Time to strike anti-Pacific racism from New Zealand law

A Green Party member’s bill launched today would strike an anti-Pacific racist law from the country’s books and help heal the wrongs of the past.

“Forty years ago the Government passed a law stripping people from Western Samoa of the automatic right to New Zealand citizenship. It is a racist law and it is time to strike it off the books,” says the Green Party’s spokesperson for Pacific Peoples, Teanau Tuiono.

Teanau Tuiono’s Restoring Citizenship Removed By Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982 Bill would restore the right to citizenship for people from Western Samoa who were born between 1924 and 1949, as had been promised to them.

“In 1982, the Muldoon Government rushed through the Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act to deny New Zealand citizenship to Western Samoans. 

“Earlier that year, the Privy Council found that because those born in Western Samoa were treated by New Zealand law as “natural-born British subjects”, they were entitled to New Zealand citizenship when it was first created in 1948. But the Muldoon Government took that right away - choosing racism over the rule of law.

“In March 2003 during the Clark Government, a petition with over 90,000 signatures calling for the law’s repeal was presented to Parliament – but nothing changed.

“There are people alive today who were not just entitled to become New Zealand citizens, but who were New Zealand citizens – but whom the government stopped being citizens because it didn’t like where they were born. 

“It is possible to trace a direct line from the inequities that Pacific peoples face today to the widespread anti-Pacific racism of the Dawn Raids era, including this legislation.

“This week marks the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship between the Government of New Zealand and the Government of Western Samoa. It’s a great time to recognise the strength of our relationship with Samoa – the closest of friends – but an important part of any friendship is to heal the wrongs of the past.

“Aotearoa is a Pacific nation. The interconnectedness of our whakapapa and history across Te Moana nui a Kiwa is as extensive and deep as the moana itself. 

“Supporting my Bill is the bare minimum we can do to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and for us to move forward together into the next 60 years,” says Teanau Tuiono.

Sign the open letter to the Prime Minister, calling on her to restore New Zealand citizenship for Samoans born between 1929 and 1948.

Additional information:

  • New Zealand citizenship wasn’t created until 1948. Before then, New Zealanders were British subjects
  • At the time citizenship was created, New Zealand was administering present day Samoa (known until 1997 as Western Samoa)
  • In 1982, Falema‘i Lesa, a Samoan citizen living in New Zealand, was prosecuted for overstaying. She argued she wasn’t overstaying, as she said she was a New Zealand citizen
  • The Privy Council ruled that, because earlier NZ legislation had treated those born in Western Samoa after 13 May 1924 as “natural-born British subjects” for the purposes of NZ law, that cohort of people received NZ citizenship when NZ established its own citizenship in 1948
  • The Muldoon Government acted swiftly and in 1982 passed the Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982
  • The 1982 Act removed NZ citizenship from those people who, under the earlier NZ legislation, had NZ citizenship because they were born in Western Samoa between 13 May 1924 and 1 January 1949, and those claiming citizenship through those people by descent or marriage
  • The Restoring Citizenship Removed By Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982 would mean that a person whose NZ 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

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