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John Hayes - Towards a better Pacific

John Hayes MP
National Party Associate Foreign Affairs
& Trade Spokesman (Pacific Affairs)

13 August 2008

Towards a better Pacific
Speech to the CSO Forum 2008, Auckland

Fakaalofa lahi atu, Talofa lava, Malo e lelei, Ni sa bula vinaka, Namaste, Kia orana, Ia Orana, Evening olgeta, Taloha ni, Talofa, Kia ora tatou and Warm Pacific Greetings to you all. Thank you for the kind invitation to speak tonight at the CSO Forum 2008.

I’d like to start by acknowledging the passing of a great Pacific person, Greg Urwin, who until recently was Secretary-General of the Pacific Forum. I had the privilege of working with Greg over a number of years and know he was strongly committed to the region and had a deep empathy with Pacific people. The region has lost a significant leader and I am sure we all extend our sympathy to his family.

It’s great to have people representing more than 20 Pacific countries in this room tonight. You have gathered to discuss how to collectively make the Pacific a better place. I applaud your efforts and the efforts of the diverse non-governmental organisations you work for. Many of you will have travelled great distances over a lot of water to be here this evening.

It is that water – the mighty Pacific Ocean – that binds our nations together. The same Pacific Ocean that touches your shores also washes against ours. The Pacific Ocean contributes to our Pacific identity.

It is more than that though.

We share a unique combination of history, constitutional links, family and community ties, and geographical proximity which binds us together as Pacific people. I strongly believe that New Zealand has a capacity, and indeed a responsibility, to the global community to play a greater role in the Pacific.

New Zealand is, in a sense, part of the fabric of the Pacific. Our relatively small size and our Pasifika composition means we are able to show a unique sense of empathy and a level of engagement and leadership.

I am reminded of the words of Lindsay Watt, who, like me, was a New Zealand diplomat, though of an earlier generation. He looked at all these links and connections and proclaimed that New Zealand was not a country simply located in the Pacific – it was a country ‘of’ the Pacific.

In that sense, we are neighbours and we are family – we are all ‘of’ the Pacific. We are neighbours and family in the Pacific which Albert Wendt, a Pacific poet and novelist, once described as "so vast, so fabulously varied a scatter of islands, nations, cultures, mythologies and myths, so dazzling a creature.”

It is a dazzling creature, but also one which faces a range of challenges. Your conference has been exploring many of them. I’d like to add my perspective on some of the key issues confronting the Pacific region.
Background

Within the National Party, I have particular responsibilities for the Pacific in my role as Associate Spokesman for Foreign Affairs & Trade.

I am also a member of the Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade Select Committee, which has spent the past 18 months looking at the relationship between New Zealand and the Pacific. The committee is being very thorough and our work so far will be passed to the next Parliament. I expect we will see the committee’s final report out in 2009.

Beyond these formal roles, the Pacific is an area I have lived in and worked in for many years in a number of roles. This work has given me direct experience of the outstanding work done by non-government organisations and civil society organisations, sometimes in very difficult and dangerous environments.

From my point of view, NGOs understand the real issues in their area, help set the wider policy agenda, and often provide the very effective delivery of services and assistance. I think, for example, the policy agenda function was perfectly demonstrated by the Nuku’alofa Communiqué, which was developed by this conference in 2007.

That communiqué helped establish the priorities in the Pacific Plan and, importantly, added a range of issues that had been initially missed out. This included asking for a focus on the lack of modern energy services which mean that 70% of Pacific communities, particularly women and children, are disadvantaged. That is important and valuable work.

I want to focus tonight on four key areas: leadership in the Pacific, regional trade, New Zealand aid policy, and the importance of charting a genuinely Pacific path forward for island nations.

Leadership in the Pacific

It’s my belief that we need to reclaim regional leadership for regional leaders.

Too often it seems the tendency is to delegate leadership to well-funded bureaucracies that do not and cannot have the same connections with local people. Bureaucrats have a habit of doing things to communities. In contrast, leaders and NGO’s more often than not do things for people.

The Pacific hosts a large number of heavily-resourced regional and international agencies. For example, in Fiji alone I counted seven United Nations agencies, as well as at least a further nine cross-cutting inter-agency UN taskforces and theme groups.

I think we would all agree that these agencies can do a lot of very good work in the region. However, my concern is about the impact that these organisations, including the Pacific Forum, have on local politics, leadership, and the pool of people who could be entrepreneurial. They have this impact because they have a very large “organisational footprint.”

Let me explain that concept.

Because of their resources and status, regional agencies tend to draw in the best local people by offering remuneration and terms and conditions that simply cannot be matched by Pacific governments and organisations. This starves the Pacific country’s government, social services, and businesses of the best people, which consequently makes it harder to develop a robust, sustainable economy.

In the case of the Solomon Islands, this contributed significantly to that county’s instability. It is a very serious issue and though there may be no easy solutions, it is an issue that must be addressed.

