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Laban: Electricity Amendment Bill

Hon Luamanuvao Winnie Laban
Minister of Pacific Island Affairs

10 April 2008 House Speech
Electricity (Disconnection and Low Fixed Charges) Amendment Bill
Third reading

Madam Speaker,

Kia ora, talofa lava, and warm Pacific greetings.

I rise to speak in support of the Electricity (Disconnection and Low Fixed Charges) Amendment Bill.

I rise to honour a mother, wife, daughter, sister, auntie, cousin and friend – a woman of the Pacific.

Folole Muliaga was a 44 year old mother of four children. She worked as a pre-school teacher, she cared for her community. She was working hard to provide for her family, she was also studying to further educate herself.

Like many Pacific Islanders, the Mr and Mrs Muliaga left their homes, families and country to come to New Zealand and provide their children with education and opportunity. They worked hard so that they would be able to succeed.

Mrs Muliaga and her husband were low income earners, living in Mangere working hard to stay on top of their finances. This became even more difficult when Mrs Muliaga was hospitalised and the family got behind in their power bill.

As Members of Parliament it’s a story we have heard before from our constituents.

As a Labour-led government we have worked hard to ensure that those who need it most are supported especially when 'times are tough' – there are numerous policies aimed at families like the Muliaga's such as Working for Families, increases to the minimum wage, cheaper doctor's visits and the list goes on and on.

None of us expected that the tragic circumstances around Mrs Muliaga's death could happen in New Zealand.

As we know, she was using an electrically powered oxygen machine when her family's power was disconnected because of an over due account. Her death was unnecessary, terribly saddening and shocked us a nation.

I will never forget the tears of sadness when together with the Prime Minister some us visited the Muliaga family.

There is a Samoan proverb - "Ua tagi le fatu ma le eleele" - the stones and the earth wept - the expressions designating great sorrow such as a death of a loved one.

A ua toe fa'e'e le manuia ma le filemu tumau – after the event peace and tranquillity prevails.

The way the Muliaga family dealt with the death of their loved one illustrated to all New Zealanders the spirit of forgiveness and the humanity of how Pacific people can deal with tragedy, leading to healing and reconciliation.

The contractor who cut the power and the electricity provider Mercury Energy and Mighty River Power were invited by the family to Mrs Muliaga's funeral. The family said they only had love for the contractor and not hate for him.

This kindness and alofa is extremely admirable and inspirational – I'm not sure many of us could say we would be that forgiving if we lost a much loved mother and wife in these kinds of circumstances.

Since this tragedy - the Electricity Commission has worked with electricity retailers, government departments and community organisations to develop guidelines for dealing with disconnections for low income and vulnerable consumers.

These guidelines ensure that regulations are in place to protect vulnerable consumers and those reliant on electricity for medical equipment to maintain life. This bill ensures that government can regulate the content if electricity retailers do not adhere to them voluntarily.

I am pleased to hear that electricity retailers have taken this issue very seriously and have been voluntarily implementing practices for their vulnerable and medically dependent consumers. I am told that in communities like Mangere, these guidelines are making a real difference.

Ensuring that we take social responsibility for our vulnerable or disadvantaged, whether it be because of age, health, disability, income, culture or language is vital for all members of our community and our society.

Strong communities and cultures are building blocks for nationhood and our identity as New Zealanders.

We all have a role to play.

As a proud New Zealand born Samoan, I know my community is based on families and extended families. The Samoan words are aiga, aigapotopoto.

I know that our other Pacific Island communities are based on similar values.

Our community in turn is based on the Samoan values of alofa, fa’aaloalo, and agaga - love, respect, reciprocity and spirituality – important values to live by and base communities on.

The circumstances of Mrs Muliaga's death highlighted that we need to ensure that our government agencies and community providers are connecting with our grass root communities.

We need to work together to ensure that the help and assistance is reaching those in our community it's designed to assist. Information needs to be accessible and available - and our people need to be encouraged to seek help when they need it.

This bill is a result of our government taking this issue seriously, protecting our disadvantaged, and ensuring the well-being of all of our families in New Zealand.

I am proud to be part of a Labour-led government that encourages protection for some of the most vulnerable in New Zealand society.

Labour will always go in to bat for those who are struggling and in need.

As I support this bill in its third reading, I and we remember Folole Muliaga. I think of her husband and children, her extended family and community who have lost so much, and hope that this legislation ensures that a tragedy like this never happens again.

Thank you and fa'afetai tele lava.


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