Meet Parliament's new MP: Agnes Loheni, National Party list MP

Meet Parliament’s new MP: Agnes Loheni, National Party list MP

Share on Reddit reddit Incoming MP Agnes Loheni will take her values of hard work, the importance of family, and a strong Christian faith to Parliament next month as National’s first woman MP of Pacific Island descent. Loheni, 47, stood unsuccessfully in Mangere in 2017 and will fill the seat left vacated by retiring MP Chris Finlayson . It will be a proud moment for Loheni, who grew up in a state house – with up to 15 family members in three bedrooms – on McGehan Close, the “dead end” street that epitomised hopelessness for former party leader Sir John Key. She went on to graduate with an engineering degree from Auckland University, and had a two-year OE based in London before starting a family business that became a trailblazer in contemporary Pasifika fashion. Advertisement Advertise with NZME. Through it all, she has been grounded in a close-knit family and Christian values that see her opposed to euthanasia and abortion law reform. She is also against legalising recreational cannabis, but is open to cannabis for medicinal purposes. The eldest of four daughters, she spent her early years in McGehan Close after her parents, her father a refrigeration electrician and her mother a dressmaker, left Samoa for New Zealand in the mid-1960s. Growing up in the 1970s, Loheni said the house was often crowded, but the street wasn’t the “dead end” that Sir John described in his 2007 speech. “There was roughly a family in each bedroom and always people sleeping in the lounge, because at that time our families were coming from Samoa. It was a hub where we supported each other as they made a new life in New Zealand. “There were rituals, prayer every night, communal eating, some adults staying at home looking after children while others went to work. “Looking back, it was one of the sweetest memories for me. It was a very secure, loving home with lots of uncles and aunts, and no shortage of cousins to play with. There wasn’t a lot of money, but an abundance of aspiration.” Loheni attended Marist College, a Catholic school, and started her engineering degree before heading to London for her OE. On her way back to New Zealand in 2002, she stopped in Apia to visit her mother and one of her sisters who had moved back to Samoa. “My sister and I just decided to do some fabric printing, and then we thought, ‘Let’s just create our own dresses’. We wanted to wear Pacific style, but contemporary. “We were just working from a room in the downstairs of our home, and some people came in and saw some of our stuff hanging up, and asked if it was for sale.” They decided to take a leap and, with a small business grant, opened a small store in Apia. It had 90 dresses on opening day – and they all sold in four days. “We were excited, but then we panicked because we had an empty shop.” All four sisters joined the business, which they named Mena after their mother Filomena. “She’s such a key influence in our lives and the inspiration for it. We were doing the designs and printing the fabric, but she was the expert dressmaker and would say to us, ‘No, you can’t do that dress like that, you have to do it this way.’ “Within five or six years, the downstairs room at our house became like a factory of 20 staff. Women sewing, men printing, buckets of fabric paint everywhere.” Loheni worked in all facets of the company, including teaching herself how to use software to make digital prints. She returned to Auckland as the business grew, and today Mena designs are sold in Samoa, Auckland, and online throughout the world. “The hard times and challenges were numerous. So for us, it’s been a story of resilience.” Loheni was drawn to politics gradually, firstly as a member of the boards of her children’s schools and later rubbing shoulders with MPs and civic leaders at business events. She joined the National Party because of its values of “enterprise, hard work and personal responsibility”. “Those values were my Samoan migrant parent values, getting educated and working hard, with a strong adherence to our Christian faith.” When she becomes an MP, she will follow in the footsteps of two of her political idols: former Labour Minister Dame Winnie Laban and former National Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iga, who was born in Samoa. She has been given portfolios of associate small business, where she would like to see less red tape, and associate Pacific peoples, where she said finding jobs was the key to improving quality of life. She said she would like to streamline compliance processes for small businesses. “Small businesses are very diverse. You cover a lot of roles and can be time-poor, when you want to spend time in the creative side of the business. “We don’t want to discourage businesses to take risks and grow. That’s where a lot of job creation comes from.” But she said she will always be guided by the values instilled by her parents, who were there to see her finally graduate with her engineering degree last year – the first university degree in the family. “It had been a long and broken up process, but it was just the sweetest moment to share with my parents. “This was why they came to this country – for the opportunities, to provide their children with a good education, and to work hard.” Agnes Loheni, 47, new MP for the National Party and the party’s first woman Pasifika MP • Stood unsuccessfully in Mangere in 2017 • Grew up in McGehan Close; lives in Te Atatu • Has engineering degree; led family business in contemporary pacific fashion • Married to Ward Kamo, broadcaster and director of Bayleys’ Maori business division; five children aged 20, 17, 12, 10, 8 • Political interests: commerce, Pacific issues, small business, education • Political idols: former Labour Minister Dame Winnie Laban, former National Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iga • On euthanasia and abortion: “We [Pasifika] honour and value life, from the unborn child to the elderly, the sick and the dying.” • On Simon Bridges’ low preferred PM polling: “He’s doing a good job and it’ll strengthen more this year.” • On the Government so far: Poor marks for KiwiBuild and being open and transparent, and for closing charter schools. 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