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Source: New Zealand Government

Kia koutou, warm pacific greetings.I am delighted we have the opportunity to meet kanohi ki te kanohi and talanoa in-person, I would like to extend my thanks to Adele and her team for organising this event, for us, today; fa’afetai tele lava. 

I am also delighted to see some rangatahi in the room: and I want to acknowledge you, and your potential in all its diversity, as the future of Aotearoa New Zealand.

This meeting is a chance for us to come together, and to discuss and learn from the lessons of our region’s rich history and I am honoured to be asked to share my reflections on

Pacific heritage, languages and cultures.

Understanding where we come from — as people and as a nation — is critical in navigating our pathway forward with confidence and resilience

And across my ministerial portfolios, but specifically as the Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for Pacific Peoples, I am acutely aware of both the challenges, and opportunities, that lie ahead.

A logo tai ua logo uta || When it is felt toward the sea, it is felt toward the land… nothing we do, as Aotearoa New Zealand, can — or should — be considered in isolation of our place in Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa… as we are so closely connected.

I know the Asia New Zealand Foundation invests in building cultural capability and confidence to engage with Asian partners, so I am already preaching to the choir when I say that our culture and values are essential for wellbeing — and the prosperity of our region.

Aotearoa New Zealand is in, and of, the Pacific — Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, our Blue Pacific Continent.

When the Foreign Minister, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, and I consider our engagement with the rest of the world, it is always grounded in a values-based approach — and it always starts at home when we look at the Pacific, our home, we see that our identity, prosperity, and security are intertwined through deep cultural, people to people, historical, and economic links.

More than 30 New Zealand Government agencies engage substantively in the Pacific, and there are long-standing and multifaceted engagements by NGOs, religious groups, academia, and businesses.

We are bonded: not just through geography, but by these enduring connections.

We also know that our partners in the wider Indo-Pacific value the perspectives we bring, because of the priority we place on our whakawhanaungatanga into the Pacific.

Recently, we launched the Aotearoa Pacific Wellbeing Strategy. The Strategy is a seminal document with wide-ranging implications for the Pacific communities of Aotearoa (and beyond).

This Strategy establishes new ways of working across Government to answer the call to action from Pacific communities to achieve a thriving, confident, resilient, healthy and prosperous Pacific.

Last month, I launched Aotearoa New Zealand’s first ever

Pacific Languages Strategy.

There is important symmetry in doing that this year – a month after we marked the 50th Anniversary of the presentation to Parliament of the Māori language petition. The petition is often considered the starting point of the revitalisation of te reo Māori. 

We have the same goal for the Pacific Languages Strategy – ensuring Pacific languages thrive, both in home countries, and also here.

It’s been a priority for successive New Zealand Governments to lift engagement with the Pacific region; delivering greater investment and building long-term partnerships built on a foundation of mutual respect.

Today, this work is reflected in our Pacific Resilience Approach. This is a values-based approach, recognising that resilience is a holistic concept, where issues and priorities shift — and ebb and flow — in response to what is happening in the world around us.

This Approach reinforces the centrality of the Pacific in Aotearoa New Zealand’s identity and worldview, and acknowledges that the most enduring way we, as a region, can address the shared, complex challenges we all face — including intensifying strategic competition — is by working in close partnership together.

It acknowledges our desire for a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and resilient Pacific where Aotearoa New Zealand operates as a true partner, including for the shared stewardship of Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa.

To achieve this, we work closely with our Pacific partners to achieve meaningful outcomes that support long-term, intergenerational resilience — in line with Pacific priorities, and with high levels of Pacific ownership. 

We speak consistently with Pacific countries about the challenges we face.

We listen and reflect on what our partners are telling us of their experiences, sharing our own challenges and perspectives, and working together to build shared resilience to the pressures our region faces. 

We also have a strong commitment to supporting broader ambitions for our region’s security, as set out in the region’s Biketawa and Boe Declarations.

The Pacific itself is an increasingly complex and contested region. 

The enduring challenges of fragile economies, mixed levels of governance, and poor infrastructure, have been exacerbated by the more modern threats of geostrategic competition, climate change, and the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

That said, the Pacific region is clear in its priorities — and our impact, as a partner, will be measured in how well we meet the expectations of what our partners determine to be important.

For the past two years, as we’ve steered a way through the uncertainties of COVID-19, that priority has been saving lives.

Since March 2020, Aotearoa New Zealand has provided or funded, over 1.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Pacific countries, including full wrap-around support in Polynesia.

We’ve been on the ground with technical assistance, with public health support, and with health workforce support.

Beyond the health response, the pandemic has threatened to amplify regional vulnerabilities, and set back progress against development gains.

So we’ve committed approximately NZ$325 million in additional budget support across the region, ensured over 12,000 RSE workers could continue to come to Aotearoa New Zealand and provide important remittances back home, and assisted Pacific businesses with advisory support, emergency grants, and concessional loans.

And over the top of all of this, the unequivocal message from our region is that climate change remains the single greatest threat to Pacific lives and livelihoods.

Building climate resilience needs to remain at the centre of our efforts. In line with this, in October last year, Aotearoa New Zealand committed to providing NZ$1.3 billion in grant-based climate finance between 2022 and 2025 — a commitment more than four times the size of our previous one — with at least 50 percent of this for the Pacific.

