HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 598: 11 January 2012

A heart for the community
Alfred Ngaro, the first Cook Islander to enter the NZ Parliament, as a list MP for the National Party Government tells the Herald’s Ngariki Ngatae how he plans to tackle the issues affecting our people in NZ

Cook Islander and New Zealand MP, Alfred Ngaro, has been acknowledged as a community leader for some time now and his exploits - from receiving a Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leaders Award, to running as a candidate for the Maungakiekie-Tamaki ward in the 2010 Auckland Council elections – are well documented in the media. But it seems the move into politics as an MP for the National Party has not curbed his drive to succeed. “My intention is to get into cabinet. I’m not there just to make up the numbers in parliament. I made it very clear to people I’m ambitious.”
Ngaro says he was encouraged by his children towards politics who told him that leaders within politics needed to be “good people” who understand politics but also “understand the community and have a heart for the community”. Ngaro has certainly proven he does have a “heart” for the community, especially the Cook Island and wider Pacific Island communities, whom he focuses much of his attention on in his work. He is currently on two select committees in parliament for the next few years, Social Services and Justice and Electoral. He says his “gift” is bringing inspiration to people. “Inspiration is not an instant thing. Inspiration is something that you work with people to help find the dreams that they have.”
As Ngaro sees it, the relationship between the Cook Islands and New Zealand is in a strong position. He referenced key members of the current New Zealand administration, including Murray McCully and Cook Islands High Commissioner John Carter, saying that they have a strong support and love for the Cook Islands. “The relationship I think at the moment between the New Zealand government and the Cook Island government is one in which they’re keen to foster and grow. There’s a real love for the Cook Islands.”
On last year’s internal audit review into fraud within the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs in New Zealand, Ngaro says that the ministry is not being disbanded. He says there are some questions surrounding some of the enquiry framework that was put forward and whether it has been “a little bit unjust in the questions that have been answered.” Moving forward, Ngaro says they are looking to see how the ministry can thrive under its current leadership, as well as clearly defining the ministry’s function as either a policy arm or an operational arm. “We see that what’s really important is that, first of all, the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs is to provide advice to the government and around development of policy for Pasifika communities. It has to know who are the key people it engages with into those communities – key leaders, key areas of contact. I chaired the minister’s advisory committee. So prior to me going into politics I was the chairperson that gave advice to the minister around how they should be viewing that.” Ngaro added that under the current Minister there has already been an extra $2.4 million dollars allocated to the ministry in the last fiscal budget and they were keen to ensure that extra $2.4 million per annum continued. The area they are focussed on in particular is how to stimulate growth in Pacific Island communities around economic development. One of the other areas the ministry will be looking at is around a language strategy. The Cook Islands community in New Zealand featured “quite highly” in that as being a real area of need, according to Ngaro. “We’re keen... to ensure we support that. But then saying: Where in particular is the area that it can offer that support?” He says that one of the vital ways of sustaining the language, according to the New Zealand Maori language review that was done around Kohanga reo and Kura Kaupapa, is within the home. “We need to send a really clear message that learning your language is actually a benefit - not only just from a cultural perspective. Research is showing that when you know two or more languages you’re actually at a greater advantage. That sort of message is really important to get out there – to our older people, to our New Zealand born and our Cook Island born as well.”
Perhaps one of Ngaro’s admirable qualities is his courage to speak out about what he describes as the “hard issues”. Youth suicide, an issue that has risen alarmingly in the Cook Islands over recent years, also affects Ngaro’s local community in New Zealand. “Are we happy with our statistics in teenage suicide? I’m a chairman of our local high school, Tamaki College. We had two young teenage girls – both 16 – one of them was my youngest son’s best friend. Both of them hung themselves. The other 16 year old hung herself in a church – right in front of the pulpit. Now if that didn’t send a strong enough message to the community... You know what they did? She hung herself on the Saturday – they had a service on the Sunday morning in exactly the same place... and not once was it mentioned! That’s a sign of a really sick thing that’s going on [the] community.” Ngaro is also passionate about addressing issues such as domestic violence and sexual abuse. His wife, Mokauina Ngaro, is a specialist around sexual abuse and from his wife’s work they are aware that in New Zealand it is “an epidemic”. He commented that he “had no time” for people making excuses for domestic violence. “Culture is not an excuse – people use that. Abuse and violence has no culture! It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, you’ll find it. It’s the choice of people who make choices that way – who don’t have the value of love, care and support. When you don’t have those basic things then you do anything. When you lose sight of the things that are really important – then this will easily happen. So to me I don’t buy into the whole thing around culture being the reasons why they do that, but I do believe though that sometimes cultures have been set up to be tolerant and to allow those things to happen. That’s the difference. And where there is a culture that allows that to happen, then that’s wrong! Culture at the heart of it is a set of values that people create to sustain a community or a family. That’s the essence of what that is.” From his experience working within communities he says that it is important to deal not only with the “nice” issues but also the tougher ones. “That’s where I’m willing to go – and we need to go [there], because if no one goes there then our people are suffering.”
