The rise and fall of Pasifika

Pasifika is a world leading event - so why is the city that hosts it ignoring the festival? Photo /  Eventfinder

In 2010, Auckland Council community events officers expressed concerns at the future of Pasifika festival. In 2015, with visitor numbers halved, and a private company now in charge, those concerns appear justified. Should Pacific communities boycott?  

Pasifika Festival timeline 
1992 Established by Pacific community 
1993 20,000 visitors 
2008 200,000+ visitors 
2011 Council events biz takes over 
2014 80,000 visitors 
2015 Pasifika staged by private company  

NEWS COMMENT by Jason Brown 
Editor, Avaiki Nius Agency  

. . .

Does Pasifika get the profile it deserves? 

That's the question being asked yet again this year as the 23 year old festival prepares to move from its long time base in Western Springs. 

Community concerns are said by some to be widespread.  

Pacific peoples represented at Pasifika are, however, largely silent in the face of what is alleged to be an ongoing lack of consultation by city authorities. This is despite a last-minute move to Hayman Park in Manukau City. 

The only headline online referring to those concerns was almost entirely positive: "Pasifika 'confident' of success despite fruit fly debacle." 

The New Zealand Herald article quotes Brett O'Riley, chief executive of Auckland, Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), as saying he was "confident" Pasifika would still be a success. 

"We're out talking to the Pacific Island community and the various groups and sponsors involved with this, and so far their response has been positive." 

No one from the Pacific Island community was quoted for the article.  


The facts are that visitor numbers to Pasifika have dropped to less than half of what they were at their height in 2008, when the same newspaper quoted estimates of more than 200,000 attending. Some blame ATEED, a council events organisation. 

Others point to an earlier lack of effort from the council discouraging return visitors, after at least one festival saw mounds of rubbish overflowing from bins, festival goers literally inching along packed walkways and bridges, and stall owners overwhelmed by demand and limited facilities 

Identifying what went wrong, when, is difficult. This news comment is like most news articles these days - a rush job with few sources. 

An admittedly limited impression, however, is that Pacific communities are being massively short-changed. 

Some attention is focused on the private events company that was approved last year to run the festival on a profit basis, with a few angry that Orange Productions Ltd is a company with few if any Pacific links prior to being awarded the contract by ATEED. 

"Last year was the first I had heard of them," says Taha Fasi, a former village coordinator for Niue, and chairman of the Waitakere Pacific Islands committee before amalgamation in the Auckland "super" city. 


Fasi was the only source I was able to get hold of yesterday. Other comments will be added as they come to hand. He is not angry with Orange, indeed he has only sympathy. 

"I feel sorry for Orange," he tells me. 

His sympathy stems from knowing what council staff told him years ago - that their annual budget for Pasifika was over $800,000, and closer to $900,000, each year. 

Council documents show that total budget approved for the festival was $346,000. 

Fasi is scornful, saying that "$350,000 is nothing." 

He also declines to criticise Orange for a lack of consultation, saying that it was ATEED which dropped a requirement from council for community coordinators to be consulted about any changes to Pasifika.  
Fasi says that when he contacted Orange to include existing coordinators in their preparations, they listened. 

Unlike Auckland councils. 

Even from his time at Waitakere, Fasi says that Pacific peoples were ignored. 

"Every year we sent presentations and budget submissions to the council but these things went in one ear and out the other ear and into the septic tank." 

Things only got worse when Waitakere and the six other urban and rural areas were pushed together into what has become Auckland Super City. Fasi at first boycotted the Pacific Peoples Advisory Panel over a change from representatives being elected by communities, to panellists having to apply for positions, "like a job." 


Once he did become involved, Fasi found little improvement. 

"Again we made applications and budget submissions, but again it went into a black hole." 

Fasi alleges that the PPAP serves nothing more than to allow the council and ATEED to "tick the boxes" when it comes to living up to promises of consultation and participation.  

His criticisms are born out by even a casual review of council documents. 

One calls for ATEED to "Advocate for greater Maori and Pacific presence in Auckland's attractions, public spaces and visitor services, and support new and existing Maori tourism businesses." 
 This compares with a growing perception that the festival is being sidelined in favour of more recent arrivals. 

This perception was widespread enough that council community events officers were sounding the alarm as early as 2010. 

In one official report from that year, Auckland Council Community Events officers "noted a risk that community outcomes from major events may be marginalised by the strong emphasis on economic returns in the Major Events Strategy, e.g. community-owned events like the Pasifika Festival may be compromised." 

