Pasifika in Australia: State of Play

For most Pasifika peoples, their motivation to move to Australia for better opportunities and a better life is paying off for them. Pasifika people are thriving in business, government, education, sports, and other fields.

It is widely known that Pasifika peoples are dominating the rugby and rugby league representative landscape, however, many other Pasifika peoples are leading in their fields also. While negative statistics and theories of Pasifika people being in “deficit”, “at-risk” and/or “needing fixing” seem to dominate the media and public narrative, less is known about our leaders in Australian technologies such as Lani Refiti (PWC Head of Emerging Tech), academia (such as Assoc. Professors Junior Te’o/microbiology & Dr Charmaine Ilaiu Talei/architecture), entertainment (Jay Laga’aia), music (Stan Walker/Paulini), art/culture/business (Maryjane McKibbin-Schwenke/Daniel Waswas).

Although the negative statistics and data cannot be disregarded, it must be stated here that the starting point when working with Pasifika peoples must be to foster their strengths, abilities and options. The same values, characteristics and traits that underpinned the success of Pasifika ancestors in voyaging, wayfinding, sustainable and organic living, oratory and customary practices must be nurtured, valued and validated when working with Pasifika peoples.

For lots of reasons, some of our Pasifika population in Australia is not faring so well. Some research shows that the impact of migration and stress from acculturation or moving into another culture has contributed, as well as language barriers, issues with financial literacy, and not being able to navigate the Australian system as efficiently as needed to make the most of it.

A scan of the existing research highlights issues and challenges relating to Pasifika peoples’ integration into Australian society.

Pasifika people have a lower life expectancy in comparison to the general Australian population (Ravulo, 2015). Employment trends indicate that Pasifika peoples are highly engaged in unskilled and low-income occupations. Pasifika youth are over-represented in the youth justice system (Scott, Fa’avale & Thompson, 2018) and are at risk of experiencing mental illness at a higher rate than the general population (Kraus, Angus, Bro & Crichton, 2014).  In education, almost three quarters of the adult Pasifika population (72.7%) are not studying compared to 54.9% of the general Australian population. The majority of those who are studying are in certificate level education (12.6%) (Ravulo, 2015).

These statistics are incongruent with Pasifika peoples’ motives to resettle here for a ‘better life’. 

As Pasifika peoples, having a vested interest in providing solutions and strategies for those members of our community that are not doing so well is something we are passionate about – but it is also very taxing emotionally because of our close links to the target group. Often, they are members of extended families, friends/acquaintances, from the same village or even from the same island. This proximity can be very burdensome and so it is important to maintain perspective and remember the strengths, talents, achievements and legacies that are within us.

So let’s finish this section of the module with a light-hearted video of Pasifika peoples supporting their community in a positive way – kudos to all those community members (both Pasifika and non-Pasifika) who are trying to create better futures for all.

Check out this video with some great examples of how culture is being expressed, extended and embedded within Australian society today – credit to the Pasifika Families Inc in Moreton Bay for making things happen for our communities in Brisbane North:

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