Podcast: Two Cents' Worth

Two Cents’ Worth: The Pacific’s contribution to the NZ economy

Many Pacific people rise early and work long hours and often juggle more than one job. Yet they still feature among the lowest paid populations in Aotearoa New Zealand with the highest rates of unemployment compared to other ethnicities.

But Treasury believes the New Zealand Pacific economy is now important enough to start monitoring as this increasing population group is expected to grow significantly in New Zealand.

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In the 2018 census, Pacific peoples are still seen as the fourth largest ethnic group in New Zealand - behind European, Maori and Asian.

People identifying with at least one pacific ethnicity make up just over 8 percent of the population, that is up from 7.4 percent in 2013.

And within the Pacific population of New Zealand, the largest ethnic group is Samoan, then Tongan and then Cook Islands Maori. Over 300 thousand Pacific people reside in Auckland city alone, earning its name as the Polynesian capital of the World.

But what is the Pacific New Zealand Economy? What does it look like? How does it benefit the wider country and what are we doing to support it?

These were the questions asked in a Treasury Report released in November last year, ahead of the government’s 2019 Wellbeing Budget.

Treasury contributed $120,000 to the cost of the qualitative research that went into this and it took around a year to complete.

But critics said the sample size of 86 participants interviewed as part of the qualitative component of this research was inadequate, there were also a dominant number of Samoans and the biggest number of participants were based in Wellington.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said at the launch last year that the Pacific contributes a lot to the New Zealand economy, even though on a per person basis the incomes are lower than average.

"So it is about improving education outcomes and giving more opportunities to run their own businesses and also grabbing hold of tech as well. It is up to all of us to work together to lift those individual incomes and those family outcomes."

The homepage of NZ Treasury's website. Photo: RNZ

Robertson said it was the first report of its kind to look at the contribution of Pacific people to our wider economy not only in terms of money and assets but also wellbeing.

"Over 27,000 hours of volunteering - that's an amazing contribution," said Robertson. "And I think there's a massive opportunity to invest in the Pacific community looking at the overall approach to wellbeing. They are Pacific values - those values of family, culture, language and heritage. We are going to be thinking about those things when we do budgets and that's a really big shift."

Aupito William Sio, as the Minister for Pacific Peoples, referred to Treasury’s Report as a “living document" as this is just the beginning.

"This is the start of a conversation where everyone needs to get on board from our community. And one of our strengths is to work together. Now we have a foundation and have identified some key areas that are really important for our Pacific peoples," he said.

"The task for the Ministry of Pacific Peoples is that it is important to champion that and advocate it in government and to make sure at the highest level that this is being heard."

Sio agrees that this population is relatively a youthful one and so future growth is inevitable.

"When we are embarking to try to capture a vision for the future, we do need to think about young people and reflect on where elders have come from. They have an important task to play and a supportive role."

"That spirituality is an important part of our people's wellbeing," he said. "A strong indicator we have to find a way to put some value in how spirituality plays in the lives of young people."

Students take part in the Aha Mentoring Programme facilitated by the Pasifika Foundation which uses music to engage with vulnerable youth. Photo: Pasifika Foundation

"People told us what wellbeing meant to them and not just in monetary terms. Spirituality is important, knowledge is important, ancestral connections, genealogical connections. How do you put numbers around that and define the value of that? It means much, much, much more to Pacific people."

The report used the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework from 2017 to identify and delineate the economic footprint of the Pacific community here.

It looked at what economic assets Pacific people and communities have, what economic opportunities are available to them and looked at what the estimated value of the Pacific economy to New Zealand is.

The New Zealand Pacific economy report found Pacific people contributed close to 8 billion to New Zealands' GDP.

But Treasury's deputy secretary of Macroeconomics and Growth Bryan Chapple admitted this is still quite a narrow measure.

"It does rely on if people have identified themselves as being Pacific and then we can link that to the businesses and so forth that they are operating. But then as the report notes, there are a whole lot of non-economic things that are more difficult to measure type things that are still an important part of the contribution that Pacific people make."

"So whether that is volunteering or church activities or remittances."

So as well as cultural capital and wellbeing there are also inter-generational considerations.

Chapple said essentially, Treasury’s report is about "putting a stake in the ground" when it comes to measuring what Pacific peoples contribute to our wider economy right now.

"We would see the contribution that Pacific peoples make to the economy in New Zealand as being very broad," he said.

"And one of the reasons we wanted to do this in this report is to highlight that and show the range of dimension that it covers."

