National MP Agnes Loheni made her maiden statement last week:
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is so surreal to be standing here in Parliament speaking to you all. I’m a daughter of Samoan parents brought up in a crowded State house where Samoan was the only language spoken and where the Bible was the only book in the house. I almost struggle to believe that this is actually happening.
My journey started on a path laid brick by brick by my Samoan parents—a path of aspiration, resilience, hard work, compassion and gratitude. My parents are the embodiment of the Māori saying: He kai kei aku ringa; food comes from the efforts of my own hands.
Ka tangi te tītī, ka tangi te kākā, ka tangi hoki ahau. Ka tū au i raro i te mana o te iwi o Pōneke nei – tū mai Taranaki whānui. Ka mihi hōhonu ki ngā iwi katoa o Aotearoa. Tēnā koutou katoa.
[Authorised translation to be inserted by the Hansard Office.]
Tulouna le Pa’ia maualuga o Samoa i ona mamalu fa’aleatunu’u
Le Paia i Tama ma Aiga, o Aiga fo’i ma Tama
Tumua ma Pule
O Itua’u ma Alataua
Aiga i le Tai ma le va’a o Fonoti
Sua ma le Vaifanua
O Fofō ma Aitulagi, o Sa’ole ma Salea’umua ma le launiu na saelua
Faapea fo’i le Faleagafulu ma le La’au-na-amotasi
O Tama a le Manu’atele ma To’oto’o o le Faleula ma Samoa potopoto
I grew up on the famous McGehan Close, a State housing cul de sac in Mount Albert, a street that received a lot of attention in 2007. We lived in a three-bedroom State house, where I shared a bedroom with my mum and dad and my two younger sisters. It was also a home to my grandmother, aunties, uncles and cousins—pulling together, sharing resources, supporting each other. It’s just what you did. It was a great home. The only language spoken was Samoan and the home was filled with chatter, laughter, dreams and hope.
There wasn’t a lot of money, but we were abundantly rich in family, because family was everything. It was a family where dedication to our Christian faith was paramount and where education was seen as the key to a better life—a better future. It was a home where we were expected to succeed, and we did. My father instilled this expectation of success into us. Working long hours and often having to travel away for work, my father provided for his family and to make sure we could access the many opportunities in this land of plenty.
So I left high school with University Entrance and the senior chemistry prize. I completed a Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, but not before heading off on an OE, marriage, five children and starting a business with my sisters. My journey into business was inspired by my mother’s enterprise. My mum was an expert dressmaker—self-employed, worked from home, managed the household, and served her aiga, her extended family. The soft hum of her sewing machine running late into the night as I drifted to sleep is one of my lovely memories growing up as a child; that hum meant that Mum was nearby. With all the responsibilities Mum was juggling, she still imparted a fundamental lesson to us: the place of gratitude and compassion in our lives. Her generosity and compassion for others meant she often didn’t charge for her service, particularly if people were struggling. Payment for her services was often a home-made pineapple pie or some other baked items, and Mum would gratefully and humbly receive that food.
So encouraged by Mum’s example, my sisters and I started our small business in Samoa from our home. Our fashion label reflected the fusion of our Samoan and Kiwi upbringing. It was unique and beautiful, and we’re proud of what we created. Working with my three sisters, Jackie, Gina, and Charlene, has truly been an enriching experience. We had each other’s backs and we looked out for each other, and we struggled together. That struggle meant, sometimes, as the eldest sister, I had to do the unpleasant stuff, like the time that I took the tough decision to take a gruelling drive all the way to the other side of Samoa to hand-deliver an urgent order to a customer. The fact that this customer was Hollywood rock star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had absolutely no bearing on my decision to make that sacrifice. That’s just what you do.
It has been a 17-year journey, where all the business mistakes you could possibly make were made, and we learnt, struggled, fell down, and got up again every time. On the way, we navigated a global financial crisis and faced the aftermath of tsunamis and a number of tropical cyclones which intimately affected the lives of our staff as well as our business. Eventually, we pulled through to the business we are today, selling throughout the South Pacific and to customers around the world. So I applaud all our small-business owners. I know the hard work that’s required and the risks they face. The vital role our small businesses play in the economy, particularly in job creation, cannot be overestimated.
