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The Pacific – Where to from here? - Goff Speech

19 July 2002

Goff Speech To Intstitute Of International Affairs Pacific Island Seminar


(delivered at 9am at the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs Pacific Island seminar – Victoria University, Wellington)

The Pacific – Where to from here?

Changes in the Pacific

Last month’s celebration of Samoa’s 40th Anniversary of Independence reminds us of both how young the modern nations of the Pacific are and also that time is moving on. Only 40 years ago Samoa became the first independent Pacific state. But the first generation of Pacific leaders have passed on. Mata’afa, Albert Henry, Hammer De Roburt, Prince Tuipelehake, Walter Lini - have died and others like Ratu Mara are no longer active in leadership.

With a second (or even a third) generation of political leaders amongst our Pacific neighbours - and in New Zealand - it is timely to reflect on what has changed in our region, what issues remain constant and where New Zealand can make a difference.

The current pace of change is considerable. Over the last three years the further coup in Fiji and the overthrow of the government in Solomon Islands added to the problems in the Pacific. On a more positive note, the signing of a peace agreement was a major achievement following the 10-year conflict on Bougainville.

The New Zealand Policy Approach

In opposition, Labour undertook to conduct an inquiry into New Zealand’s ongoing relationship with the Pacific to establish how New Zealand can best assist with future development needs. We have done that and we have publicised the findings in the Pacific Policy Review and the review of our ODA efforts.

The key result on the ODA front, the new semi-autonomous agency, NZAID, was launched three weeks ago. The agency has poverty elimination as its primary objective and the Pacific as its main geographical focus. It intends to deliver New Zealand’s development assistance in a more structured and professional way.

The Pacific Policy Review commented on the cumulative stresses arising from population growth, ethnic tensions, widening socio-economic disparities and governance failures faced by Pacific states.

It observed that Polynesia is more cohesive and more stable than Melanesia which is fractured by ethnic and language differences which work against the concept of the nation state. The review concluded that a long period of instability lies ahead and there are no quick or easy solutions.


Greater International Engagement with the Pacific

In recent years the Pacific Islands have been drawn more closely into the global village. This is partly the result of new technology - better aviation, satellite telecommunications systems and the Internet - but it is also in part a deliberate policy choice.

After some hesitance in the early years of independence, most Pacific states have chosen actively to engage with the wider world through Commonwealth, ACP, WTO and UN channels. This is particularly evident in New York where the South Pacific group now numbers 12. When New Zealand and Australia are added in, the Pacific’s voting power is only slightly less than that of the EU.

While their longstanding ties with us and Australia continue, a number of Pacific states have recently sought to “look north” to develop their bilateral linkages with Japan, China, Taiwan and members of ASEAN in order to decrease their reliance on trade with New Zealand and Australia. And perhaps most important of all are their links with the EU, with all PICs adhering to the Cotonou Agreement.

Pacific Island Countries face real capacity constraints arising from limited financial resources and a relatively small pool of professional advisers to draw on. One effective response to this challenge has been the establishment of regional organisations to develop and advocate collective PIC interests in key sectors such as fisheries, environment, shipping and development. In this respect the Pacific has been far ahead of the Caribbean and other small states groupings.


The Nature of New Zealand Engagement with the Region

In the wider international context, New Zealand is a small country whose influence is dependent on our ability to persuade and respect for the position we take and our contribution.

In the Pacific, we are by comparison a large country but again our influence must come not from any ability to compel but rather to persuade.

Our role today is not one of colonial administrator, but rather of one country within a group of sovereign states.

Our influence comes from our place in and understanding of the Pacific, our long standing involvement in the South Pacific and our own Pacific Island population.

However we are increasingly having to compete for that influence as outside powers, particularly from Asia, are more and more active in the region through aid and political involvement.

New Zealand can and frequently does advocate for the Pacific but it cannot claim to be its spokesperson. We cannot assume our viewpoint will always be that of other countries in the region.

The evolution of constitutional and political structures may mean some adaptations or changes to inherited Westminster models of government. Pacific Island Countries need to evolve arrangements which will blend in strengths, such as consensus building and restorative justice, which served their traditional autonomous communities well in earlier centuries.

Having said that, New Zealand does not accept in the Pacific any more than it does in any other part of the world that democracy, the rule of law and fundamental human rights are cultural values relevant only to Western Nations. The UN has adopted its covenants governing these areas as universal standards. We will not be apologists for, nor passively accept, those who break those values using culture or ethnicity to justify actions in fact motivated by personal ambition and greed.

Most donor countries now stress the importance of good governance in carrying through poverty reduction programmes and economic development projects. Yet too many in the region who aspire to political office or senior public service appointments seem to be of the view that public office is a legitimate means to personal, family, clan or tribal enrichment.

