Home /  News /  New Zealand

Efeso Collins's Death: Parliament Brought To Standstill By Collective Grief

Labour's Jenny Salesa consoles Barbara Edmonds. Photo: RNZ/ Angus Dreaver

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; the death of one of Parliament's own.

The shocking and distressing news of Fa'anānā Efeso Collins' death on Wednesday morning caused a silent tsunami of grief to flood over Parliament buildings and into the Beehive.

New call-to-action

For those in select committees going about Parliament business the messages started arriving on phones and in some cases MPs arrived in person to delicately remove their colleagues from the room for privacy.

Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson first knew something wasn't right with their friend and Kiwi-born Samoan colleague when they saw news reports about 9.30am that Fa'anānā 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 10am there was confirmation the 49-year-old husband and father of two, who has only been in Parliament for four months, had died.

Recalling that moment in front of media and cameras going live to the nation, Shaw barely held it together.

He'd only had 90 minutes to digest it.

Fa'anānā's Green Party family who had first gathered in their second floor offices were by then already heading to the airport to get on planes back 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.

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, but he only moved to the fale next door - our connection and history was 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 and the final social media post he ever sent, which was to congratulate her.

On Tuesday he posted shortly after Edmonds was named Labour's new finance spokesperson with a message that read, "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 at a press conference just two hours after Fa'anānā's death to speak about it, she later told RNZ: "If I'd 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's what we do as Pacific people."

Edmonds shared with RNZ the private message Fa'anānā sent on Tuesday night, which read: "Congratulations Barbara, you're going to be an amazing Finance Minister in 2026. Huge achievement, God bless."

Edmonds replied to him saying, "thanks brother", which he acknowledged with a fire emoji.

It speaks to what many in Parliament have noted in their reflections of Fa'anānā - an ability to connect people and at times break tension with just a few words.

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

Then just a few hours later, when Parliament met at 2pm to honour their fallen comrade, party leaders and MPs one by one approached the Green and Labour Party benches to embrace their colleagues in long silent hugs.

Everyone who spoke in the House in memory of Fa'anānā had a story of friendship and public service to share about him.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon recalled a 15-minute chat in the corridors just recently where they exchanged how they were coping with the work/life balance, and said it was clear from that conversation just how much Fa'anānā deeply cared for his family.

He also offered a personal observation that the newly elected Green MP had a big future ahead of him in Parliament and had already made such a mark as a leader dedicated to public service.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins shared a story of the first time he met Fa'anānā during the days of university student politics and how even then it was clear he would go on to lead, noting "he knew the power in being the last to speak".

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

In that speech, which Fa'anānā delivered not only in front of his Parliamentary colleagues but also his mother, wife, and daughters in the public gallery, he spoke of coming to "this House to help... to open the door, enabling our communities to connect better with this House".

He went on to say that if he was to "inspire anyone by getting to this House and my work over the next three years, I hope that it's the square pegs, the misfits, the forgotten, the unloved, the invisible - it's the dreamers who want more, expect more, are impatient for change, and have this uncanny ability to stretch us further."

What Fa'anānā has done in death is inspire and remind Parliament how short that time for making change can be, and brought all politicians of all stripes together in one of those very rare moments of unity.

Related Posts