 In August this year we released the roadmap to help guide us in delivering on this: Tuia te Waka a Kiwa — Aotearoa New Zealand’s Climate Finance Strategy.

Last week, we announced that we’d be dedicating NZ$20 million of our existing climate funding to address loss and damage in developing countries — a move that delivers on our pledge to deal with the impacts of climate change that are not covered by funding for adaptation measures.

As Minister Mahuta said during the announcement: “We hear from our neighbours about climate impacts on freshwater systems, on plant and animal ecosystems, coastal waters and the ocean. It threatens the very basis of their lives. Loss and damage is happening to homes and crops and fisheries, but it also happens to cultures, languages, people’s mental health and their physical wellbeing.”

Thinking about this, we realise that human development needs to be at the forefront of our engagement, too.

We have committed to providing at least NZ$1.8 billion between 2021 and 2024 in support of long-term regional investments in areas ranging from Pacific education, health systems, economic self-reliance, human rights and inclusive development, to governance and democracy, infrastructure development, policing and maritime security, and so much more.  

And our Pacific partners know we will be there in times of crisis. When disaster strikes — as it did during the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption, and Tropical Cyclones Yasa, Ana and Harold — our Pacific partners know they can rely on Aotearoa New Zealand.

Increasingly though, we see the impact of rising geostrategic competition in our region. We have been clear that we do not want strategic competition in the Pacific that could destabilise the existing institutions and arrangements that underpin our region’s security.

When it comes to the region’s external partners — whether it is the United States, China, Japan, or Europe — we have the same message: engagement in the Pacific should take place in a manner which advances Pacific priorities, is consistent with established regional practices, is supportive of Pacific regional institutions and has a high degree of Pacific ownership.

So, as we face a range of complex challenges — including intensifying strategic competition — our pitch to our Pacific partners is a simple one. We are stronger together.

By working together, and by putting the needs of Pacific people at the heart or our approach, Pacific countries will be able to strengthen collective capacity to respond to shared challenges, such as climate change or COVID-19; to amplify our Pacific voice on the global stage to ensure our messages are heard; to empower our own individual sovereignty (as well as the region’s); and to ensure a peaceful, stable, prosperous and resilient Pacific for ourselves, and for future generations.

While we are diverse and our interests, at times, are varied, we must work together.

And so, to understand that diversity, and respond to it, we also see the Indo-Pacific as central to our interests.

We have embraced the concept of an Indo-Pacific as the wider home for Aotearoa New Zealand, locating ourselves in a larger ecosystem of nations and regions that includes East Asia, the Pacific, the Indian sub-continent, and the Pacific Rim. 

The past two years have been tumultuous, and Pacific peoples have faced many challenges. Health support drew the region together — we couldn’t see each other, but we could support each other.

I reiterated this commitment during my remarks at the recent World Health Organisation Western Pacific Regional Committee meeting.

There, I reminded the Members that as a Pacific nation, with a deep shared history with our partners in the sub-region, Aotearoa New Zealand remains committed to supporting Pacific Island countries to achieve strengthened and resilient health systems that can withstand health security threats, and deliver sustainable and inclusive health services. 

Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, Aotearoa New Zealand has committed to significant multi-country investments in sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Pacific over the next five years, with the aim of supporting Pacific peoples’ full realisation of their sexual and reproductive health and rights, and with a focus on family planning.

We are proud to work with Ministries of Health across the Pacific, as well as organizations such as WHO, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund and International Planned Parenthood, to support our partners’ ambitions and strategies and achieve progress in these areas.

The next step for our region, post pandemic, is economic recovery. I heard this loud and clear at the recent ADB Meetings.

While Pacific countries are recovering from the unprecedented slump caused by global and regional pandemic responses, their recovery is more sluggish than initially anticipated.

We need to support Pacific countries’ recovery from the economic impacts of COVID-19, recognise increased costs faced by Pacific countries due to supply chain disruptions and inflation, and help address debt sustainability in Pacific countries.

I, and my fellow Ministers, are advocating in multilateral fora for greater reflection of economic vulnerability in assessing and determining need for development finance.

For example, this means supporting technical work of the UN High Level Panel on the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI), and advocating for its use by developed countries and international financial institutions when development finance decisions are made.

We need to make sure debt doesn’t create greater economic vulnerabilities by looking at debt composition, and mobilisation of financing for development, other than by taking on more debt.

Climate change continues to amplify the vulnerability and sap the resilience of Pacific countries: an effective global response is Aotearoa New Zealand’s, and our Pacific whanaunga, first and best option. Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires urgent, collective, global, transformational action — now.

Our priorities aim to see a resilient and empowered Pacific transition, enhanced access to climate finance, and provision for support to Pacific partners to prepared for and respond to climate-driven events. We stand with Pacific countries on the international stage, and champion Pacific countries’ priorities, on issues such as sea level rise, climate mobility, loss and damage, and oceans and fisheries.

To reaffirm what I said at the beginning of this korero: knowing who we are, and where we come from, is critical in how we look to the future — it also makes us more reliable and effective partners, working together for sustainable and inclusive outcomes, and the long-term resilience of the region.

Fa’afetai tele lava.

No reira. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa