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Peters: The canoe must be paddled on both sides

Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Embargoed until 12.45pm, 24 June 2008
Speech Notes

The canoe must be paddled on both sides

Launch of New Zealand’s Pacific Development Strategy
Delivered at 12.45pm, Grand Hall, Parliament

There is a Polynesian proverb which in translation says, ‘to reach its destination the canoe must be paddled on both sides’.

This concept seems particularly applicable to New Zealand’s development assistance programme and the Pacific Strategy which we are launching here today.

The strategy acknowledges New Zealand’s place as a nation of the Pacific, and a corresponding commitment to helping our neighbours enjoy a more prosperous future.

The strategy outlines the shape of this assistance and, importantly, it sets out the areas where New Zealand’s contribution can be most effective.

Equally, this strategy is not just about us: there is paddling to be done on both sides.

New Zealand has a clear expectation that the Pacific region, and individual Pacific countries, will take up the challenge of development, and do the work necessary to lift their own citizens out of poverty.

This means encouraging policies and practices which foster growth and better standards of living. It also means preventing corruption, poor governance and conflict, which erode development gains.

No one is saying this is going to be easy; nor that New Zealand has all the answers. The challenge is immense, complex and, most of all, long term.

While we share the same vast ocean, no two Pacific Island countries are the same.

Papua New Guinea, for example, is larger than New Zealand in land mass and population.

But while rich in natural resources, PNG has extremely poor economic and social indicators.

It has few roads; housing is poor; many children die from preventable diseases, and economic growth has struggled to keep pace with population increases.

Compare the size of PNG with Tuvalu, a small state of dispersed atolls.

With a population of just 10,000, Tuvalu has a gross land area of only 26 square kilometres, and is increasingly vulnerable to rising sea-levels and extreme weather events.

These two examples demonstrate the range of challenges in the Pacific. They also emphasise the need for New Zealand to have a coherent and disciplined strategy when it comes to development.

Before we cover what’s contained in the Pacific Strategy, let us begin by talking about why we should be helping our neighbours, and by addressing some of the common criticisms levelled at our aid and development efforts.

Let's start with a common question - why should New Zealand spend almost $250 million each year on fighting poverty in the Pacific?

The answer is simple.

What happens in the Pacific impacts directly on our country, and on the quality of life, safety, health and security of every New Zealander.

The more successful the Pacific is, the better it is for us.

The problem we’re dealing with is clear: the Pacific is not very prosperous.

Economic growth around the region is failing to keep up with population growth.

In some cases, governmental decision-making is weak in addressing national problems, and modern governance practices are not followed.

Youth unemployment is a growing problem, and basic poverty indicators are far too high.

In fact, the Pacific stands behind only Sub-Saharan Africa as the region with the most ground to make up to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

The Pacific is at risk of falling victim to all the wasted potential and social and economic chaos that poverty brings.

Unless we want these problems to become our own, New Zealand, as a strong and prosperous neighbour, must try to prevent this happening.

Another common criticism around these issues is that aid just doesn’t work.

This is an easy criticism to make, but the facts speak differently.

New Zealand’s aid in the Pacific has, in fact, helped get more children to school. It has improved health services; helped fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, and assisted countries to build and maintain the critical infrastructure needed to support economic development.

So aid can work, but well-managed and strategically-planned aid works even better.

That is what the Pacific Strategy is all about.

Put into practice, this means delivering aid in a way that uses existing systems, and encourages recipients to ensure that aid reaches those for which it was intended.

It also means maximising coordination between donors, and remaining focussed on results.

Corruption is another area of concern. Sadly it does exist in some of the countries we give aid to, and it is not acceptable in any form.

However it is not an excuse for us to give up on providing aid. The challenge is simply to make sure it does not impact on our programmes.

Corruption is an area where New Zealand has called on some Pacific governments to lift their performance, and for Pacific people to hold their politicians to account.

The Pacific stands at a crossroads between poverty and prosperity. We are doing what we can to assist – because we must.