Regional trade

Trade has an important role in the development of the Pacific region. Trade provides employment, revenue, and a solid economic base. In turn, this helps lift people out of poverty. It is the poorest countries which have the most to gain. Even a big nation – by Pacific standards – like New Zealand cannot lift the living standards of its people by focusing inwardly.

Economic growth through trade contributes to a country’s real independence. Trade adds to a community’s wealth. Growing prosperity allows governments to improve education and health services. Community wealth enables environmentally sustainable policies. It is not difficult to understand that it’s hard to be green when you are continually in the red.

Getting real growth often depends on the delivery of infrastructure, especially air services, by nations like New Zealand. A robust infrastructure is essential, but investment in infrastructure has been patchy at best.

I believe that Pacific countries might look to the growth of commerce through our Maori communities using the model of Maori incorporations. These enable communities to actively lift themselves upwards and grow their wealth using communally owned resources and assets like land.

Across the Pacific region, New Zealand enjoys a massive trade surplus. Exports to the Pacific are just over $1 billion, while imports to New Zealand from the Pacific are just over $135 million. This represents an unmatched regional trade imbalance which is hugely to our economic advantage … except that it is occurring in the very same region which we say we are there to help.

There is a pressing need to address the trade imbalance between New Zealand and the rest of the Pacific. The volume of New Zealand purchases from Pacific countries has actually been in decline over recent years. This decline is occurring despite the fact that we offer duty free and unrestricted access to almost all Pacific products under South Pacific Regional Trade and Co-operation Agreement (Sparteca).

New Zealand needs to keep a close eye on our organisations which monitor the New Zealand border so we can better address barriers that slow trade in items from the Pacific. This is an issue being examined by our select committee. We have a collective interest in encouraging more balanced trade flows between us.

I think we need an arrangement to improve the flow of factors of production within the region and hope we could advance the date to begin negotiations now and not in 2011 as presently scheduled.

New Zealand Aid

There is much that New Zealand can do to improve our role in the Pacific. We must ensure that our aid programme there is focused and targeted properly. While we acknowledge that the main target of New Zealand’s aid effort is already the Pacific, we have stated that we believe a greater proportion of our budget should be targeted there.

It is also important that this aid is properly focused. New Zealand’s aid in recent years has been targeted at “poverty elimination” – the real focus needs to be on economic development. Nothing makes this clearer than the two-way trade statistics between New Zealand and the Pacific.

A question that now must be asked, on the strength of the current trade imbalances, is whether we have been too focused on hand-out as opposed to hand-up strategies – whether our aid dollars can be spent in ways that will better contribute to sustainable economic activity.

Aid is a critical issue for many Pacific nations and volunteer and voluntary organisations that work in the region. New Zealand will spend around $425 million on international aid this year. However, that sum will be spread across more than 100 countries. Depending on how you cut the numbers, only around one third of that aid money – about $181 million - will be spent in the Pacific.

That is spreading our aid too thinly. You might want to look at the National Party discussion paper on Foreign Affairs issues on our website. It says a National Government will focus development assistance on a smaller number of nations, and primarily in our own neighbourhood. We want to properly meet our special responsibilities within the Pacific region.

Aid is most effective, in my opinion, when it is focused and transparent. In my view, we need to get the basics right and focus our efforts in four areas: education, health, infrastructure, and integrity systems. It is also important that our aid is not captured by local bureaucrats or elites.

The best way to do this is to ensure the support goes directly to communities and families rather than being lost in the system. I would see a strong role for NGOs, CSOs, and the private sectors in your countries under this new approach.

A Pacific way forward

The final topic I wish to touch on is the need for Pacific people to take responsibility for charting their own course forward.

I believe it is not for New Zealand – or indeed any other country – to tell you how to develop. Too often in the past, a top-down, centralised approach has been imposed and it has simply not worked.

That is one of the lessons we must learn from history. For change to be effective and lasting it has to be developed and implemented locally. It is up to each country to chart their own path – one which is appropriate and sensitive to local needs and traditions.

The 2007 conference communiqué from Tonga picked this up when it talked of the need to “harmonise” traditional and introduced models of governance. I think that is a tremendously progressive way to view the challenge.

In turn, New Zealand must be respectful of these decisions and be prepared to walk alongside you as a solid and reliable neighbour – and hopefully as a friend.

Our only constraint will be that we will have to able to look our taxpayers in the eye and assure them that the aid money we take from their taxes is well spent.

As I noted earlier, there is likely to be an increased role for NGOs, CSOs, and the private sector in the future. One of the problems with the old, centralised system was that we built governance structures that were far too big for Pacific communities to sustain. Many of these are being dismantled and replaced by Pacific nations in a very orderly way.

In a post-bureaucratic age, future New Zealand governments will be likely to be working more closely with NGOs and CSOs, particularly those in fields such as health, education, infrastructure, and civil society. Your private sectors must also have an expanded role.

Conclusion

Tonight we come from many nations but we are joined by a common bond of the ocean and of kinship. We represent many organisations but we share a desire to see a Pacific which is safe and secure, thriving and happy, truly free and independent.

Above all, we wish to ensure that the Pacific remains a “truly dazzling creature” for the generations still to come.

ENDS

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