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Parata Speech - House Debate: Pacific Leaders' Forum

Hekia Parata

18 April, 2013

Speech House Debate: Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders’ Forum

Mr Speaker, we are joined today in the House by a number of special guests, the delegates attending the inaugural Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders’ Forum. I would like to extend a very warm Aotearoa New Zealand welcome to each of them.

In particular, I welcome the Pacific Ministers here with us today. With your busy schedules and various domestic pressures, it’s a great honour for New Zealand to host you, as your cousins in the Pacific.

I also acknowledge the other members of the delegation - you represent the leaders and decision makers of tomorrow. It is a privilege to have you here, and I look forward, together with our Members of Parliament, to meeting many of you over the coming days.

I would also like to acknowledge the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Select Committee who in 2010 unanimously recommended to the House this interaction between our Pacific parliaments. I would like to congratulate my colleague, John Hayes MP as chair of the Committee for the work he has led to bring the original recommendation to fruition. And to all those who have helped – ngā mihi nui.

Mr Speaker, I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my colleagues across the House who are of Pacific descent and whose presence here adds richness not only to their respective parties and communities, but to our Parliament as a whole.

Cultural and economic links
Mr Speaker, the Pacific is a key priority for the National-led Government, as it has been for successive New Zealand Governments over many decades.

We are a Pacific nation. First and foremost we are united by the great ocean Te Moananui-a-Kiwa that joins us and that is central to understanding our history, culture, and world view.

Cultural links
Culturally, New Zealand owes much to other Pacific nations. Around 7% of New Zealanders are of Pasifika origin. At the time of the 2006 census, New Zealand’s population included some 58,000 Cook Islanders, 22,500 Niueans, 6,900 Tokelauans, 131,000 Samoans 50,000 Tongans, 9,900 Fijians, 8,900 other Pacific peoples.

In the cases of the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau, - with whom we share particular constitutional relationships - the New Zealand based populations are significantly higher than those based in their home countries. All of these Pacific peoples add to the social and economic fabric of this great country, and we are richer for their presence.

The many ties which link New Zealand across the Pacific make the fate of other Pacific island countries a matter of personal interest to many New Zealanders.

Not least because of the significant contributions that Pasifika people make [whether Pacific or New Zealand-born] to the strength of our economy, the dynamism of our communities, and the richness of our culture.

Pacific Island nations have gifted us – and pushed out boundaries in - art, literature, dance, music, film, fashion; experts in health, education, finance, the economy; leaders and politicians at community, local and central government; and of course sport in every arena.

New Zealand’s universities, hospitals, art galleries, government agencies, schools, businesses, and Parliament, have much to be thankful for in terms of the contribution made by our Pacific communities - all wrapped and delivered through language, identity and culture. And long may it continue.

Economic links
Mr Speaker, economically, our exports to Pacific Island countries total nearly $1 billion. The region, considered in its entirety, represents New Zealand’s seventh largest export market and twentieth largest trading block. Trade with the region has grown more than 30% in the last 10 years, and our exports have grown by 50%. New Zealand industry is working hard to provide the goods and services the economies of the Pacific need.

At the same time, demand in New Zealand for Pacific goods, and particularly Pacific agricultural products is on the rise too. Imports in this sector have nearly doubled since 2000, and are expanding to include a greater range of quality products. Moving forward, Pacific engagement in PACER Plus negotiations will strengthen economic relationships, and enhance regional capacity for trade.

NZ’s Foreign Policy Priorities in the Pacific
Mr Speaker, this Government has an absolute focus on, and commitment to, supporting Pacific countries, and New Zealand’s Pacific communities, in achieving their development aspirations.

Not only are we committed to working with our Pacific partners to achieve success, our results tell us we are making a real and meaningful difference in people’s lives.

The most readily visible demonstration of this Government’s commitment to the Pacific is that we spend more than half of our annual overseas development budget, more than $250 million, in the Pacific.

Every day, staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade are working alongside their Pacific counterparts to deliver programmes that will assist Pacific countries improve their economic performance and support them to achieve sustainable economic growth.

Key recent successes that serve as examples of the progress being achieved by the Government include:

Renewable energy
The Pacific Energy Summit, held in Auckland last month, underlined the commitment New Zealand has made to working with the Pacific to assist in channelling international funding to areas of greatest need.

Over 600 delegates attended the Summit, including eight Prime Ministers, three Presidents and 75 CEOs. A key outcome of the Summit included securing donor commitments of $635 million to advance renewable energy projects across the Pacific.

In addition to working with developed partners to secure and channel development assistance, New Zealand announced $65 million of funding to assist Pacific Island countries realise their renewable energy and energy efficiency plans. Support was announced for the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

Fisheries
The Pacific tuna stock represents the Pacific region’s greatest shared resource. It continues to be a main source of income in the Pacific – contributing US$260 million to combined gross domestic product (GDP), and providing over 13,000 jobs to Pacific Island people.

During the 2012 Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Key announced New Zealand would invest additional funding into fisheries support programmes, bringing our total commitment over the next four years to $50 million.

Our support is aimed at upgrading the Pacific’s fisheries training institutions, fostering seafood business enterprise development, helping people in the industry gain formal globally-recognised qualifications, and up-skilling fisheries officials in areas like international commerce and investment appraisal. These are all areas that have been identified as priorities by Pacific Island countries and match the particular expertise held by New Zealand industry.

Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme
The RSE Scheme is helping to address seasonal labour and skill shortages in the horticulture and viticulture industries that cannot be filled from the available New Zealand labour pool.