In responseATEED officers proposed that "this risk could be mitigated by . Strengthened emphasis on the delivery of community outcomes in ATEED's SOI", a statement of intent. 
 And, by specifying "engagement of the Pacific Peoples Advisory Board in creating the Pasifika Festival development strategy." 

In that same reportthe Auckland Council community events officers came back with their own suggestion: that further work with ATEED is required to reach agreement on the development of and delivery roles for the Pasifika Festival, according to a May 2011 report to the council's Strategy and Finance committee. 


However, nearly four years later, a search of the draft ATEED Statement of Intent for 2014 to 2017, shows only two minor references to Pasifika, compared with 61 references for Maori. 
 In the same draft document, there is a promise to "Advocate for greater Maori and Pacific presence in Auckland's attractions, public spaces and visitor services, and support new and existing Maori tourism businesses." 

Meanwhile, annual highlights for 2013 to 2014, ATEED again promises to grow Pasifika as one of three "signature" events, including Diwali and Lantern festivals. 

"Their scope continues to be broadened to include new activities," reads the report. 

However that premise is not reflected in funding levels. 

As noted, ATEED budgeted $346,000 for Pasifika. 
 This compares with $278,000 for the Asian Lantern Festival, $1.6 million for the FIFA U20 World Cup, $2.71m for the NRL Nines, $2.8m for the Cricket World Cup, and nearly $2 million for the Volvo Ocean Race. 

Total expenditure for "Major Events" was forecast to be $18.9 million. 

This does not include the Auckland Arts Festival, whose events are said to be the source of the massive fireworks displays lighting up the central city skyline over the last two nights.  

An ATEED document for 2013/2014 discusses a budget of $2.2 million, with the need for a further  $1 million for coming years. An insider says there is conflicting accounts on how much gets spent on different festivals. 


For example, ATEED agenda records state that the Lantern Festival got $275,000 in 2014.  However, a Budget Committee agenda refers to increasing funding for a "Māori signature event to level of council investment in Diwali and the Lantern Festival." 

The agenda promises to "Explore potential for CDAC budget of $1.4m for Matariki community events and $1.8m for Waitangi Day events to form part of the budget to create a Māori calendar of events." 

If Diwali and Lantern festivals are already at these proposed levels, that indicates at least four times as much being spent on Asian festivals as on Pasifika. 

ATEED could not be contacted for this article. 
 Total operating expenditure by ATEED including major events was $58.6 million. 

As a percentage, Pasifika Festival funding represents barely 2% of major events spending by Auckland council. 

This compares with a 14.6% Pacific population in Auckland city, according to 2013 census figures. 

Maori are also represented at Pasifika adding a further 10.7%, giving a 25.3% Polynesian and Pacific population. 

The small share of funding reflects a lack of debate at council level. 


Pasifika is also almost entirely absent from policy space, despite being referred to in terms of being the "biggest" Pacific or Polynesian festival in the world. 

Instead, attention is focused almost entirely on Maori, identifying a leading role in the future of the city. 

Under Auckland's "brand", Auckland council wants to ensure that its "identity is consistent with the Auckland Plan outcome of a Maori identity that is Auckland's point of difference." 

The February 2015 agenda for the council Arts, Culture and Events Committee mentions Maori 86 times, Pacific 3 times and Pasifika once, in reference to the Southside Urbanesia festival. 

There is no reference to the Pasifika Festival at all. 

The Budget Committee open agenda for November 2014 tells a similar story. 

In that document, there are 240 references to Maori. 

There are no references to Pasifika or Pacific peoples. 

The Pacific People's Advisory Panel agenda for February 2015 shows no reference to Pasifika festival, either.  


So how did Pasifika become a privately-run, for-profit event?  

Events companies were offered an opportunity to tender in August 2014, according to ATEED agenda papers for the 28th November 2014 board meeting. 

Board members of the ATEED Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development Ltd confirmed the contract for Orange Productions at their open agenda meeting in the central office boardroom, 139 Quay Street. 

Former Pacific panel member Fasi says the decision to outsource the festival to a private company was presented as a "fait accompli" by ATEED to village coordinators, in the same way that Auckland Council pushed the festival into the hands of its events company, ATEED.  

For Fasi, the solution is to remove Pasifika from profit-making concerns and return it to council control, and give the festival the prominence it deserves. 

So, what does Pasifika deserve? 


ATEED describes Pasifika Festival as "the biggest celebration of Pacific Island culture and heritage in the world with over 1,000 performers and 300 stalls." 

Bigness, however, is no guarantee of largesse, despite promises.   