The challenge is for us to collaborate positively with the PICs and to offer what we can to assist them in their endeavours to combine the best of both traditional and inherited systems. Some aspects of our own experience such as the work of the Waitangi Tribunal may provide insights for PIC politicians and legislators into what might work and what might not work.


Constraints on New Zealand Engagement


While New Zealand may appear to have vast capability compared to our PIC neighbours, we are constrained in what we can do. The sums of money available through the NZAID programme – even one more oriented to the Pacific – are small compared to the needs.

We need to understand better the big picture, the broad directions in which events are moving. We need to focus some of our efforts on the longer term perspective rather than the immediate crises and the short term horizon. We should be seeking to prevent future conflicts rather than being left to deal with the fallout from them afterwards.

The Pacific is a region in which NZ can make a difference. It is our home region and we have many deep ties with it. The Pacific is a priority for New Zealand. We therefore need to develop new and effective approaches to our engagement with the PICs and to enhance our understanding of the issues of importance to them.

The Pacific Dimension in New Zealand

One striking change in recent years is how the Pacific has come to New Zealand and become an integral part of our society.

The Pacific population in New Zealand grew from just 2200 people to almost 232,000 between 1945 and 2001. In 1962 when Samoa became independent most of the Pacific Island people here were students or here under temporary work schemes.

Now, resident Pacific Island communities represent 6.5 per cent of our total population and continue to grow. And in the classic migration tradition, significant numbers of those settlers and their children have moved from being labourers on farms and in factories to populate the professions, politics, the public service, business enterprise, sport and culture. This Labour Government is proud to have amongst its ranks people of the calibre of Taito Phillip Field, Mark Gosche and Luamanuvao Winnie Laban. Newly appointed District Court Judge, Semi Epati, and Dr Colin Tukuitonga, Director of Public Health, are further examples of the Pacific contribution to the top ranks of decision-makers in New Zealand.

Resident Pacific Island communities have added enormously to the rich diversity of modern New Zealand society and have reinforced people to people linkages which bind us to our regional neighbourhood. Modest Pacific Access immigration quota arrangements with Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tonga will further extend these linkages.

The Pacific Island contribution has been particularly striking in the fields of sport and culture - music, theatre and performance art, clothing and jewellery design and so on. Blended with Maori and Pakeha traditions, the Pacific elements now form an integral part of how younger New Zealanders in particular see themselves and of the distinctive face that our society presents to the outside world.
This and the Polynesian aspect of New Zealand’s Maori heritage, places us rightly as a truly South Pacific country, affecting both our outlook and our continuing influence in the Pacific

Issues Facing the Region

Challenges to Pacific states and their interests have both changed and stayed the same over the last 3 - 4 decades.

With the end of the Cold War the occasional bogey of Soviet or Libyan influence disappeared.

Nuclear testing (although not the shipment of nuclear materials) is now behind us. So too is the most serious potential expression of conflict related to colonialism thanks to the Matignon and Noumea Accords negotiated by the parties in New Caledonia. Indeed those Accords and the timetable they frame may offer possible models for dealing with similar tensions elsewhere in the wider Asia-Pacific region, such as Papua.

Still with us, sadly are the con men and scam merchants who all too frequently peddle get-rich-quick schemes around the region. These people seek to take advantage of inexperienced and gullible people in leadership positions keen to achieve rapid development, or they exploit individuals’ greed and aspirations for personal enrichment in order to obtain access to land, fishing licences, duty drawbacks and other favours. It is a sad commentary on their success that a former prime minister of one of the PICs is currently facing charges of massive fraud against his own country.

Globalisation of financial flows and internet banking, along with greater freedom of movement for people, have brought new elements of sophistication and risk to such unwelcome transnational criminal activity.

Considerable effort has been invested for some years now in countering money laundering, drug trafficking and other crime in accordance with the Honiara Declaration of 1992. In the wake of the 11 September attacks, a new urgency has been given to these efforts and there is a better appreciation of how criminality in one area spills over into others and of the risks to the region as a whole if there are weak links in the PIC fences.

Fisheries - A Key Resource

A continuing challenge remains the management of fisheries stocks in the region and ensuring this is done in a way which achieves both long term sustainability and a fair rental to PICs from this vital resource.

With effective support from the Forum Fisheries Agency in developing and coordinating negotiating positions, in the past twenty years Pacific Island states have made major advances in securing benefits from exploitation of this resource. The negotiation of the United States Tuna Treaty in 1982 was a major breakthrough in balancing access rights against coastal state revenue interests within a legally and environmentally sustainable framework. The treaty was successfully renewed in March for a further 10 years and is worth US $21 million per year to the PICs

More recently, attention has shifted to negotiating a management regime with other Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) - of whom there is an increasing number - for the fishstocks of the Western and Central Pacific under the auspices of the earlier UN Fish Stocks Agreement. This is proving to be a complex and difficult process despite the best efforts of New Zealand to facilitate negotiations under Michael Powles’ chairmanship.

