huge
disservice to our country and people. The government should be aware that the
Opposition and our people are watching how this vacancy will be filled with the
greatest interest. If this government persists on doing what it has always done
and make an appointment based on politics, the Opposition will vigorously
protest and let the world know that it is unacceptable.
And I am reminded of these simple yet powerful words of
former Prime Minister and Democratic Party leader Sir Tom Davis, who on March
29, 1978 in a meeting in Rarotonga said, “our country needs a change of
We need that same change now. A change because we face yet
again the crisis created by a self-serving government that does not listen to
the voice of its people. Ten years on, we have a government that blatantly
rewards its supporters and punishes those that don’t. A government that has
denied the progression of democracy through national petitions. A government
which has ignored the voice of the people. A government that gives with one
hand and takes with the other. And thinks that this can just carry on.
It is 2021, and as we face these critical internal issues
yet again and work together to protect our borders, economy and people from a
global pandemic, I submit to our people “we are again approaching a time for
change”. And like those young mums who took to the main road, pushing their
babies in prams followed by their young ones, the best change often begins with
brave, small steps.