One such promise"ATEED, working closely with the Pacific Peoples Advisory Panel, will remain responsible for the event on behalf of Auckland Council. ATEED will carefully contract manage the event to continue to expand the Festival to ensure the best range of social, community and economic growth outcomes for the community." 

In its 2014 to 2017 Statement of Intent, ATEED directors said they are "committed to the principle of kotahitanga - a shared unity of purpose - and the notion of ko tou rourouko toku rourouka ora ai te iwi - that with your contribution and my contribution, we will thrive." 


Pacific peoples however feel little evidence of either unity or purpose when it comes to Pasifika Festival or Polyfest. 

Even official statistics outside of the festival, for example language, obscure the true situation. 

Samoan is given by Statistics New Zealand as the "next most common language after English", with 58,000 speakers in gagana Samoa. However, the census statistics count three different Chinese-related languages separately. 

Taken together, Northern Chinese, "Yue" including Cantonese, and Sinitic that includes Chinese languages "not further defined" come out to 99,744, meaning a Chinese group of languages has already far outstripped that of Samoa. 

This much becomes clear in a graph which shows that Auckland residents born in Asia increased from just over 160,000 in 2006 to more than 200,000 by 2013. 

Over the same period, Pacific people born overseas increased from 100,000 to about 110,000. 


Chinese, however, is not unique to Auckland. Not a "point of difference" that Auckland Council claims to recognise for Maori and Pacific culture, and its tourism ambitions.  

It's hard not to compare the rise and fall of Pasifika with Hawaii, home base for the Pacific Culture Centre, a church-run affair of massive proportions. 

Ranked number one attraction in Hawaii by Trip Advisor members, PCC has attracted an estimated 37 million visitors over its half century history, to what is now a 16 hectare facility.  

That's an average of 740,000 a year, more than three times that of Pasifika at its most successful. The real total is no doubt much higher now, but the PCC press office refuses to share exact figures with me, saying "economic impact figures" are "proprietary" details.  

However, recent press releases refer to the centre investing US$100 million in facilities, with a staff of some 1,300, including volunteer dancers, university students paying their way at the attached Brigham Young University, to an educational value PCC estimates at some $150 million. 

Hawaii is a favourite holiday spot for Prime Minister John Key, who apparently prefers Polynesian culture from afar more than at home. 

There, visitor numbers reached a record 8.4 million last year, enjoying closer proximity to the United States and strong interest from Asia. 

By comparison, New Zealand 2014 arrivals were 2.8 million. 


Even with that gap, even reduced just to an economic argument, Pasifika could, and should, be achieving so much more in a city claiming worldwide status.  

The fact that it is not is prompting a few to privately call for a "boycott" of this year's Pasifika Festival, an idea that commentators like Fasi did not raise in their criticisms. 

Posting that idea to Facebook has also won little support thus far, with one commentator describing any such action as "too harsh." 

Hard to see what else will grab the attention of a council that seems determined to ignore the social, cultural and economic riches on its own doorstep. 


Comments, corrections welcome. 


Anonymous said...

Great blog. Interesting since ATEED took over attendance has fallen. Maybe it is because many pasifika media had stopped promoting the event because they were not given advertising budgets while the non pasifika mainstream were!!!

Peter said...

Great blog. Some interesting points and damning at the same time. Indicative of a wider problem and shift in attitude towards the Pasifika demographic, that coincidentally has everything to do with the sitting government between 2008 and now.

esther said...

It is quite easy for those who do not have a stall at the Festival to call for a boycott. Pasifika people who are stall holders have already invested hundreds of dollars in this 2015 Festival. The fee of a craft stall alone is $420.00 and a food stall hundreds more and that is just for one day - all nonrefundable. Then add the hundreds paid in produce to sell - I would hate to see this all go to waste.
Call for a boycott after this Festival before Pasifika people buy into the next.

Anonymous said...

"Hawaii is a favourite holiday spot for Prime Minister John Key, who apparently prefers Polynesian culture from afar more than at home." I think you mean he enjoys Polynesia from afar. And I'm unclear as to where you were going with the language-ethnic growth argument. But thank you for your article.

Anonymous said...


My apologies for the delay in publishing your comment. I missed it among all my other emails. Sadly comments must be moderated due to all the spammers out there.

Anonymous said:

"... I'm unclear as to where you were going with the language-ethnic growth argument."

Sorry that was not clear. I need an editor! Statistics NZ gives the impression that Samoan is still the second most used language, after English. In fact, Chinese languages exceed Samoan by far. The point I was trying to make is that Pacific populations and their culture are being sidelined in favour of more politically popular immigrants.

Jason Brown
(using anonymous because of slow net link, thanks NZ net!)