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NZ committed to Pacific neighbours, MPs tell island leaders

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Pacific parliamentarians at the special session in the Old Parliament chamber at the weekend politics forum. Image: Finian Scott/PMC

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Michael Sergel and Finian Scott

New Zealand is a Pacific country and is committed to the Pacific region, MPs from every party told Pacific leaders at a Wellington forum at the weekend.

At a special sitting of Parliament on Thursday and at other events during the weekend, the message from New Zealand politicians was that their attention was turning away from Europe and the United States, and towards their Pacific neighbours.

National MP Alfred Ngaro hosted the delegates, from 17 other Pacific nations, during the six-day conference. He told Pacific Scoop that New Zealand’s Pasifika MPs aimed to set an example for leaders in other Pacific nations.

APJlogo72_icon“Others have gone before us, and we currently have six Pasifika MPs, and that sets a good example of representation and – what I think we also want to achieve – participatory democracy. That is, how we ensure that our Pasifika people are participating in democracy up and down the country.”

He earlier said on Twitter that it had been an “awesome historical debate to be a part of”.

Labour MP Su’a Wiliam Sio told Pacific Scoop that New Zealand and Pacific leaders needed to understand their different and shared values.

“Pacific values are certainly important, but that has to be tempered with the changes that are happening throughout the whole region. And I think our kinship and our connectedness are an important basis for beginning that discussion,” he said.

‘Island values’
“There are values of the islands, there are also New Zealand values, and I think it is trying to get a better understanding of those values which will help strengthen our relationship with the Pacific.”

Su’a says the forum plays an important part in that process.

“It’s not just about us being proud about where we stand in Aotearoa, but also recognising that we have a lot to learn about the Pacific,” he said.

“The forum is a stake we have been able to put in the ground – with the support of the Parliamentarians – to say we are definitely a member of the South Pacific region.”

Su’a believes New Zealand is “coming out” – as a Pacific nation.

“I think we are coming out as not part of Europe, or other parts of the world, but as a Pacific Island nation.

“But it’s not enough to just throw money at them. If we are to recognise that there is a special relationship [then] we have to be prepared to engage, prepared to understand, and prepared to take on board what the Pacific might have to say.”

Pressing issues
Sam Lotu-liga, a National MP from Maungakiekie, said the forum provided new avenues to explore pressing regional issues.

“Deciding what social development means to each Pacific nation is a question for them to answer – and it certainly differs across the Pacific,” he says.

“One of the key goals of this forum is to better understand what their notion of social development is, as well as economic development means to them.”

Paseta Lotu-Liga said Pasifika-heritage MPs played an important role in representing their communities in the New Zealand Parliament.

“Eight percent of the population is of Pacific ethnic origin, and we have an understanding of some of their issues, their needs and their concerns,” he said.

“Also, we are a Pacific nation and we need to have that perspective going forward – not just in our own country internally but externally in the relationships we have with our Pacific neighbours.”

New Zealand First MP Asenati Lole-Taylor said that, as a Pacific woman, she hoped the forum would lead to improvements in the number of women in Pacific parliaments.

Changing world
Labour MP Kris Fa’afoi told delegates that he was proud of the passing of last week’s Marriage Amendment Bill, but stressed that “as our world changes, our values do not”.

He said muzzling, censoring the media had to always be avoided – and the Fijian media industry was a case in point.

Party leaders Metiria Turei, Te Ururoa Flavell and Winston Peters told the delegates that, as Māori, their primary connection had always been to their Pacific origins – and they had never seen themselves as part of Europe.

Peter Dunne told delegates that “New Zealand is not the sugar daddy of the Pacific” and independent MP Brendan Horan – who was present for most of the forum – encouraged Pacific leaders to protect their natural resources and cultural wealth.

John Banks told delegates that NCEA result improvements and the introduction of charter schools specifically targeted towards Pasifika students would lead to better educational outcomes for Pasifika New Zealanders.

Michael Sergel and Finian Scott are Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalists at AUT University. They are covering the Pacific politics forum for Pacific Scoop and the Pacific Media Centre as an Asia-Pacific Journalism assignment. Read their live blog: