The Pacific is in the House – MP Su’a William Sio welcomes delegates from the region

May I quickly acknowledge our many distinguished visitors, parliamentarians, and political leaders of the South Pacific Island countries who are present today. Ou te fa‘apoipoi lili‘a fa‘aalofisa o tupu nai le Malae o Vavau ma o‘u fa‘atulouna le paia maualuga ua aofaga potopoto, tulou, tulou, tulouna ia.

I acknowledge the participants from American Samoa, Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Guam, Kiribati, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Niue, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. Welcome, once again, to all the participants from these countries to New Zealand’s House of Representatives. I feel that this is a momentous occasion, especially for those of us in this Parliament who have strong Pacific Island links back to the homeland, and there are also members of Parliament here who represent pockets of the Pacific community who live here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

It feels, with the presence of so many from the Pacific Island nations, that, truly, the Pacific is in the House. Who would have thought that such a thing would be possible when our Pacific parents, some of the first arrivals, came to New Zealand all those years ago? Who would have thought that for the first time in the history of our nations, such a diverse group of political leaders from the Pacific outside the Pacific Island Forum would sit shoulder to shoulder with New Zealand members of Parliament? It will be the first time that such a large and diverse group of foreign parliamentarians will have the opportunity, as they will have today, tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, to be able to speak in the debating chamber of New Zealand’s Parliament. That is usually reserved and extended only to visiting leaders of significance, and I acknowledge each and every one of you as leaders of significance.

For myself, and I suspect the feeling will be shared by all members of this House, our gathering in the next few days, from a New Zealand perspective, is a big deal. For me, as a Labour MP, it was a big deal when the Labour Government initiated the Inquiry into New Zealand’s relationship with South Pacific countries. From that inquiry emerged the idea for this forum. I acknowledge my former parliamentary colleagues who are no longer with us in this House, the Hon Luamanuvao Winnie Laban and the Hon Vui Mark Gosche, who were part of the Labour Government that initiated this inquiry in 2006. I also acknowledge and thank the National Government, which picked up this inquiry and completed the work in December 2010.

I acknowledge and pay tribute to the multipartisan way in which all parties from across the political spectrum of this House have put their shoulder behind making this forum a reality. I want to thank, in particular, Mr John Hayes, the chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, for his efforts and drive. I suspect that he, most of all of the committee members today, cannot wait for this forum to be over. I want to thank also the many members of that committee, past and present, for their work and commitment to the Pacific region and for bringing everybody together.

In the next few days the Pacific leaders and members in this House will debate a range of issues, and these issues, which I will raise briefly, are the issues that the members or the delegates themselves have forwarded. They include gender equality. There is a strong debate throughout New Zealand about having more women representatives in this particular House. I note also that that is the challenge facing many throughout the Pacific countries.

The media—like it or not, sometimes we crave media attention, and then there are other times when we wish we did not have so much media attention. Like it or not, in the work we are involved with, the media, as far as New Zealand is concerned, have a critical role to play in our democracy.

The environment and climate change—I agree, it is an issue that has an impact, and I have seen the impact of rising sea water levels. As a member of the committee, and as a representative of the Labour Party, I have had the privilege of visiting, with many of our other colleagues, some of our Pacific Islands. I am saddened when I see some islands, where I think to myself that perhaps it might take only a wave to sweep over them and there would be no more island. So I think that that is a critical issue in our debates.

Delivering for local communities is not only an issue that you face but we certainly have our own challenges here. Health care is a big one, because that has to do with the health and safety of the next generation. Business development and job creation—you will have noted some of the debates in the last few days about our call for better-quality jobs and high-paying jobs. Then there is the global economic outlook and opportunities for this region. I suppose, for the sins of the committee, we have also included discussions around sports and rugby.

The report of the 2006 inquiry reflected the strong feeling that most Kiwis have that New Zealand has a special relationship with the people of the Pacific, both in New Zealand and in the South Pacific region. Our ties to the Pacific are many and varied. I think that Samoa’s head of State, His Highness Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi, summed this feeling up best for me when he thanked New Zealand for supporting Samoa after the 2009 tsunami. He said: “He who comes to my aid is kin.” This feeling of kinship and connectedness with the Pacific is a good foundation for further strengthening New Zealand’s relationships with those of you who are, and who will become, future leaders of your parliaments in the Pacific.

This forum expands our relations with the Pacific leaders by setting aside a week of the New Zealand Parliament’s time to host and focus not only on issues of concern to the domestic, Pacific neighbourhood but also on issues of common regional interest. Members of the New Zealand public who had the opportunity to make submissions on the 2006 inquiry also saw scope for New Zealand to make better use of the knowledge and expertise of Pacific people residing in New Zealand, particularly regarding the provision of services to Pacific people and the aid programme. Many Pacific people living in New Zealand have strong links with, and an understanding of, the culture, values, and aspirations of Pacific communities. They represent an underutilised asset on which New Zealand could capitalise. For this reason, the committee has organised many of the events and seminars to include as much as possible of the talents and expertise that is available within our Pacific region.

Earlier—I will finish this off, as time is running out—the Minister for Pacific Island Affairs made reference to the growing Pacific population here in Aotearoa New Zealand. I suspect, however, that the basis for that reference was the 2006 census, and we have not had another census recently, not until last month. So I think the figure for the Pacific population may be smaller—some of us will have had more children between 2006 and the census last month. That proposes some exciting elements for the future of Aotearoa New Zealand, because we have not only one of the fastest-growing populations but also one of the youngest populations.

I continually promote that population as young, beautiful, and gifted, and I use that statement to challenge them to look to the future of Aotearoa New Zealand and to plant their feet firmly here, as this is their home. But by giving them that challenge, that also offers up challenges for the Pacific Island region. The longer we are here, the firmer our feet are planted in Aotearoa New Zealand and the weaker the links are back to our homelands, and that also will have ramifications for those countries that are reliant on the remittances that come from Aotearoa New Zealand.

May I conclude by saying that my colleagues have raised many other issues. In addition to the issues that are on our programme, I would hope that we also explore the opportunities to find the space to look at other issues that we can talk about, in the hope that we will develop a greater and better vision for the future. Thank you very much.

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