Chapple suggests you could put a number on things like voluntary work given its impact on the wider community but it wasn't what the report set out to do.

"But sometimes people do do things and take off the average wage off those people and multiply the number of hours volunteering so you can put a number to that."

Pacific Ta'ovala Photo: RNZ /Sara Vui-Talitu

But Chapple said challenges remain for Pacific people.

"We note Pacific people are less likely to be managers or professionals and are often represented in lower skilled and lower paid occupations so running a successful business and employing other people as staff is one way that they can improve their economic situation."

And he insists that there are implications for the rest of New Zealand.

"Pacific people are a growing share of the New Zealand population and they are, on average, quite a bit younger than the rest of our population. In a way Pacific peoples are our future and in terms of our workforce."

Treasury's report found the average income for a Pacific person is around $40,000 compared with $53,000 for non-Pacific yet many in this community spend hours volunteering.

Moana Research's Dr Seini Taufa looked into voluntary labour in the Tongan space. Her parents migrated to New Zealand in the 1970s and she is first generation New Zealand born.

"They actually met here and got married in the late 1970s, during the dawn raids," she said.

"I remember my dad used to get up so early and juggle more than one job and as a kid he would sometimes take us with him to keep him awake."

Taufa said unpaid work is very much a part of Pacific life here.

"Unpaid work is voluntary work. So like doing something for the church, or looking after siblings or an elder. Those things that we've never attached monetary value to it 'cause that is who we are."

Taufa said until an economist puts a value to this type of unpaid work, the Pacific contribution to New Zealand society is under represented.

"If you are looking after one of your elders, there is that two-way recipocracy where elders get looked after but as a young person you soak in some of their wisdom and cultural insight which will benefit both, so there's that two way reciprocal value tied into it."

"My great grandma could have been good friends with another person and those relationships could have trickled down to my generation due to that va or space/relationship that's been translated down the generations."

Taufa says that Treasury has done a great job in starting the talanoa or conversation but that it is just the tip of the iceberg.

"If time is given to us to deep dive into it, we could see how much actual unpaid work is being done not just in big cities, which is what a lot of the narratives are based on, but also in the regions."

She said for example, last year she noted Oamaru has a growing Tongan population down there and in Gisborne and Blenheim.

"Our experiences as Pacific are different too which is why it is important to have ethnic specific narrations and more ethnic specific services across the board."

Taufa said a statement by Marilyn Waring resonated with her.

"[She] said that if we are invisible as a contributor to a nation's economy, we will be invisible to the distribution of resources and benefits. She goes on to say unpaid work is worthy of visibility."

"I think for us as Pacific, that's important. Often when you hear in the media narrative, it's focused on deficits and around violence or negative stereotypes around Pacific. "

"But if we start to tell stories around what we are contributing, not only through paid labour but also unpaid labour, then it will help others understand the heart of Pacific labour that is voluntary. Adding not only monetary but also some of our cultural values to the fabric of Aotearoa."

But Wellington-based businessman Paul Retimanu says that volunteer work doesn't put food on the table.

"If I look at that report, it gives non-Pacific a window to look at Pacific but it doesn't give good insight into who we are, what we do and what we are good at," he said..

"If we look at Maori, they have like a 50 billion dollar economy and they were able to quantify that whereas okay we have an 8 billion dollar economy."

"We believe in our whole community that we do need to help each other, great. But does that translate into better jobs? Better housing? Not initially."

Retimanu set up his own family event management business with his wife Keri, and the couple have seven children and two grandkids.

He has three siblings, two older sisters and one older brother but as the youngest he was always chased to make cups of tea.

"I think back to my parents. My dad he died early, he was 52. But my dad had this amazing spirit to do right and work hard so my siblings and I we all have a good work ethic. And my mum bought a lot of the heart to it and was the community person. "

"My dad always said it did not matter what you did, just do it really well."

Retimanu runs Manaaki Management which provides full event and management of various Wellington venues, including the Wharewaka Function Centre and 7 day café operation on the waterfront.

Photo: RNZ / Rob Dixon

"Because 'no' wasn't in my vocabulary, our business has grown. We've got 80 staff and now going to 110 and we did half a million turnover before, but now we do between 6-7 million turnover a year but the relationship we have with iwi has been crucial for that and our core values are the same, demographics are the same. I now have half Maori and half Pasifika children."

You can hear more about Retimanu in this week’s Voices .

He says many Pacific people are still focused on blue collar jobs but they can do anything they want to.

