Launch in new window

DJ's Choice

You are here

Calls to overturn forty-year-old 'anti-Pacific' citizenship law

21 August, 2023

Interview by Rosetta Stone, Adapted by Ashley-Rose Redstone

Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono (pictured) says that despite the government's 2021 apology for the dawn raids of the 1970s, “racist” legislation is still impacting Pasifika people in Aotearoa. Photo: Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. 

A recently drawn members bill is calling to restore the right to New Zealand citizenship for Sāmoans born between 1924 and 1949.

In 1982, the National-led Muldoon government took away the automatic right to New Zealand citizenship for people from Sāmoa (formerly known as Western Samoa). 

This came after Falema‘i Lesa, a Sāmoan-born resident of New Zealand, appealed her visa overstay conviction to the Privy Council, the highest court of appeal in the country. The council ruled that, because earlier legislation had treated those born in Western Sāmoa after 13 May 1924 as “natural-born British subjects”, that she was a New Zealand citizen. 

However, this rule was quickly changed, and although Lesa was able to keep her citizenship, every other Sāmoan-born resident born before 1948 had their New Zealand citizenship stripped from them. 

Green Party MP, Teanau Tuiono’s ‘Restoring Citizenship Removed By Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982 Bill’, aims to overrule this law, which he states is an example of the widespread anti-Pacific racism of the dawn raids era. 

Tuiono told 95bFM’s The Wire that although the government apologised to the Pasifika community for the distress caused by dawn raids of the 1970s in 2021, discriminatory legislation still exists. 

“It would make the dawn raid policy more meaningful if we were to remove this incredibly racist piece of legislation from this bit of history.”

Tuiono highlights that there are still Pasifika who are dealing with the impacts of the dawn raids, and that it is important to acknowledge these individuals.

“It's so important to take this piece of legislation off the statute books because it is so racist, and to also create a pathway for that generation if they want to have their citizenship restored.”

He said it is necessary to continue having conversations about the impact of dawn raids and not think of them as a thing of the past — especially as independent investigations show that they are still happening in 2023. 

“I think it's important to recognise the full arc of history and our connection to that.”

However, he said the apology was a good step forward towards creating pathways to residency for Pacific migrants.

He suggested initiatives such as granting amnesty for all overstayers, increased access to Pacific Visa Waivers and ensuring workers have quality living spaces could help create better outcomes for future generations of Pasifika people in Aotearoa.

He emphasised that as Aotearoa is a part of the Pacific, we need to have a meaningful connection with the region. 

“We get a lot of our pull from the international stage because of our perceived influence in the Pacific, but that has to be more than just performative.”

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism Funded through NZ On Air