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Laban: Forum of the Christian Left Conference

5 July, 2008
Forum of the Christian Left (FOCaL) Conference

Speech at the Forum of the Christian Left (FOCaL) Conference, Carey Baptist College, Penrose

Talofa lava, Malo e lelei, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Ni sa bula vinaka, Namaste, Kia orana, Ia Orana, Gud de tru olgeta, Taloha ni, Talofa, Kia ora tatou and Warm Pacific Greetings to you all this morning.

Thank you for your warm welcome and thank you for the kind invitation to be with you today. It is a great honour to be invited to address the Forum of the Christian Left.

I have been asked to talk today about New Zealand's role in the Pacific as responsible global citizens, with emphasis on aid and development.

I am speaking from the perspective of the Minister of the Pacific Island Affairs and more importantly as a woman of the Pacific.

The themes of culture, history, Christianity, politics, faith and the Pacific are linked, creating unique and complex patterns like the changing rhythms of waves in the Pacific.

The Pacific region consists of the largest ocean in the world and the smallest island nations. The countries vary in size from the 500,000 sq km and 4 million people of Papua New Guinea to the 12 sq km of the Tokelau Islands home to less than 2,000 people. It is a region of great physical beauty, biological diversity and cultural wealth.

Albert Wendt, the Pacific poet and novelist, once wrote:
"So vast, so fabulously varied a scatter of islands, nations, cultures, mythologies and myths, so dazzling a creature, Oceania deserves more than an attempt at mundane fact; only the imagination in free flight can hope – if not to contain her – to grasp some of her shape, plumage and pain."

We often recognise the wonderful, colourful plumage of Oceania, the Pacific. We find it harder to recognise the serious issues taking place.

The vastness of the Pacific Ocean and the smallness of the islands can lead to the perception that this is a remote and difficult region: tiny islands separated by hostile seas.

Epeli Hau’ofa, a Tongan writer, advances a different view of the Pacific as:
“…a large world in which people and cultures moved and mingled, unhindered by boundaries of the kind erected much later by imperial powers. From one island to another they sailed to trade and to marry, thereby expanding social networks for greater flows of wealth. They travelled to visit relatives in a wide variety of natural and cultural surroundings, to quench their thirst for adventure, and even to fight and dominate.”

I like Hau’ofa’s expansive view of the Pacific as a sea of islands linked by an ocean that has been a busy highway for millennia.

While our people have moved and mingled, as people of the Pacific we have retained our cultural values. Our faith, my faith, is embedded in these values.

Our Pacific cultural and spiritual values have been passed down by our ancestors through our families and our communities to this generation.

Families and communities are the bearers and transmitters of cultural and spiritual values.

As a New Zealand born Samoan, I know my community is based on families and extended families, aiga, aigapotopoto.

Our community in turn is based on the Samoan values of alofa, fa’aaloalo, and agaga. Love, respect, reciprocity and spirituality. These values are demonstrated through tautua – service.

My faith has been influenced by the imperative to give service to family, service to church, service to community, service to our nation, and service to our Pacific region.

New Zealand and the Pacific are neighbours and kin, and this is a relationship as a nation we should build on.

We recognise the unique combination of history, proximity, constitutional ties, community ties and longstanding diplomatic and defence links that underlie our special relationship. This is also reflected in the high proportion of Pacific peoples in New Zealand, their cultural connections to their homelands, and the enormous impact their richness and diversity adds to New Zealand's National Identity.

Sustaining and developing respectful, reciprocal and meaningful relationships is critical to securing stable, self determining and vibrant Pacific Forum nations.

The Pacific region faces a growing number of serious challenges, including recent instability in places like the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga. The region has shown itself able to respond to these challenges, for instance the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has played and continues to play a crucially important role in maintaining stability. But the regional security outlook continues to give cause for concern, with the restoration of democratic and constitutional government in Fiji following the December 2006 coup representing the key current challenge for the region.

Despite progress with some development and economic indicators such as infant mortality and life expectancy, there are concerning signs that pockets of serious poverty in the Pacific may be deepening. Several Pacific countries, for example Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papa New Guinea have consistently poor UN Human Development Index rankings.

Governance problems, as well as other economic and security challenges, underline that New Zealand needs to work on a long-term timeframe in its approach to the Pacific region. In addition to our bilateral efforts, we place a high priority on encouraging Pacific nations to make the best possible use of regional resources to tackle common security problems and to foster a culture of regional cooperation.
The Pacific remains New Zealand’s main development focus, accounting for 70 per cent of our bilateral aid, and over 50 per cent of our total aid.

