DevNet 2022: Keynote address

Foreign Affairs

Whakataka te hau ki te uru,

Whakataka te hau ki te tonga.

Kia mākinakina ki uta,

Kia mātaratara ki tai.

E hī ake ana te atakura.

He tio, he huka, he hauhū.

Tihei Mauri Ora!


Tēnā koutou katoa.

Thank you to the University of Auckland for hosting this DevNet Conference.

I would also like to acknowledge participants joining virtually, and in particular, our Pacific whanaunga linking in from the Conference hub in Suva, and across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa.

To those participants able to attend in person im sure every opportunity will be taken to share insights and perspectives on locally-led development.

I want to share some views about how Aotearoa New Zealand can support this approach, drawing on a few examples from our region.

This is a challenging time and when we consider the cascading impact of a global pandemic, climate change and crisis and conflict we need to find ways to navigate ourselves through these ‘troubled waters’, and share my thoughts on how a locally-led approach can — and will — enhance our partners’ responses to external shocks.

The title of this address is: He waka eke noa, we are all in this together.

In this context our destination is a peaceful, stable and prosperous Pacific. Our navigation chart requires us to collaborate, innovate, adapt and transition to meet the various challenges we encounter towards our destination – and that journey requires resilience.

Locally-led development is at the heart of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Pacific Resilience Approach.

We are committed to supporting the development priorities of our Pacific partner countries, and wherever feasible, delivering our support through local actors – civil society and NGOs.

This approach recognises each country’s inherent mana, and ownership of their sustainable development process and resilience journey. We commit to being flexible, to being adaptable, and to being a partner that Pacific countries want to work with. This is a change in stance to ensure we are responsive, listening, understanding country context and looking for ways to enhance our partnership.

We want to move beyond the donor/donee mentality.

I appreciate that these are not new or provocative ideas for this audience — our real challenge, here, is consistently putting this approach into practice and consistently assessing our partnership approach and it’s shared objectives.

Over the past year, as international borders have re-opened and we’ve been able to reconnect with our partners on the ground, I have had the chance experience examples of locally-led development first-hand.

The first example of success that I’d like to share is the major aviation infrastructure renewal at Hanan International Airport, in Niue, currently being implemented by Downer.

Now, a large-scale infrastructure project being delivered by a New Zealand firm may not sound like an obvious example of locally-led development.

In fact, in small and remote Pacific communities, there often isn’t the local expertise to fully implement big projects like this one.

However Downer is making a concerted effort to upskill the Niuean construction workforce through their recruitment and training.

I had the privilege of meeting the team there, and can say with confidence that the focus on building local capacity will sustain the benefits of this activity far beyond our funding, and the completion of the project.

Direct advantages has been upskilling local workforce some of whom have gained bespoke skill sets in that industry, a greater appreciation for in country context and with this insight a better disposition to integrate cultural nuances into the operating environment of that contractor that works better and alongside Pacific partners.

A key aspect of locally-led development is ensuring we are supporting local partners who promote inclusion in their communities.

The Pacific Feminist Fund is a newly-established, Pacific-led women’s movement. They promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the region by seeking to amplify the voices and leadership of local women’s movements in Pacific countries.

In most cases, local women’s organisations will be the most powerful advocates for legal and policy change that advances women’s rights in their communities, and Aotearoa New Zealand is supporting the Pacific Feminist Fund to mobilise resources and strengthen the network of women’s movements across the region.

I am mindful that the more we so to support sexual and reproductive health, womens leadership and empowerment, education of women and girls and advocacy against gender based violence, then the potential of women to transform their societal norms through greater participation can be achieved.

So, how do we connect this locally-led kaupapa to the ‘troubled waters’ that Pacific countries currently face?

While the COVID-19 pandemic is still an ongoing reality, with almost three years behind us, this Conference is a good opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learned from the pandemic, and how our international development programme responded.

I want to acknowledge the personal commitment our partners showed during COVID-19, too: in spite of closed borders, disrupted supply chains, and other restrictions making your work tremendously difficult, you have continued to deliver — mihi atu.

In response to the pandemic, Aotearoa New Zealand contributed a major package of support for Pacific countries — spanning their health, social, and economic responses.

While I won’t list all of the details here, I would like to focus on two programmes that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic, and were able to effectively adapt and respond — because of their locally-led approach and the partnerships they had established.

The Polynesian Health Corridors Programme, which is delivered through the Ministry of Health, is built upon partnerships of trust and collaboration with departments and ministries of health in the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

The programme’s priorities are determined by the health leaders of participating countries.

As soon as the pandemic struck, the team worked closely with these officials and pivoted to deliver vaccines and technical support for their rollout, testing equipment, and public health advice relevant to local contexts.

This approach has supported Polynesian countries to lead their preparations for, and response to, COVID-19.

I saw this during my trip to the Cook Islands in October — where I had the opportunity to meet with the staff from Te Marae Ora Cook Islands Ministry of Health who have been on the frontline of the Cook Islands’ COVID-19 response.