I’m the product of the compassion and gratitude my mother taught me and the resilience and hard work ethic my father instilled in me. I grew up very lucky, in stark contrast to many of my Pasefika community today, because growing up, there was no one telling us that the system was against us because we were Samoan kids. There was no one telling us we were impoverished migrant Samoan families living in destitute conditions. There was no one telling us that we needed to be taught differently from all other kids because of our culture. We were not subject to the soft bigotry of low expectation that exists today—the soft bigotry of low expectation that rips hope from our children, destroys faith in their ability to overcome life’s obstacles, creates jealousy and envy in our kids, and leaves them dependent on the whims of the State that says it knows better than their own families.
These messages of envy and hopelessness—messages that lead to an insidious victim mentality and that are perpetuated by those who say they care more and are genuinely concerned for the communities I grew up in—lead to an outcome that is infinitely worse than any hard bigot or racist could ever hope to achieve. To take hopes and dreams away from a child through good intentions conflicts with the messages of aspiration, resilience, and compassion that I and my Pasefika community were exposed to as we grew up. That soft bigotry of low expectation is the road to hell laid brick by brick with good intentions.
Hope, resilience, compassion—these are the only messages that have any chance of succeeding and changing our course toward a better New Zealand. These values are not exclusive to my migrant parents; they are New Zealand’s values. They fit hand-in-glove with our Kiwi belief in hard work, enterprise, and personal responsibility. So I stand as one with our Pasefika communities and all New Zealand. Whether you’ve come from the South Pacific, Asia, Africa, or Europe, New Zealand is our home. It is our place. We are an integral part of the fabric of New Zealand’s life, and we are members of a great country where we can be anything we want to be.
You see, the solution to building great lives, building a great New Zealand, comes from resilience in our communities—communities that will lead to a great New Zealand where we can be proud of who we are, proud of where we’ve come from, and proud of the moral fortitude that will enable us to confidently face the unknown path ahead. I am here to do everything I can to ensure that all New Zealand communities and families can choose pathways for better education, be able to live with the certainty of a roof over their heads and food on their table, and where jobs underpin family futures and enable the lifestyles that are the Kiwi dream.
Our Kiwi children deserve to dream of their potential—of lives that can be anything they want them to be, where we tell our children that working hard, being responsible, and having compassion for others builds the resilience that enables them to face every challenge life throws at them; where every child growing up in this great nation of ours can look at their achievements and say, “He kai kei aku ringa”—from the efforts of my own hands; and where a little, very shy Samoan girl living in a State house in Mount Albert brimming with family can finish a university degree, head offshore, raise a big family, run a business, and end up in Parliament, serving the wonderful people of New Zealand.
What an honour and privilege to stand before you, my National friends, and to you, my parliamentary colleagues, today. Thank you to the National Party board, and to the members of my executive, and supporters and volunteers; and our fantastic leader, Simon Bridges. Unity is our strength. A special mention to two former MPs who have inspired my journey: Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban, and Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga. I have long admired their courage and resilience. I give thanks to God. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.
Fa’afetai i le Atua, sa ou nofo taupa’i ma matamata nonofo e pei o upu i le Maota o le Tui A’ana.
To my friends and family, I’m so humbled that you have travelled to be with me today. Faafetai tele lava. To my children Mia, Hana-Peti, Waiana, Lelei-Kura, and Tahu-Potiki, you have given my life purpose and meaning. I am so proud of you all. To my amazing husband, Ward, you know that you’re my rock. And finally, to my parents, Fepuleai Frank Pelasio Loheni and Talaleomalie Filomena Loheni, no words can fully express my love and gratitude for all you have done. All I hope, Mum and Dad, is that I make you proud. Fa’afetai tele lava. Thank you.
The video of her speech is here.
Stuff interviewed Agnes when she was a candidate in 2017.
The Herald interviewed her as she prepared to enter parliament.