Members of the legal profession from Pacific countries can promote change and use their skills to better serve the Pacific people, Pacific Lawyers' Association President Tania Sharkey says.
Speaking at the PLA end of year function in Auckland on 23 November, Ms Sharkey said the Pacific was rich in culture and traditions were something shared in common, but particularly shared were struggles.
"Everyone in this room has a story, of a time in their life where they struggled - no matter how big or small you might think that story is or someone else's story is - we all have a story," she said.
"The Pacific know that struggle – it is the struggle of our parents, our grandparents to make it here, our own struggles. That is what we as Pacific people have in common – when we look at how tough it was for us growing up or how hard it was for our parents and grandparents – does it behove us to use our skills borne out of their sacrifices to better serve our Pacific people? Yes it does."
Ms Sharkey quoted from the Bible book Zechariah 7:9: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other'."
She said it was about lifting each other up - "supporting the cause, we are all different" - "we have different ways of thinking, our cultures and traditions are similar yet different but we all have the same hope, we must do because you’re all here and most of you are members of this special group."
"There is no justice without law – and we are it, front and centre. Becoming a law student, a lawyer is not the end. As lawyers we are already leaders in our communities – I was seen as a leader when I finished High school and got into university – the first to get into law school. I walk into a Tongan function and I receive special treatment, always – the community see us as leaders. Those in positions of leadership in groups like ours who have traditionally been disempowered have a responsibility to promote change and to acknowledge their difference."
Ms Sharkey said the Pacific Lawyers' Association was their assertion of the right to be different "to proclaim that we are Pacific or we support the Pacific, to further the cause for us as Pacific people in the law and for those of our people who are affected by issues which we can do something about."
"It does not matter whether we are in public service, criminal, academia, family, civil, commercial law, etc. If the positions we have worked so hard to achieve do not lead to changes for better justice in our societies for the Pacific, then we become irrelevant and what’s the point in the PLA?".
"We have all our Pacific Judges in here, the first NZLS Pacific President to be, Pacific members who have appeared in the Supreme Court, a Pacific member in the recently established Royal Commission of Inquiry, a Pacific member who has authored a children’s book and reports on Tagata Pasifika; outside of here we have more Pacific MP’s in Government than we have ever had – the PLA are here to keep driving progression but we need the membership to help us."
Ms Sharkey concluded her address with a call for everyone to support the PLA in making a difference.
"There is so much that can be achieved for us as Pacific lawyers in the legal profession and for our people and our community if we each pay it forward."
Presentation to Chief Justice
The guest of honour at the event was Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias. Dame Sian addressed the gathering and was presented with gifts from the Tongan, Cook Island and Samoan communities. Among the other honoured guests were all three Pacific members of the New Zealand judiciary and New Zealand Law Society President-elect Tiana Epati.
Presentations to Dame Sian Elias.