Govt. needs to show support for bill to remove NZ racist law

By The Editorial Board 18 April 2024, 10:00AM

It was deemed a win for the Pacific people, especially Samoans when a bill to remove a racist law in New Zealand passed its first reading in the Beehive in Wellington last week.

It is called the Restoring Citizenship Removed By Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982 Bill. This Bill would provide entitlement to New Zealand citizenship for a group of people born in Samoa whose citizenship was removed through the enactment of the Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982 (the 1982 Act).

In 1982, the Privy Council ruled that, because earlier New Zealand legislation had treated those born in Western Samoa after 13 May 1924 as “natural-born British subjects”, that cohort of people received New Zealand citizenship when New Zealand established its own citizenship in 1948.

However, the New Zealand government in 1982 did not want a large number of people from Samoa claiming New Zealand citizenship, it enacted the 1982 Act, thereby overturning the Privy Council ruling.

The 1982 Act removed New Zealand citizenship from those people who, under the earlier legislation, had citizenship because they were born in Western Samoa between 13 May 1924 and 1 January 1949.

An exception was that the 1982 Act did not remove the citizenship of a person present in New Zealand at the time that the 1982 Act came into force, so all those born between that time who remained in Samoa lost their citizenship.

The effect of this Bill will be that a person whose citizenship was removed by the 1982 Act will be eligible for citizenship as of right, instead of having to go through the standard residency and citizenship application processes.

This cohort of people would be between the ages of 75 to 100 years old. The first step that is needed is for the government of Samoa through Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa throw its support behind the bill.

The Opposition party is already in support and if the government were to show its support through an official letter to the New Zealand parliament, it would also for the first time have Samoa having a united stand on an issue. The government has to move on this immediately.

The only reason why the government may choose to be silent on this is its fear that the aid from New Zealand may be cut. This is more of a reason to support the bill to show that Samoa as a sovereign nation would not be held at ransom through the promise of aid.

Samoa’s Speaker of the House Papali'i Li'o Taeu Masipau and a few members of parliament were present in the gallery in the New Zealand parliament when the bill passed its first reading. Papali’I spoke to the Samoa Observer and said the House would write to its counterpart in support of the bill.

While the government may take time to respond, thousands of Samoan citizens can start writing to the New Zealand parliament or the Green Party in a show of support for passing the bill.

New Zealand’s National Party which holds the majority in the coalition government is opposed to the bill because they believe that if the bill passes, then there would be a large number of Samoans entering New Zealand as the descendants of the cohort born between 1924 and 1948 would enter New Zealand in hordes.

This is pretty much the line of thinking that the Muldoon government had when they enacted the racist bill in 1982.

It is clear that if the bill is successful in the end, it would grant those Samoan elders a direct pathway for citizenship, by grant, if they choose to apply. It would not flow down to their descendants, however.

Or they could be compensated for the misdeed done to them by the then government.

Or better still, to compensate for the wrong done back then, there could be a relaxation on temporary visas for visitation, something which as a result of the 1982 law, is discriminatory to the people of Samoa.

It would also be good to find out how many people between the ages of 76 and 100 years are out there who would qualify for citizenship if the bill is passed.

Once the bill is passed the New Zealand government will also need to consult with the Samoan government about changing the Treaty of Friendship that exists between the two countries, as it will need to be amended in light of this bill.

But before all of that could happen, the winds of change have started blowing, and to ensure that it does change, the nation, its people and the government need to start showing support for the bill. 

By The Editorial Board 18 April 2024, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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