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MP’s bill could right the wrong of a ‘racist law’

Friday 5 August 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in New Zealand, Regional

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MP’s bill could right the wrong of a ‘racist law’
Community leaders and Green MP Teanau Tuiono (centre) Photo: RNZ / Lydia Lewis

New Zealand Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono is promoting a private member's bill he hopes will remove a "racist law" introduced in 1982.

He wants his bill to remove the Citizenship [Western Samoa] Act 1982.

The act prevented Samoans who were born between 1924 and 1949 from claiming New Zealand citizenship, despite the Privy Council having ruled that Samoans born during the period New Zealand was the colonial master in Samoa were, in effect, New Zealand citizens.

Tuiono said his Restoring Citizenship Removed By Citizenship Act 1982 Bill would end what he described as a racist law that directly contributed to current inequities faced by Pasifika.

"As we celebrate and commemorate this week's 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship between and New Zealand and Samoa, what better way to move forward if we're going to talk about friendship."

In 2002 and again in 2003, then Prime Minister Helen Clark apologised for the colonial abuses suffered by Samoans, but Tuiono said New Zealand's colonial legacy in Samoa required more than just words of apology. He said the Act was part of the widespread anti-Pacific racism of the Dawn Raids era.

"I remember in 2003 when the apology happened, New Zealand apologised and then nothing happened," Tuiono said.

"Do children in this country know about the Mau movement? Do they know about the Samoan struggle for independence? I know because when I grew up, I was a Pacific Islander who was interested in all these things. But when you ask people about this important part of history ... they don't know about it at all."

Righting wrongs

Community leader and former Samoa MP Fepuleai Semi Fepuleai said the bill would help correct the wrongs of the past.

"The Privy Council said these people are legally born in New Zealand because of the period of time," said Fepuleai.

"Right back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s moving to New Zealand was the hardest thing. It's easier to go to hell and come back, than to go to New Zealand.

"New Zealand has been telling the world that Samoa is a friend. Looking at the Dawn Raids with Samoans being hounded by police dogs, is that how you treat your friend? So to me, New Zealand as a partner of this treaty, has done a lot of abominable things against Samoans."

Samoan Community leader Teleiai Edwin Puni said past wrongs needed to be rectified.

"We hope that [the bill] will go through and be debated in Parliament. The impact on Samoans in New Zealand is huge. The wrongs of yesterday need to be corrected, that's the injustice."