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Helen Clark Speech - Malta Official PM's Dinner

Rt. Hon Helen Clark
20 May 2004

Official Dinner, Hotel Le Meridien Phoenica, Malta
Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for that kind, warm welcome. It is a great pleasure and honour to be here this evening. While this is my first official visit to Malta, I have come on three previous occasions as a private citizen. I have always been fascinated by the history of this small, resilient island nation, positioned on the crossroads of Europe.

It is worth recalling that the ties between Malta and New Zealand go back to World War One, when the 500-strong Maori contingent was stationed here briefly before going on to Gallipoli. Some of the New Zealanders later wounded at Gallipoli were evacuated to Malta. Some 70 of them are buried here, and I was able to honour their memory at the Pieta Military Cemetery earlier today. I was also able to honour the 85 New Zealand service personnel of World War Two who have no known grave and who are commemorated in the Memorial to the Missing. It was a simple and moving ceremony.

Two of the three Royal Air Force commanders on Malta during the period in the Second World War when it was under attack were New Zealanders - Air Vice Marshals Forster Maynard and Keith Park. Instead of taking a purely defensive position, in the best New Zealand tradition Park determined to counter attack. He sent fighter-planes to intercept the incoming bombers and inflicted heavy losses, helping to defend Malta and save the island from occupation.

Many other New Zealanders played a role in the defence of Malta. Several hundred members of the Royal New Zealand Air Force served in RAF units operating from the island, both as fighter pilots trying to halt the bombers attacking it and in bombers that attacked enemy convoys at sea.

The ties of those far-off days were the ties of Empire. The link with Britain was the unifying factor. Over the years, the relationship has been transformed, as Empire became Commonwealth. Yet the common use of the English language, the familiar legal system, and the sense of a shared heritage and values lives on and forms a basis for the modern-day relationship between Malta and New Zealand.

My visit comes as Malta becomes part of a new chapter in European history. New Zealand congratulates Malta on its accession to the European Union. This latest significant enlargement is a huge step towards fulfilment of the dream of European unity. This means a lot even for distant countries like New Zealand which found themselves embroiled in the European wars of the twentieth century. Even today we maintain a small presence in peacekeeping forces in the Balkans.

Malta’s membership of the EU certainly adds another dimension to our bilateral relationship. New Zealand co-operates with the EU across many significant international issues, on a foundation of shared values, history and cultural heritage. At the same time, the EU is New Zealand's second most important trading partner. We look forward to working with Malta as both an old friend and as a new EU member.

Recognition of our long-standing friendship came today with the signature of the Working Holiday Scheme. This will allow young Maltese to live and work in New Zealand for periods of up to a year, and for young New Zealanders to benefit from the same experience here. New Zealand now has a number of these agreements, and we find them very important in keeping our people-to-people links up to date. Today’s young New Zealand working holiday makers in Malta will follow in peacetime the path trodden by their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations in times of war.

New Zealand like Malta is experiencing great change. Our economy is modernising and increasing in value fast. That applies both to the value being added to our products from the land and the sea, and to our go-ahead design-led niche industries, our creative sectors, our information, communications, and bio-technology sectors, and our service sectors in tourism and education.

These days when people think of New Zealand, they may be more likely to think of Lord of the Rings than of sheep!

Mr Prime Minister, I hope we will be able to welcome you to New Zealand during your term of office. We know that Australia’s large Maltese population is a reason for Maltese leaders to come to our part of the world. You and your ministers are assured of a warm welcome in New Zealand.

For my part I hope to be able to return to Malta for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next year. New Zealand was proud to host CHOGM in 1995, and we wish Malta well as it prepares for this very significant summit of nations.

May I now propose a toast to the Prime Minister and people of Malta.

ENDS

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