Ngaro has been returning to the Cook Islands regularly and plans eventually to settle here with his family. He expressed a desire to see the Cook Islands move beyond its image of simply being a tourism destination. “What I think we should be developing though is... our intelligence, our innovation. We need to show that actually that’s what we also bring to the table. We need to be more than just the beauty of our culture and of our heritage - all we get known for is tourism... What is it that we need to be known in? The new development technology is innovation.” He added that rather than innovation being “just a product”, he sees it as the ability to help people to innovate an idea. Ngaro’s vision of innovation included concepts such as business innovation. New Zealand business growth centre, The Ice House, is an ideal example of how business innovation is a thriving sector, according to Ngaro. “They’re innovating some of the most amazing things coming out of New Zealand [that are] going worldwide. We should be having things like that for us. We need to find niche industries because we’re only a small population. But there’s space in the global market to have niche industries of development and innovation that we can bring.” He also described facilitation and mediation as “powerful” skills Cook Islanders could develop. “Our most marketable commodity is our people... As we’re globalising as a world and as a society - what you need more and more of is that when there are clashing of cultures, of minds and of thoughts, you need to have people who can mediate and who can facilitate the conversation to get to an end. The best people who can do that are people who are amenable to most people. Number one – they’re not confrontational. Number two – they’re quite warm, [open] and accepting. So to me the innovation is people.” Ngaro also saw how the beauty of the Cook Islands as a destination can still work with the concept of innovation. “Imagine having conference places that people can come to enjoy the beauty of being in paradise, but have an ability to be able to facilitate strategic planning, ideas – everything from [the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting] to corporate strategic planning ideas. Then go away having a package all completed with a plan that they go back to. Now that’s a pretty impressive package that you could put across, that people would say, ‘I’d pay to come to do that.’”
Ngaro commented that Cook Islanders in New Zealand feature very poorly in a lot of statistics, including areas such as health and education. “Young male offenders – Cook Islanders are the highest proportion of any other group. Issues around smoking cessation – Cook Island females are the highest proportion of youth smokers. So therefore what happens is that the proportion of where we are as a Cook Island group is almost a ‘highest of the low’ and a ‘lowest of the high’.” Ngaro added however that he did not feel that this was an accurate representation of Cook Island people, and that those born in the Cook Islands tended to fare better than their overseas-born counterparts. “Research has shown that our island born children actually are far more likely to be successful and far more likely to be secure because they’ve got a solid sense of identity.” Ngaro feels it is important to remind Cook Islanders in New Zealand of the dreams that their parents and families migrated to New Zealand for. “We want to be our business owners. We want to be the leaders in the country and to be able to show that we are just as capable as anybody else. We don’t want just to say there are the statistics of things that are going wrong, we want to also show that we are the statistics of all the things that are going right.” He added that the success of Cook Islanders residing in New Zealand eventually would mean more qualified and experienced Cook Islanders returning home to ensure leadership positions throughout the community, including within the public and private sectors, are filled by Cook Islanders themselves, “So it’s not just outsiders that are here, but our Cook Island people who come back.”
According to Ngaro, the key for all Cook Islanders is uniting as one, whether residing at home or in New Zealand and regardless of what island they hail from. “Yes, we’re seeing the difference in the communities – they’re very strong in themselves. Manihiki community, Atiu community and so forth. But if we don’t have a strong sense of also what it is that we have in common then [we don’t have] a united vision - that’s going to be one of our greatest challenges. We need to do what’s actually meaningful – sometimes what’s meaningful is actually hard, it’s difficult and it’s a struggle. So bringing us together united as Cook Island people is really important.” Moreover, Ngaro sees nurturing both the dreams of Cook Island youth as well as the link between young and old as essential. “You’ve got to have a dream as young people that you want to achieve. You may not see it clearly, but start to look for a dream. Then everything that you work towards is a challenge to achieving that dream. Also talk to our old people, learn from them. They have some things that they can teach us.” -Ngariki Ngatae

Herald Issue 554 09 March
- Norm exposes Trio of Doom
- Briefs from PM’s media conference Tuesday
- Tourism Industry ponders $5 million draft strategy
- Norman George resigns from Cook Islands Party
- Letter of Resignation from CIP
- Norman selfish says Prime Minister

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