Collins hits back at Samoan husband backlash
New Zealand National Party leader, Judith Collins, says she was “disgusted” by the backlash that followed her mentioning of her husband's Samoan heritage during an election leaders' debate.
Ms. Collins, who made reference to her husband’s ethnicity during last week’s debate, has said the backlash was motivated by "disrespect".
The National leader spoke in response to a question from a school student, Aigagalefili Fepulea’I Tapua’i, asking about the number of her friends forced to drop out of school to support their families during the economic downturn.
Ms. Collins said: "Well Fili, I understand actually, my husband is Samoan - so talofa - and he was actually taken out of school when he was 15."
She continued to emphasise that the role of the Government was to create new jobs: "We've got to get people into trades [and] we've got to get the education."
She said her husband also left school to find employment.
That response drew swift mockery across social media on which she was criticised by one user for using her husband’s ethnicity as a “shield”.
Another said Ms. Collins has sought to “weaponise" the ethnicity of her husband for political purposes, among New Zealand’s substantial Samoan community.
Another person implied Collins would divorce her husband when she leaves politics, as she would no longer need to use him to "shield herself from accusations of racism".
Even Aigagalefili was unimpressed with Collins' response calling it "clownery".
"Judith did not just say 'Fili I understand, my husband is Samoan',” she said on social media.
Late last week, on Tagata Pasifika, Ms. Collins responded to the backlash saying: “I was really disgusted, I thought, how dare people try to disrespect my husband.
“He is Samoan. Not only is he Samoan, he was born in Samoa, raised in Samoa, and grew up in a little village in Savai’i, Papa Sataua with his grandma. How dare, how dare people disrespect my husband like that? I just thought that was disgraceful.”
Ms. Collins’ husband of more than 30 years, David Wong-Tung, is of Samoan-Chinese descent. He migrated to New Zealand as a child.
The National Leader proceeded to say that she had an understanding of Samoan families because of “what [her husband] grew up with.”
“He did run away from home at 15, why? Because he went to his aunty wanting to go back to school. His father wanted him to leave school and go get a job in the factory like his father did,” she said.
“And he wanted to stay at school because he had aspirations. And that’s exactly what I was saying to that young woman, Fili, you don’t have to not be at school. You have to know that there are choices.
“And then he went on to be a police officer, and then university work and now he’s become a lawyer and did an M.B.A., Masters in Business Administration and he’s a business person.”
She then reiterated her point saying, students don’t have to have the same jobs as their parents: “You’ve got to take charge and take your own life.”
New Zealand will go to the polls on October 17.