Pacific Islanders need to rediscover their entrepreneurial spirit, says the new minister tasked with turning around their job and education prospects.

National MP Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, who was sworn in as Pacific Island Affairs minister on Tuesday, says Pacific people often ran their own fishing and farming businesses but but tended to abandon their independent spirit when they migrated to New Zealand.

The Samoan high chief and first-ever National minister of Pacific descent said his main priorities in his new role were improving his fellow migrants' employment rates and educational achievement.

He felt that the rebuild of Christchurch offered ample opportunities for trade jobs, but he also hoped that he could encourage Pacific New Zealanders to form their own businesses.


"I think we've got low rates of running our own business. The entrepreneurial spirit is there with Pacific people, I just believe that is yet to be tapped.

"Back in the Pacific we ... have been able to exploit opportunities in the land and off the sea. Yet here we don't participate in those sectors."

He said that most migrants went straight into traditional working class jobs - like his father, who had worked as a taxi-driver and in a freezing works.

Mr Lotu-Iiga's belief that Pacific people should become more self-reliant also applied to preserving their native languages.

The Maungakiekie MP, who spoke Samoan, wanted to make sure that migrants held onto their first language but felt that this was the role of families, churches and wider communities.

The new minister felt that the state had an important role to play in providing high-quality education from a young age. One of his first goals was to improve Pacific participation rates in early childhood education - at 88 per cent, it was lower than Maori (92 per cent), Asian (96 per cent) and Pakeha (98 per cent).

Mr Lotu-Iiga's emphasis on self-reliance and improvement through education was strongly influenced by his own experience. His migrant story was one of "strong family, strong faith and education".

His parents migrated from Apia in 1973, when he was aged three. The MP has spoken of sharing a three-bedroom house in Mangere with 16 people, and his father walking from Ponsonby to Parnell to save on his bus fare in order to afford lunch.

Mr Lotu-Iiga "went from Decile 1 to Decile 10" by moving from Mangere Central Primary School to Auckland Grammar. He later became a lawyer and financial analyst in London before gaining an MBA at Cambridge University.

He later returned to New Zealand and was elected an Auckland City councillor in 2007 in Tamaki, before winning the Maungakiekie seat for the National Party in 2008. At the time of his election he thanked controversial right-wing political "trainer" Simon Lusk for his counsel, but said this week that he was no longer associated with him.

He has risen quickly to become a minister outside Cabinet, and will also take on the Associate Local Government role.