The government's recently launched the Pacific Development Strategy, to ensure a focussed and effective approach to aid work in the region. This committed more than $2 billion over eight years in official development assistance to the Pacific, assuming aid levels remain the same.

This acknowledges our place as a Pacific nation and outlines the future shape of our assistance to our Pacific neighbours, setting out the areas where New Zealand’s contribution can be most effective. The strategy allows us to make a sustainable impact on improving health and education in the Pacific; to address infrastructure gaps and promote economic growth, and to improve governance and leadership.

Good governance and leadership are critical to poverty elimination and sustainable development in the Pacific region ensuring that political, social and economic priorities are based on broad consensus in society and the voices of the poorest and the most vulnerable are heard in decision making over the allocation of resources.
Aid from New Zealand is only part of the answer. We expect, and need the Pacific region, and individual Pacific countries, to take up the challenge and do the work necessary to lift their own citizens out of poverty.

The effects of climate change also place vulnerability on our Pacific neighbours, and New Zealand is committed to providing support to address this challenge.

Latest UN reports illustrate how climate change could exacerbate a range of issues that are already challenges in the region, including greater cyclone intensity, changes to flooding and drought patterns, and in getting access to fresh water.

Given Pacific countries high vulnerability and low emissions, it makes sense for us to support work that will help our partners adapt to the effects of climate change while providing for the livelihoods and basic needs of local people.

New Zealand continues to encourage efforts to improve the climate for trade and investment in the Pacific and promote gradual progress towards regional trade and economic integration.

Countries of the Pacific (excluding Australia) are collectively New Zealand's sixth largest export destination, with the total value of sales $1.2 billion. In contracts our imports from the Pacific were valued at $176 million. While there is a significant imbalance in goods trade, this is significantly offset by services trade (particularly tourism).

The Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) provides a framework for movement towards a single market amongst Pacific Island Forum members, including eventually Australia and New Zealand. Programmes of assistance to the island country members provide assistance with trade facilitation and capacity building.

MAF Biosecurity recently re-appointed a dedicated officer to work on advancing Pacific imports to New Zealand and to facilitate resolving phytosanitary issues with imported goods. This now enables Pacific market access requests to be prioritised.

In regards to workforce development, there is significant merit in including the Pacific region in New Zealand’s broader development strategies.

Improving education and skills in the region will increase the availability of skilled workers that New Zealand could potentially access, addressing the long-term issue of a shrinking labour force associated with the aging of the New Zealand population. This approach will enhance economic benefits to both New Zealand and the region in the coming future.

Increased labour mobility can contribute to addressing the many challenges faced by Pacific Island states.

The Labour-led government's Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) policy launched in April 2007 is an example, and has been exceptionally well received here and in the Pacific. While the scheme is open to all Forum Island Countries (except Fiji), five countries – Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu – were selected for facilitative measures to help ‘kick start’ the initiative.

Approximately 4,000 Pacific Island workers have been granted visas to come to New Zealand under the scheme, with over 120 employers in the viticulture and horticulture sectors applied or been granted RSE accredited status.

By all accounts the scheme is working well and there is a commitment on the part of all involved in the RSE policy (officials, RSE employers, Unions, partner countries and Pacific communities in New Zealand) to ensure any early hiccups are properly addressed to ensure benefits for all. The pastoral care of the workers is essential to the success of the scheme.

New Zealand could further capitalise on the opportunity to utilise cultural and identity links as a means to recognise, extend and strengthen its relationships with Pacific countries.

Geographically, economically and culturally, New Zealand is in an advantageous position to contribute to the strengthening of cooperation and integration between Pacific countries.

There is an inextricable link between the prosperity of New Zealand’s Pacific population and improving the quality of life in the Pacific. Our government is committed to enhancing and supporting the social wellbeing, economic prosperity and diverse cultures of Pacific people in New Zealand – this will have a flow on affect for the Pacific region.
It is vital that as a nation, we provide the expertise and leadership to ensure success in influencing and advancing New Zealand’s special relationships in the Pacific.

New Zealand does have a role in the wellbeing of our Pacific cousins, neighbours and kin.

One of the great strengths of us Kiwis and our Pacific cultures and is their flexibility and their ability to adapt to new and different circumstances while maintaining their core values.

Our cultures must adapt and change in this changing world with strong independent communities, contributing to the social and economic development of a strong independent nation, and a strong independent Pacific region.

I wish you well for the remainder of the forum.

Ia manuia.


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