"If we look at it, back in the 1960s-70s, a lot of our people were brought here to do jobs that no one else wanted to do. Then we had the dawn raids...so now we have the process still with a lot of islanders coming in to work in the horticulture sector - temporary labour."

Retimanu says whereas the Pacific approach to life offers untapped potential for our economy.

"As islanders we are all about community, like Maori. They want to get to know you first and see if the person is a good fit. There are core values around relationship."

But as Pacific people, Retimanu says life growing up was tougher and he recognises this struggle.

"So when people need things more, we are inclined to help out more or to fix it. And we also bring in more of our own, like 80% staff are like Pacific or Maori. We want to help out our people and we want them to be successful."

Treasury’s NZ Pacific Economy Report picked up on this too, stating "in relation to why Pacific people can often be good at business, one owner explained the greatest strength is communication where sales are being made on a relationship basis."

While relationship building is a big part of a successful venture no matter what ethnic background you are, often Pacific people come with relationships ready-made - with big families, extended families and friends and very strong community links.

Some Pasifika focused organisations got a funding boost in the last Wellbeing Budget, including the Pacific Business Trust  who get $11.2 million dollars over four years.

Interim Trust Chief Executive Pelenato Sakalia has been in the role since March. What was his reaction to the New Zealand Pacific economy being worth 8 billion dollars?

“In terms of the value of our economy, we have no comment to make on that. Our focus since that report has gone out we have focused on support and deepen insights into businesses day to day and how we can address some of those issues. As far as those bigger headline numbers we have no comment on it."

And when asked what he thought the New Zealand Pacific business economy actually was, he said there were three parts to it.

"It's traditional industries, like construction. So one in five businesses are in either construction or manufacturing. The second part is what I call social enterprise. Those who have created businesses but not for the sole purpose of generating profit but serving others. Like a limited liability company. The third is the served economy such as NGOs or voluntary type work."

Sakalia also said most of that Wellbeing Funding was earmarked for work in Wellington.

"It would be great if all that money was coming to PBT but there is a chunk of money that stays in Wellington to address monitoring or evaluation of things that needs to be done so we only get a portion of that."

In 2018, the Pacific Business Trust had this successful programme - HATCH - which was a programme where younger Pacific entrepreneurs could get a tertiary education but real business experience as they got access to mentors in the different industries.

Niuean Language Week was launched in Auckland at the weekend. Photo: Ministry of Pacific Peoples

HATCH had some really innovative business ideas coming though like Pacific jewellery, specialty hair products for Pacific island hair and Pasifika tailored workshops to encourage the wellbeing of Pacific youth.

But this year's cohort had their programme cancelled, by email, before it had run its full course and a group of them spoke to RNZ when it happened.

"We just noticed something was going on with management and then it got shut down. "

"We were told we’d have some closure there…but we felt unsettled as a cohort. Just felt this lack of presence and support wasn’t there anymore."

"And then we felt like something was going to happen and I was away and then I got that email."

Sakalia says this year's HATCH cohort finished mid year but while there has been much interest in it, they decided to look more closely at it to see how it can be approved and restart it in the new year.

"Well I only stepped in in March so had nothing to compare this year’s cohort with but observed a diversity of individuals - people coming in to discover more or didn’t have their business yet."

"And then those who set up the biz already and just wanted to accelerate their development as a business and then those in between. I thought you can't really have that diversity of a cohort in one room trying to be served at one time."

Over the past year, a number of staff and long serving board members have stepped down from the Pacific Business Trust too.

Sakalia says currently they have 4 staff but are looking to recruit soon and currently on their database they have clients of about 1500 businesses at present.

The former PBT chair, Fa'amatuainu Tino Pereira who was in this role from October 2015 until June 2019. He spoke to RNZ at Treasury's report launch last November about what is likely to happen next.

"All feedback on these various goals goes back to the Ministry of Pacific Peoples and its up to them to come up with a plan on how that can be achieved and perhaps go back to the community on what has been achieved."

Pereira also said there are far-reaching benefits of this report's work too.

"Well in terms of lifting our incomes and having a more prosperous community that has a direct impact on our islands as remittances is a big part of our lives here."

"But imagine if our incomes are raised and assets raised to create more prosperous communities will help out the islands," he said.

"Living standards raised, and with more assets and enterprises creating profitability this will help those back in the islands."

The New Zealand Pacific Economy is an important cog in the wider New Zealand economy that Treasury is now keeping a close eye on and it is a good look for the government's Pacific Reset priorities.

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