For the last three years, between 6,000 and 7,000 RSE workers have arrived in New Zealand annually, around 75% of whom are from Pacific Island countries.

The scheme is a win/win for the New Zealand horticultural industry and Pacific sending countries. Industry is receiving the critical workforce required to improve results while Pacific Island workers are receiving training and solid economic returns. The scheme is delivering $25 million annually in take-home earnings.

Mr Speaker, these are but three examples of the way in which this Government is working with our Pacific neighbours to deliver tangible results that are of benefit to the entire region.

Mr Speaker, in addition to the important work we are doing abroad, the Government is also committed to improving the lives of the more than 280,000 Pacific people in New Zealand. To do so we are focusing on three areas; education, Pacific languages, and work skills.

Education
It is a great honour to me, and a wonderful opportunity to hold both the Pacific Island Affairs and Education portfolios. As Minister I have been able to ensure that our three priorities are education, education, education! 1) quality early pre-school learning; 2) achieving national standards at primary school; 3) securing NCEA2 at secondary school before going on into meaningful work choices.

We have had some encouraging results over the last year with the final NCEA Level 2 results for 16 year olds announced yesterday.

We have seen a 3.5 per cent increase for our Pasifika young people.

And we will continue to do what it takes to raise achievement for all our Pasifika students.

Quality education is an important catalyst to improving outcomes for Pacific people across the board and it is one of our Government’s top priorities.

In November 2012, I launched the Pasifika Education Plan 2013-17. The Plan covers all levels of education from early childhood to compulsory and tertiary level. It targets improving early learning for Pacific children, raising national standards, and improving Pacific students’ NCEA level 2 achievement.

There is strong evidence to show that participation in quality early learning improves future educational outcomes. For this reason there is a strong focus on getting more Pacific children participating in pre-school options.

Earlier this month I announced that the provisional data for Pasifika children for this year shows that the participation rate increased by 1.9 per cent to around 88 per cent, or 6,700 (of the 7,600) children, who started this year. Or about 250 more kids than last year. This is very encouraging. But there is much more to do.

Pacific languages
The Government also puts a strong emphasis on supporting communities to preserve and promote Pacific languages. We are supporting a growing number of Pacific Language Weeks. 2012 saw the largest number of Language Weeks yet as we celebrated the inaugural Cook Islands Māori, Tokelauan and Niuean language weeks as well as Samoan and Tongan Language Weeks.

Pacific Language Weeks provide an opportunity for Pacific communities to share, celebrate and educate others about their language and culture. We consider the preservation and promotion of Pacific languages is an enabler of social, economic and educational achievement. They are also a tangible demonstration of the Government’s commitment to follow the leadership of Pacific language communities to reverse the decline of heritage languages and support their unique cultures.

Work skills
Pacific young people already make up a significant proportion of New Zealand’s future workforce. Supporting young Pacific people once they have left compulsory education is another priority for us.

Ensuring successful transition from education to employment means young Pacific people have the opportunity to contribute positively to New Zealand’s economic growth and to while creating a better life for themselves and their aiga.

The Pasifika Trades Training initiative has been developed by government agencies to attract Pasifika students into trades training to support the Canterbury rebuild. The initiative has been well supported in the community. Pacific church leaders across the country have helped to mobilise over 300 young Pacific people who were awarded trade scholarships.

Many of these young people have now completed their first year of training and are in Christchurch working on the rebuild. These young people have learnt new skills which will set them up for a career in the trades.

These are just some of the initiatives that will support young Pacific people into employment and training. We will be putting more focus and resource into this priority area in the near future.

Supporting Pacific democracy
Mr Speaker, before closing I would like to touch briefly on the issue of democracy, a key theme of the upcoming Pacific Parliament.

One of the values we share with our Pacific neighbours is a commitment to parliamentary democracy. In the Pacific context different states have devised their own ways to shape and scale the democratic model and style to suit their situation. New Zealand is proud to stand by our Pacific partners and actively support the functioning of democracy in the Pacific.

For example, New Zealand frequently contributes observers and logistics assistance to Pacific countries holding elections. This was done last year in Papua New Guinea when New Zealand provided three RNZAF helicopters to help deliver ballot boxes to the most remote parts of the country. This helped ensure that all Papua New Guineans had the opportunity to cast their vote.

Supporting democracy was also a primary driver behind New Zealand’s significant contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). This mission has been a great Pacific success and has included personnel from many Pacific nations. RAMSI has enabled the people and government of the Solomon Islands to continue in their democratic traditions, free from destabilising forces and security threats.

New Zealand is, and will remain, a committed supporter of the Pacific’s democratic traditions, and I have no doubt we will remain ready to support Pacific countries as and when our assistance is requested.

Mr Speaker, it would be unconscionable however, not to raise the issue of the low representation of Pacific women in their parliaments. Just as ours in New Zealand has been the better for the strong participation by women Members of Parliament, so too will the parliaments of the Pacific island nations. We should all work towards that goal.

Conclusion
Mr Speaker, I would again like to thank our distinguished guests for their attendance at the inaugural Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders’ Forum. [Address the delegates] We want you to know that we are committed to working with you, as our Pacific partners, to improve the lives of people throughout the Pacific. We are also committed to working to improve the lives of our Pacific Community here in New Zealand.

This Government is mindful of New Zealand’s place as a Pacific country. We are honouring that by working to build a brighter Pacific future in which all Pacific people can share.


ENDS

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