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MP takes up PI portfolio

KARINA ABADIA
Last updated 05:00 07/02/2014
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NEW APPOINTMENT: MP for Maungakiekie Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga plans to use his appointment as Minister of Pacific Island Affairs to improve educational achievement levels and employment rates among Pacific Islanders.

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Becoming the first Pacific Island National MP is an honour for Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga.

It's just the opportunity he needs to help raise achievement levels among Pacific Island students, he says.

The MP for Maungakiekie was made a Minister outside of Cabinet with the roles of Minister of Pacific Island Affairs and Associate Minister of Local Government on January 28 in a ceremony that was a real family affair, the Onehunga man says.

"The only thing that tinged the day was not having my father there. He was a real inspiration and big part of my life but he passed away in November."

His father probably would have cried tears of joy because he was a very emotional and humble man, Mr Lotu-Iiga says.

The family came from Samoa to Auckland in 1974.

Mr Lotu-Iiga lived with his parents, two sisters and brother in a three-bedroom house in Mangere and says they were seldom alone.

"There were often 15 or 16 people living there. My parents helped relatives who emigrated. Then when they got on their own feet they went out and found their own place."

They were really good times, he says.

"We were like any other New Zealand family. We played cricket, rugby and bullrush in the backyard. We just happened to be a migrant family from Samoa."

Mr Lotu-Iiga attended Mangere Central and Auckland Grammar schools before studying law and commerce at the University of Auckland.

He later worked at law firm Russell McVeagh as a solicitor before moving to London then Sydney to work in finance.

He has been the MP for Maungakiekie since 2008 and has a lot to thank his parents for when it comes to his career, he says.

His father, who was one of his heroes, was largely uneducated but determined his children would be able to pursue their education.

Mr Lotu-Iiga would like to use his ministerial position to make sure all children have that choice.

"I want to see kids have the same opportunities as I did for education, personal development and to realise their dreams and aspirations."

Technology has brought with it huge developments in education and children in lower decile schools should not be disadvantaged as a result, he says.

"It's so important we get broadband into schools and that's already happening. That's also why it's important to get broadband into homes."

Every child has a gift or talent but not all of them will be academic.

Recognition of that fact has led to greater study choices including trades and services academies at schools in the ward, he says.

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"I think increasingly we are going to see the involvement of industry groups inside some schools.

"It's a controversial thing but if it means a kid is going to get a job on a Fletcher Construction site I'm happy for that to happen."

Some argue there are institutional barriers to Pacific Islanders achieving in the school system, but Mr Lotu-Iiga disagrees.

"I think people are by and large treated on their merits and abilities. Being a Pacific Islander in New Zealand isn't a barrier to succeeding in life."

- Central Leader

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