Over the period of this strategy, from 2007 to 2015, New Zealand will provide over $2 billion in development assistance to the Pacific, based on current aid levels.

This assistance will be aimed at tackling poverty – at making a real difference to the everyday lives of people in the Pacific, by giving them access to the opportunities and resources they need to be more prosperous.

There are four pillars to the strategy.

The first is strengthening governance. New Zealand places a priority on this area because we know that a stable and prosperous Pacific requires good governance at all levels.

For this reason, New Zealand’s assistance will focus on building leadership – from grassroots to the political.

We will also work with Pacific people to encourage stronger and broader participation in decision-making.

There should be no barriers to political participation.

A focus of our assistance will be increasing and strengthening the dialogue between governments, NGOs, and the private sector.

While we can do much to assist, it is in this area that the canoe must truly be paddled on both sides.

There needs to be a concentrated effort by the governments of Pacific nations to lift their performance.

Leaders and decision-makers need to make more choices based on national interest, and less on short-term self-interest.

Policies need to be adjusted when they fail, and better resourced when they succeed. Budgets need to be managed responsibly and transparently.

Most importantly, encouragement needs to be given for all citizens to participate in the political process; this is a fundamental right and needs greater prominence.

New Zealand has consistently encouraged Pacific governments to step up and act as a beacon to their own peoples. We reinforce that message again today.

The second pillar of the strategy aims at achieving broader-based growth, and improved livelihoods.

Good governance alone won’t lift people out of poverty. That depends directly on increasing economic growth and strengthening trade. No country in the world has achieved one without the other.

Our strategy recognises this, and our efforts will centre on helping Pacific partners create an environment that supports sustainable economic growth which delivers long-term benefits.

New Zealand will also prioritise infrastructure where it can foster growth. This is not just about building roads; it is about providing funding and advice to Pacific governments so they can improve and manage their infrastructure assets.

The third pillar – improving health and education – builds on the traditional strengths of New Zealand’s development assistance.

We will focus on improving the quality of basic education and will continue to support initiatives which enable more children to have the opportunity to learn.

There also needs to be increased support for young people once they’ve left the classroom, including scholarships and formal training that improves employment opportunities.

While life expectancies have increased across the region, infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis remain, and many babies and children are dying of illnesses which are successfully treated and managed in developed countries.

Through the Pacific Strategy, New Zealand will work to help governments build health systems that deliver quality care to all.

The final pillar of the strategy is about helping the communities of the Pacific become more resilient to change, and better able to manage resources and conflict.

The effects of rapid urbanisation can be seen around the Pacific.

It threatens the health and well-being of thousands.

At the top of New Zealand’s list is providing assistance to squatter settlements to help residents fight crime, alcohol abuse, and other social problems.

Climate change is likely to exacerbate a number of existing challenges in the Pacific, particularly the region’s vulnerability to cyclones, and access to fresh water.

We will help to improve the capacity of governments and communities to sustainably manage their water resources, and to cope when natural disasters occur.

Finally, it is important to emphasise that aid from New Zealand is only part of the answer.

There needs to be a concentrated effort by all the governments of the Pacific to lift their performance.

Budgets need to be managed responsibly and transparently. There is little sense in aid donors paying for vital services like health, education and infrastructure, if national revenues are being wasted.

Simply put, the people of the Pacific need to hold their governments to account. They should support their political leaders when they deliver, and ask the hard questions when they don’t.

New Zealand will do its share of the paddling by sticking to our strategy; monitoring it, and being flexible enough to change direction when necessary.

We will also be realistic and patient.

There is nothing easy about delivering an effective aid programme.

It is tough and there may be failures, mistakes and frustrations. But the alternative is to do nothing, and allow others to quickly and perversely fill the void.

The consequences would be unknown but most likely seriously adverse to our neighbourhood, and to our own national interests.

Instead, we are doing something, so that the Pacific may fulfil its unique and vibrant potential.

We know where the canoe is heading, and through friendship and hard work, all the countries of the mighty Pacific will have an opportunity to reach their destination – a prosperous and safe future.

Thank you.


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