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NZ-Melanesia Relationship Under The Spotlight

Pacific Cooperation Foundation

Press Release

NZ-Melanesia relationship under the spotlight

Sunday 28 September 2008: Wellington, NZ – The flip side to Fiji's image amongst New Zealanders as a getaway holiday destination is expected to come up for debate in Wellington next week, although not in Parliament.

Trade consultant and former Fiji cabinet minister and diplomat Kaliopate Tavola and other speakers from the Melanesian sub region arrive in Wellington tonight ahead of tomorrow's opening of a new initiative, the Tok-Talanoa NZ-Melanesia Symposium.

Cultural performances, an art exhibition, and keynote speaker Sir Rabbie Namaliu form a prelude to plenary sessions the following day.

But there's little doubt the chill on New Zealand's relationship with Fiji, and the recent schism between Forum leaders with military leader Frank Bainimarama will be raised during sessions on security and good governance.

Tok-Talanoa organisers the Pacific Corporation Foundation are keen to see how New Zealand might improve its engagement with Melanesia; where the development realities facing nations with six-figure population sizes are all magnified when it comes to Papua New Guinea and its 6.5 million people.

Program Manager Tina McNicholas says hearing from the largest Pacific region with "the lion's share of resources, people – and challenges, is critical to helping us all understand and appreciate each other when NZ sits as a partner at the Pacific development table. "

Reducing poverty and hardship in the region is the overall goal of the New Zealand AID Pacific Strategy to 2015, rolled out last year.

"Sharing and exchanging views and hearing about the many strengths that Melanesia offers for sustainable development will help us build on the Pacific Strategy, and identify some practical and progressive areas which align with our PCF vision and goals," says McNicholas.

"Recent news events have made more New Zealanders curious about Fiji; and highlighted how little many of us know about Melanesia beyond Fiji. There's also a tendency for mainstream New Zealand to use Polynesians as their point of reference for all Pacific people. This doesn't help the reality that New Zealand is a part of, not apart from the Pacific," she says.

"As the exhibition for our opening event notes; 'it's taim bilong Melanesia – Melanesia's time to just talk about issues of concern which will in turn shape the future of the region – and that should be of concern to us all."

The NZ-Melanesia program merges a range of guest panellists with New Zealanders who've lived and worked in Melanesia to present and discuss their insights across symposium themes: political and regional relationships, economic development, security and governance, and cultural frameworks.

Speakers, including former PNG Prime Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu and Solomon Islands Chief Justice Sir Albert Rocky Palmer, come from a diverse range of both government and civil society organizations in New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

ENDS

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