We believe the draft Convention adopted in Honolulu two years ago strikes the right balance between competing interests but regrettably not all DWFNs have yet come aboard. We are hopeful that Japan in particular will come to accept that the long term interests and survival of the PICs - for many of whom fisheries provides the only significant resource available - require some concessions and modification to previous fishing practices and policies.

Environmental Concerns and Sustainability

Sustainable management of fisheries is just one of the environmental challenges facing most PICs. Over the last three decades sustainability has taken on a sharper edge. The issue has been honed by population growth and urban drift, and by pressures from tourist numbers which have combined to exert real strains in relation to water resources and waste disposal. In too many cases, short-term greed or behind the scenes inducements from external interests have irrevocably damaged indigenous forest cover with consequent silting of in-shore reef environments.

Visits to parts of Melanesia and Micronesia where young people make up around 45% of the population, leave a deep sense of concern about how resources and employment opportunities can be found to sustain this growth.

A New Focus for NZAID

Sensible and sustainable long-term decisions about resources are much harder to make when individuals and political leaders are facing poverty. That is why this Government has decided in reshaping our Development Cooperation programme to make poverty reduction the central focus of our efforts under the new NZAID. We will hear more about this from Peter Adams later today.


Solomon Islands

Now, let me return to the Solomon Islands and Fiji which have disproportionately been our focus on the Pacific over the past two and a half years.

The crisis in Solomon Islands involves many of the ingredients that have been identified as contributing causes to instability in Melanesia - ethnic tensions, disputes over land rights, disparities of wealth and poor governance. Add to that mixture the overthrow of a government, widespread use of high-powered weapons and a compromised and ineffective police force and the result is massive social disruption and economic collapse.

The Solomons if not already a failed state, is on the verge of becoming so.

Whichever way you look at it, it is depressing and disturbing that one of our Pacific Island Forum neighbours should have reached this position with the region collectively being able to do little to prevent it.

What has been our response?

We have supported peace talks between the factions and maintained an ODA input to the key sectors of health and education. We also encouraged civil society to pressure the government established by the overthrow to act responsibly to curb the violence, retrieve the guns and rescue the economy.

Following the Townsville Peace Agreement, together with the Australians, in the space of four weeks we established the International Peace Monitoring Team to monitor and support the peace process and receive weapons surrendered by the militants.

Alexander Downer and I subsequently pressed the Sogavare government to proceed with scheduled elections rather than extend its parliamentary term, and both countries provided substantial support for the election process. We also sent observers to monitor the ballot.

The single overriding issue in the Solomon Islands is law and order. Unless law and order and people’s personal security are restored, investors who have left will not return and new investors will not come.

We have just begun implementation of a long-term programme to support the law and justice sectors in Solomon Islands. The first component will be to provide on the job training to instil professionalism into the frontline staff of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, and to assist with the implementation of a community policing approach.

This New Zealand project will be closely coordinated with a large Australian funded project providing capacity building in other areas of the RSIP, and also with the work of other donors in the wider law and justice sector.

There are serious questions over links between some members of the Solomon Islands Cabinet, some senior RSIP officers and criminal elements/former militants. The law and order situation will not be improved without some hard decisions being taken by government. Without such decisions and commitment from the Solomon Islands Government our project is unlikely to succeed.

New Zealand is cooperating with other donors to put together a range of assistance to try and pull Solomon Islands out of its desperate situation. In a meeting with the Solomon Islands government in mid June donors made it clear however that the onus is on the government to take the necessary tough decisions to get its house in order.

Donors indicated that they can only assist Solomon Islands effectively to the extent that the government is able to provide a conducive policy and operating context. The Solomon Islands needs to do more on both the economic and security fronts. It is imperative that the government exercise good governance and sound economic management and make further progress in recovering stolen guns and restoring law and order.

In particular they need to bring to justice those responsible for a number of killings, including the murder of New Zealander Kevin O’Brien. Without such basic progress the donor community is unlikely to re-engage.

The Fiji Islands

I turn now to the Fiji Islands.

The crisis precipitated by George Speight and those behind him is well known to all of us. There was a mix of factors at play which generated the violent overthrow of democracy in Fiji for the third time. Ethnic tensions and land issues, as well as disparities in wealth and access to resources were all factors which contributed to the coup.

New Zealand and Australia applied smart sanctions and called for democracy to be upheld and the proper constitutional processes to be followed. There has since been a democratic election, though the final constitutional hurdle has yet to be crossed.