As I’m sure you’re aware, COVID-19 had a huge impact on Pacific Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

The Business Link Pacific programme supports Pacific SMEs through a locally-led approach: it strengthens the capability of local business advisers and builds networks that connect Pacific SMEs to those business advisers.

The advisers provide tailored support to businesses across a wide range of services including digital transformation, accounting, and marketing.

We have adopted this approach because local advisers have in-depth knowledge of the challenges that SMEs in their community face, as well as the cultural and relationship skills that will make their advice effective.

Through the programme, and a complementary Pacific SME Finance Facility pilot, Aotearoa New Zealand has supported over 1,800 Pacific businesses in eight countries.

When the pandemic struck, and borders closed, in most cases our only option to support responses in partner countries was by working with, and through, local partners.

Now that borders are re-opening, our challenge is to foster and build on these examples of locally-led approaches that have worked.

I am determined that we will use the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen how we work, and that we will not just return to business-as-usual.

You will likely be aware that there has been increased attention on the Pacific from major powers outside the region.

I’d like to briefly consider the role that development assistance plays in this broader issue.

In public commentary, aid funding is sometimes portrayed primarily as a tool that large, external powers use to buy influence. This narrative minimises the ownership by Pacific countries of their own development priorities.

We are, each, sovereign nations; able to set the terms of engagement with our development partners. It is critical that we reflect on that, and ensure that Pacific priorities are at the centre of our thinking.

There are plenty of examples of Pacific countries setting their own terms of engagement. We can see a vision for the region in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, agreed at the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting earlier this year.

Vanuatu’s former Foreign Minister Hon Ralph Regenvanu gave us a compelling message about how development partners should work with Vanuatu at the 2020 DevNet Conference.

His keynote address, and my own engagement with my Pacific counterparts, make very clear that Pacific governments rightly expect development partners will align support to their development priorities.

Aotearoa New Zealand has an important role to play in supporting Pacific partners and reinforcing their development priorities.

For example, Aotearoa New Zealand has been a committed long-term supporter of initiatives that develop and use Pacific-owned and led data and evidence, such as the Pacific Community’s Pacific Data Hub.

The types of projects that we deliver also matter, and I want to highlight the role of budget support in our mahi with Pacific countries.

Budget support is a high trust form of development assistance that empowers Pacific governments to deliver on their priorities.

Greater geostrategic competition remains an important and multi-faceted challenge for the Pacific region. Effective development practices are one important response, and Aotearoa New Zealand can lead by example in supporting our Pacific whanaunga.

Climate change is the defining global challenge of our time — yet effective action, both in the Pacific and further abroad, will require local solutions.  

While visiting Tonga in August, I launched the Aotearoa New Zealand International Climate Finance Strategy — Tuia te Waka a Kiwa: an outline of how we plan to deliver high impact adaptation and mitigation initiatives, to operate at scale, leverage funding from a broader range of sources, and strengthen partnerships.

The Strategy affirms the importance of localised solutions, reflecting that many communities — and especially village elders — have been adapting to living with changes in their natural resources and environments for decades.

In delivering our climate finance commitment, Aotearoa New Zealand places great value on Pacific (and other developing country) cultural frameworks, and the role of indigenous knowledge in addressing climate change.

We will incorporate these factors into the design and delivery of our climate finance initiatives, and promote the deepening of relationships between communities, researchers, and policymakers.

Across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa we are working to improve climate forecasts and early warning information to communities by incorporating local knowledge to ensure information is relevant, and so communities know what actions they need to take.

Whether it is acute events like flooding, or a more slow-moving crisis like drought, quick action can make a significant difference to lives and livelihoods.

While there is a lot more mahi to do in this area, I am excited by the opportunities that our major scale-up in climate finance provides to strengthen our support for locally-led climate solutions.

It won’t always be easy for Aotearoa New Zealand to deliver a locally-led development programme.

It requires our Government, and MFAT, to relinquish some control; accept that we won’t have a single plan for what we will deliver; and — perhaps most importantly — that we need to spend more time listening to our partners and co-designing initiatives that will be driven from the ground up.

The range of examples I’ve spoken about today shows that locally-led development will take different forms.

In closing, I will leave you with a well-known saying from my rohe of Waikato

“Hoea to waka, kia kotahi anō te kōkiri,” – Paddle your waka and let your paddles strike the water in unison!

In this context, it reminds us that we must remain in sync, aligned, mindful of each other as we head towards a common destination.

We are indeed in the same waka, each of us brings valuable skills, experience, knowledge, and perspective — our hoe, our paddles — which, when moving in the same direction, with shared purpose, will serve to steer us through any ‘troubled waters’ together.

Ōtirā ka whakakapi I tēnei kōrero I roto I te ngākau tapatahi me te whakakāronui, mā te mahi ngātahi ka tutuki te kaupapa, mā te manawanui ka tāea ki te paerangi e whai ake nei.

No reira, tēnā kotuou katoa.