Jenny Salesa, who has held the Manukau East Electorate seat since 2014 has become the first Tonga-born Minister in the Labour-led Coalition Government.
She has been named Building and Construction Minister, Ethnic Communities Minister, Associate Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Associate Health Minister and Associate Education Minister.
Her affable manners, friendly disposition and contact with people have earned her the reputation of being a friendly politician. She has championed several causes for her constituents, including housing, skills training and employment.
She won the electorate seat polling 17,402 votes in the general election held on September 23, 2017 compared to 4813 votes polled by her nearest rival, National Party’s Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi. Although lower compared to the 2011 general election (17,606 votes and 4422 votes), Manukau East has been a stronghold of the Labour Party since 1987.
“I am honoured to be appointed as a Minister in this ambitious Labour-led Government, which has the mandate to tackle New Zealand’s housing crisis, the recent years of funding cuts and neglect in health and education and to ensure that economic growth delivers for all Kiwis. It is a huge responsibility and I am excited to play a role in building a better New Zealand in which all New Zealanders will thrive,” Ms Salesa said.
Land of Opportunities
“I am immensely proud, as an immigrant and as a Pacific woman, to show that anyone who comes here can dream big and can be successful, through perseverance and hard work, at whatever they set out to do. New Zealand was a land of opportunity for me and as a Cabinet Minister I can play a part in ensuring it remains so for everyone who chooses to live here,” she added.
Affiliated to Lotofoa, Ha’apai and Nuku’alofa, Tonga, and Tefisi, Vava’u, Ms Salesa moved to New Zealand when she was 16 to further her education. A graduate in Education and Law (BA/LLB), she helped in the establishment of the Pacific Island Law Students’ Association in Auckland.
She has more than 20 years of experience in policy, as a health specialist, as a funder and as a senior official in the Health and Education sectors. She was involved in community development in New Zealand and United States of America.
Her commitment to warm, dry affordable housing springs from her family’s experiences of homelessness in their early years in New Zealand, which were spent moving from family to family in South Auckland and living in overcrowded conditions.
The Salesa Family
Married to Toeolesulusulu (a Samoan Chief Title) Damon Salesa, the couple has two daughters named Mahalia and Esmae.
Mr Salesa is a prizewinning historian and academic, keen on the study of colonialism, empire, government and race. Specialising in the Pacific Islands, he also works on education, economics and development in the Pacific region, as well as in New Zealand and Australia.
Mr Salesa is currently University Director of Pacific Strategy and Engagement and Associate Professor of Pacific Studies at the Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Auckland, where he is also Academic Head.
He was earlier Associate Professor of History, American Culture and Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Jenny Salesa is a regular contributor to Indian Newslink.