Prime Minister Qarase has so far refused to allow the Fiji Labour Party to take up the seats in Cabinet to which the 1997 Constitution says it is entitled, and the Labour Party has challenged this in the courts. The impasse has been appealed to the Supreme Court and the test for Mr Qarase will be how he responds when, as most commentators expect, the Court orders that he must invite the Labour Party into the Cabinet.

There are many in Fiji who have called for the constitution to be changed. That is not for New Zealand to decide. The key issue is that constitutional change should take place in a constitutional manner and the Fiji Constitution provides a process for change which must be followed.

The only alternative is the prospect of further coups and civil disorder. There can be no hope of stability if any group with a real or perceived grievance decides it can forcefully overthrow an elected government.

We hope that common sense and good governance will prevail in Fiji and that Mr Qarase and Mr Chaudhry will be able to reach agreement on a viable way forward that will be acceptable to all. At the end of the day, a political solution – not a legal one – must be found to resolve the ongoing uncertainty that currently besets Fiji.

Constitutional change may be necessary, but whatever changes are made will need to reassure the indigenous Fijians on the one hand that there is no threat to their pre-eminent status in their own land, and reassure the Indo-Fijians on the other hand that they are not second class citizens in the country which for most is the land of their birth.

Where To Next?

So, where to next?

There are no quick and easy fixes to the serious challenges faced by Pacific Island states. Their resolution will take years of hard work.

NZ needs not only to remain fully engaged in the Pacific but to put more time and effort into our relationship with our neighbours. Our donor/recipient relationship is a partnership rather than a controlling one.


A Greater Role for Regional Organisations?

One path forward is for regional organisations to take greater responsibility and a more active leadership role in events within the region. It would be in New Zealand’s interests as well as to the benefit of the wider region's growth and development if the Pacific Islands Forum were to take a stronger and more assertive role.

We have started to see an increasing assertiveness from the Forum as a political body. The Biketawa Declaration formulated at the first ever meeting of Forum Foreign Ministers in August 2000 signalled the region’s intention to take a greater interest in the concerns of its own members.

As a result of the Biketawa Declaration, last month the Forum despatched an eminent persons group to Solomon Islands to see what the region collectively might be able to do to assist Sir Allan Kemakeza’s government in the critical situation it finds itself in.


What New Zealand Might Do

It would be desirable to put more resources into ensuring better understanding of the region and identifying opportunities for prevention of conflict rather than respond after the event.

I would welcome better coverage of Pacific events by national media. At present there is limited coverage of issues and events in the region beyond major news items such as coups and cyclones.

Part of the answer to the problems of the region lies with better, more targeted economic and social development. The new NZAID will be focusing strongly on this area, with poverty elimination as its overriding objective.

Engagement with Military Forces in the Region

One of the concerns New Zealand has in relation to the coups and ethnic conflicts that have occurred within the region has been the involvement of the military and paramilitary organisations in the countries concerned.

These are organisations that have received considerable support and training by and in New Zealand over the years, but ethnic ties have overridden individuals’ commitment to support the civilian governments of the day. We need to reassess the nature of our engagement with the military and paramilitary bodies. There are few countries in the region that need fully fledged defence forces, but all would be well served by better trained and better resourced police forces.

Support for Law and Justice

Respect for the rule of law and effective and impartial administration of justice are the essential underpinning of good governance and long-term development. The Pacific Policy Review highlighted that this is an area of capacity building in the PICs that has been relatively neglected by donors. Both New Zealand and Australia intend to put significantly more effort into support for Police and the administration of justice in our Pacific ODA programmes.

Many of the police forces in the PICs are poorly resourced and the majority of their staff have limited education. This restricts their effectiveness, especially when faced with modern day sophisticated criminals and the complexities of transnational crime, drug trafficking, gun running and people smuggling.

These issues not only affect the countries in which the crimes occur. There are flow-on effects for New Zealand. It is in New Zealand’s interests to put more effort into supporting PIC police forces in these areas as well as in their day-to-day work of community policing. Some good work is already being done through the South Pacific Chiefs of Police Conference, and we hope to build on this in the years ahead.

A Pacific Foundation

Finally, the proposal for a Pacific Foundation put forward by Mike Powles is timely.

As a country and as a people we need closer engagement with our neighbours.

The Pacific Foundation could provide a way of engaging more effectively in our own neighbourhood, improving cooperation and dialogue between groups in New Zealand and the region. The Pacific Foundation could be to our immediate region what Asia 2000 has been to New Zealand’s links with Asia.

Today you will hear from a variety of speakers with expertise in the Pacific.

While the election campaign prevents me from hearing and participating in the debate through the day, I look forward to reading the written report on the proceedings of the seminar, and to benefiting from your input.

I wish you well for a stimulating enjoyable and successful conference.

Thank you.

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