The atmosphere in the left-wing section of the House, comprising Labour, the Greens, and Te Pāti Māori, was charged with applause on Wednesday evening as ACT MP Parmjeet Parmar voiced her party’s support for legislation aimed at reversing a law dating back to the Dawn Raids era.

Earlier that day, NZ First MP Casey Costello had made headlines in the morning media with her impassioned speech about the invaluable contributions of the Samoan community to South Auckland.

By afternoon, questions were directed at National’s Dr. Shane Reti, the Minister for Pacific Peoples, regarding whether National would have opposed the bill if it had a Pacific MP in its caucus.

Reti dismissed the notion that National had been undermined by its coalition partners, asserting, “We are fundamentally, on many things, a collaborative government that is getting many things done.”

New Zealand administered Samoa from 1914 to 1962, after which Samoa gained independence, and both nations signed a Treaty of Friendship. However, by the mid-1970s, the police conducted Dawn Raids targeting Pacific people suspected of overstaying. These raids, characterized by forcible entry and controversial tactics, elicited public outrage. In 2021, the Labour government formally apologized for these actions.

In 1982, Samoan-born Falema’i Lesā challenged deportation attempts, arguing that being born during New Zealand’s administration made her a British subject, and the Privy Council, then New Zealand’s highest court, upheld her claim. It ruled that all Western Samoans were British subjects and that they, along with their descendants, became New Zealand citizens when New Zealand citizenship was established in 1949.

Nevertheless, the Muldoon-led National government in 1982 retrospectively revoked New Zealand citizenship for Samoans born between 1924 and 1948.

While NZ First leader Winston Peters, also deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, was absent during the vote, he played a pivotal role in the ‘Pacific reset,’ aimed at fostering stronger political partnerships with Pacific Island countries.

Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni, of Samoan and Tongan heritage, attributed NZ First’s support for the bill to Peters’ historical context and relationships in the Pacific.

ACT’s decision to back the bill came as a surprise, but Sepuloni speculated that ACT leader David Seymour’s visit to Samoa for the Treaty of Friendship celebrations might have influenced their stance.

Sepuloni criticized National for being out of touch with broader geopolitical dynamics in the region, suggesting their stance might hinder relationships with Samoa. However, Reti expressed confidence in the warmth of New Zealand’s relationship with Samoa, citing his recent visit to Samoa with the deputy prime minister.