Pacific People in Parliament: a Case Study of Minority Representation in New Zealand
Analysing the nature of political representation raises questions about the roles of political representatives: who it is they represent and what they do once in Parliament. However, the roles of MPs can be affected by several factors: institutions; political rules; identity; and the norms, values and expectations of the groups they advocate for. This thesis assumes that all of these factors play an important part in shaping the roles of political representatives and are particularly significant in understanding minority political representation. This case study of political representation of the Pacific Island migrant community in New Zealand analyses the roles and perceptions of minority MPs through their own words. Despite a wealth of literature on the wider subject of political representation, very little takes into account the perspective of the MPs themselves, and this thesis uses in-depth interview data to place the narrative of Pacific political representation in New Zealand into a wider context of the roles of minority MPs in advanced liberal democracies. Arguments for the increased political representation of minority groups are often based on the assumption that achieving a 'politics of presence' is essential for democracies, because minority groups need people from within the group to speak on their behalf. Thus only people with a shared history or shared experiences can adequately represent the needs of a minority group. This thesis shows that Pacific political representation is viewed by the MPs as important, because it reflects the multicultural nature of New Zealand society, allows for issues that affect Pacific people to be addressed in a political forum and enables Pacific MPs to bring a more collective approach to New Zealand's Westminster Parliamentary democracy. Political institutions and electoral reform have all affected Pacific representation in New Zealand, demonstrating that these factors should not be overlooked when considering the roles of minority MPs. New Zealand's experience of electoral reform has seen an increase of minority political representation, and the Maori seats in New Zealand's House of Representatives demonstrate how political representation for indigenous minorities can be implemented. This thesis is an exploratory work into the political journeys of New Zealand's Pacific MPs; an area that has previously been overlooked or neglected, but one that is vital to increase understanding of the roles of minority political representatives.