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Tongan Advisory Council

The Tongan Advisory Council (TAC) illustrates citizenship education in action through its advocacy for Tongan community interests within national and cross border settings, such as the rights of migrant and seasonal workers.  TAC’s capacity was developed in itsadvocacy for victims of a cyclone and in submissions to a Parliamentary inquiry into Tonga New Zealand relations, and other Tongan needs at home and abroad.

TAC is an Auckland based advocacy group, developed during the first decade of the 21st century. It has worked with the Centre for Citizenship Education (CCE) on projects, including the development and implementation of the citizenship education capacity building programme.  TAC and CCE work with other Tongan government and non-government organizations to establish projects to address Tongan citizenship education and other needs.  TAC’s chair is Melino Maka, and he is an advisor to CCE and a member of appropriate project teams.

TAC started in 2002 when people in the Tongan community in Tonga and New Zealand had reservations about the performance of NZAID – the community had struggled to get information about loved ones after Cyclone Waka.  A public meeting was called in Auckland immediately after the cyclone by Tongan community members, including church ministers such as Rev Tavake Tupou, academics including Dr ‘Ana Koloto and businesspeople such as Sulunga Lavaka.  The meeting appointed a 13 member committee with a chair and a secretary, Inoke Finau Vala to face the needs of victims of the cyclone, to organize the contributions of the Tongan community and to communicate with government agencies.  A member of Parliament, Luamanuvao Winnie Laban and Government representatives – from Ministry of Pacific Islands Affairs and from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade – attended the initial meeting.  The TAC continued to work in Tonga and New Zealand, through the media and other organisations where Tongan voices needed to be heard.  The success of the Waka project stimulated inquiries from others about other issues to TAC.  Waka was followed by the Cyclone Heta campaign, using techniques developed during the Waka challenge.

TAC follows in the tradition of migrant advisory councils established with Parliamentary and government encouragement in New Zealand in the 1970s, when the numbers and issues arriving in Auckland made necessary the opening of communication between migrant and host societies.  However TAC developed its own organizational form.

TAC’s initial structure includes a voluntary chair and active members who consult by email and phone to prepare media releases and other rapid responses.  Membership is free and open to anyone who shares the same passion to promote and work with Tongans in New Zealand, Tonga and elsewhere in the diaspora.  TAC does not receive funding from either government or the community, and works on a voluntary basis.

Early initiatives to create TAC as an incorporated society were rejected in favour of a more flexible approach.

TAC has reacted to issues affecting Tongans in the big New Zealand and Tongan pictures, in their Parliaments, across the whole of government and in the law. It also addresses specific needs and the response of different parts of central and local government.

TAC experience and work programmes have been in:

•    How Constitutions and Parliaments affect Tongans, illustrated by the Tongan Coronation 2008, Royal funerals 2006, Nuku’alofa riot 2006, establishment of the Tongan PM’s Civic education adviser role in 2007, Tonga’s National Reconciliation and Civic education conference 2009, Tonga’s Constitution and Electoral Commission 2009 and the consequential public awareness programme.  TAC facilitated participation in the New Zealand Parliamentary inquiry into Tonga New Zealand relations and accepted an invitation to critique a draft report before final presentation to Parliament.  TAC maintains relations with Parliamentarians and local councilors interested in Tonga and Tongans.

•    how government works for Tongans, illustrated by its general awareness of the significance for Tonga of the public servants’ strike 2005 and public sector reform 2007. TAC was involved with NZ government officials in looking for solutions to the problems raised by strikers.  TAC consults with the Prime Minister and other Tongan ministers and officials, and in New Zealand assists the representation of Tongan community issues to the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs and other specialist central and local government agencies.

•    How the law works is illustrated by its attention to the adequacy of community law services , its identification of and exposure of non-compliance in food hygiene, immigration cases and appeal rights and the rights of overstayers.  TAC presented to a Parliamentary select committee on immigration law reform.

TAC work programmes have included:

•    relief and reconstruction as shown by its reaction to the sinking of the Princess Ashika 2009, Niuatoputapu tsunami 2009 and the earlier cyclones such as Waka, which galvanised TAC’s formation

•    employment for Tongans and other Pacific islanders in New Zealand through its advocacy of “managed employment” strategies, and its advocacy for an effective seasonal work programme

•    two way trade and investment through its participation in the development of the New Zealand Pacific Business Council, its advocacy of joint venture policy formation made by the Tonga New Zealand Business Association and its identification of business opportunities for Tonga and Tongans. TAC joined NZPBC in assessing riot damage in Nuku’alofa, and reconstruction and counselling options

•    financial literacy, through its advocacy for initiatives  to assist seasonal workers in particular, taken up in part by the NZ Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs

•    housing and housing ownership for Pacific people in New Zealand, through its advice to Housing New Zealand and groups with land potentially usable for community housing

•    health services provided in a culturally appropriate way, as shown by its support for the Tongan Health Centre in Auckland

•    conservation as shown by its support for the Saving Paradise campaign to foster migrant acceptance of New Zealand conservation values

•    media inclusion of Tongan voices, as shown by its engagement with NiuFM community programming, and advocacy of media policies that better met Pacific Island needs

•    and in other aspects of the life of Tongans.

The prominence and process of the Tongan Advisory Council, evident in its quick response tradition to relevant advocacy has attracted attention from other groups seeking to increase their participation in public life.  The groups include churches wishing to empower Niuatoputapu tsunami victims, Kolofo’o council members interested in development of Nuku;’alofa local government, the Civil Society Forum of Tonga interest in citizenship education and the Tongan Red Cross with its interest in Niuatoputapu tsunami relief.

TAC communicates through traditional Tongan channels.  But it is also an active user of modern media, including email and Skype, to develop its positions and to communicate them.  Its views are communicated through the mass and specialist media, targeting both mainstream and Tongan audiences through radio, television, newspapers and websites.  Its positions and reports on many contemporary issues are published at www.tonganz.net.

From Melino Maka, foundation Chair, Tongan Advisory Council and Anthony Haas,
foundation Director of the Centre for Citizenship Education.
Find out more
melino@pasefikasolutions.com
ahaas@decisionmaker.co.nz

Updated January 31, 2010