Lawmakers close ranks to mourn Efeso Collins

A man of peace and harmony no more: Efeso Collins (Photo: Supplied to RNZ)

Jo Moir
Wellington, February 21, 2024

Standfirst: Fa’anana Efeso Collins was a long-time friend of Indian Newslink and we have had the pleasure of attending several meetings during his campaign for the Auckland Mayoralty in 2022. These meetings brought us closer to the man known for his compassion and service to all. Indian Newslink joins the Members of Parliament, the journalistic fraternity and Aucklanders in particular in expressing our deep-felt sorrow and offer our sincere condolences to the members of the bereaving family. He was one of a kind and we will miss him immensely. We pray for the departed soul to rest in peace.

There are few events in politics that bring Parliament to a standstill.

An unprecedented event like Covid-19 arriving on the country’s shores; a natural disaster; and the death of one of Parliament’s own.

The shocking and distressing news of the death of Fa’anana Efeso Collins (Efeso) on Wednesday (February 21) morning caused a silent tsunami of grief to flood Parliament buildings and the Beehive.

For those in Select Committees going about Parliament business, the message started arriving on phones and in some cases, MPs arrived in person to delicately remove their colleagues from the room to privacy.

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The unfolding tragedy

Green Party Co-Leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson first knew something was not right with their friend and Kiwi-born Samoan colleague when they saw news reports about 930 am that Efeso had collapsed at a charity fun run event in Auckland and was receiving medical treatment.

As the paramedics continued to work on him, the situation became more dire and by 10 am there was confirmation that the 49-year-old husband and father of two, who had only been in Parliament for four months, had died.

Recalling that moment in front of the media and cameras going live to the nation, Shaw barely held it together. He had only 90 minutes to digest the information.

Efeso ’s Green Party family who had first gathered in their second-floor offices were by then heading to the airport to get to Auckland to be with his wife and children.

On a floor above, the Labour Party had also begun to gather – he was a Green MP but had stood for Labour in 2014 and was a long-standing member of the Party.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon speaks about Efeso Collins. Seated next to him is Finance Minister Nicola Willis (RNZ Photo by Angus Dreaver)

The Pacifica Brother

As Labour Deputy Leader and close friend Carmel Sepuloni put it, “Efeso may not have found his eventual home with the Labour Party, but he continued to be part of our family. He may have moved out of our fale (home), but he moved only to the fale next door; our connection and history are too long and deep for that connection to be severed.”

For Labour MP Barbara Edmonds it was too much of an emotional toll to even respond to RNZ when asked for her reflections on her friend.

The last social media post that Efeso had sent was to congratulate her.

On Tuesday (February 20), he posted a message shortly after Edmonds was named Labour’s new Finance Spokesperson saying, “I am proud of your achievements to date and wish you well in the Finance role.”

While Edmonds, who is also of Samoan descent, was too emotional to speak at a press conference just two hours after Efeso ’s death, she later told RNZ: “If I had had the strength to answer, I would have said, he also sent me a private message. In public and privately, we supported each other because that is what we do as Pacific people.”

Edmonds shared with RNZ the private message Efeso sent on Tuesday night, which read: “Congratulations Barbara, you are going to be an amazing Finance Minister in 2026. Huge achievement, God bless.”

Edmonds replied saying, “Thanks brother,” which he acknowledged with a fire emoji.

Carmel Sepuloni speaks at the Labour caucus with Chris Hipkins in attendance
(RNZ Photo by Angus Dreaver)

Strong Emotions in the House

It speaks to what many in Parliament have noted in their reflections on Efeso  – an ability to connect people and at times break tension with just a few words.

It was his death that for the first time brought the Labour, Green and Te Pāti Māori MPs together in the same room for a Karakia.

When Parliament met at 2 pm to honour their fallen comrade, Party Leaders and MPs approached the Green and Labour Party benches to embrace their colleagues in long silent hugs.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon recalled a 15-minute chat that he had recently with Efeso in the corridors during which they exchanged how they were coping with work-life balance and said how much he cared for his family.

He said that the newly elected Green MP had a big future ahead of him in Parliament and had already made a mark on public service.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins shared a story of the first time when he met Efeso  during the days of University student politics and how even then it was clear that he would go on to lead, noting “he knew the power in being the last to speak.”

Labour MP Jenny Salesa consoles Barbara Edmonds
(RNZ Photo by Angus Dreaver)

Nobody in the House could ever have envisaged there being a memorial in place of where Efeso would usually sit, nor that his maiden speech just six days ago would also serve as his farewell and valedictory.

In that speech, which was attended by his mother, wife and daughters in the public gallery, he said that he had entered Parliament “to help… to open the door, enabling our communities to connect better with this House.”

He said that if he was to “inspire anyone by getting to this House and my work over the next three years, I hope that it is the square pegs, the misfits, the forgotten, the unloved, the invisible – it is the dreamers who want more, expect more, are impatient for change, and have this uncanny ability to stretch us further.”

In his death, Efeso inspired and brought all politicians of all stripes to come together in one of those very rare moments of unity.

Jo Moir is the Political Editor at Radio New Zealand. The above Report and pictures have been published under a special agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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