Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

If at first you don't succeed ... try again, for a bigger job

We're catching up with people who made the news this year. Today: Uesifili Unasa.

Rev Uesifili Unasa is keen to join the living wage debate. Photo / Dean Purcell
Rev Uesifili Unasa is keen to join the living wage debate. Photo / Dean Purcell

He may have failed to become Auckland's first Pasifika mayor, but now the Rev Uesifili Unasa has his sights set on furthering his political career - at a national level.

Mr Unasa was a surprise entrant to the race when he announced he would be running for the city's top job, in July.

It was the first time a Pacific Island person had put their hand up for the mayoralty and the move did not go unnoticed.

"We got the sense - very early on - that the community would struggle with it. I think for palagi people it was a shock and for Pacific people it was a shock, but they were also apprehensive about it.

"When I think about it, it's like, 'You're crazy. You actually did that'. That was such a risky, audacious thing to do."

With just over 8000 votes, he finished well behind better-known candidates such as Len Brown, John Palino and John Minto.

But it was the start of something, he says, not only for him but for other up-coming Pasifika leaders.

Mr Unasa, who is the University of Auckland chaplain, also held the role of chairman of the council's Pacific advisory panel.

He has already said he would not be returning to the panel. Instead, he is looking to get on to a bigger platform now.

"One of the issues that I've been reflecting on are the opportunities that may arise on the national politics front. How to pursue issues from a local point of view to a national level, is what I'm thinking about."

Mr Unasa said he had not made any set decisions about his new aspirations, but is not shy to talk about the issues and say he is sure he will get a lot of backing from the community - particularly from Pasifika.

He says many before him had only "enjoyed the status" and had not really worked for their people.

"I think if people are going to just sit there and enjoy being at the top and not doing anything, then they're doing a grave injustice.

"I'll be looking for ways to get involved in the living wage debate and addressing inequality. These are issues that won't go away.

"Most of the population are struggling to make ends meet. I'm going to see what opportunities come up for me to take part in."

Mr Unasa, who grew up in Kelston, West Auckland, said the experience of running a mayoral campaign had helped him to see people in a different light.

He is a little careful when speaking about Len Brown's now infamous affair, but acknowledges that many within the Pacific community - who very much regard Brown as their own - were left disappointed after the revelations.

- NZ Herald

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