Keynote Address at the Third Pacific Parliamentary Forum

  • Hon Aupito William Sio
Pacific Peoples

Talofa lava, malo e lelei, kia orana, taloha ni, fakaalofa lahi atu, ni sa bula vinaka, Talofa, kia ora, tena koutou katoa. Warm Pacific greetings to you all.

A great pleasure to be here at Orakei Marae with you all to welcome you to the third Pacific Parliamentary Forum.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here with us in New Zealand.

Why do we hold a Pacific Parliamentary Forum? Because we know that parliamentarians are absolutely central to the effective governance of a nation’s affairs. This is the case here in New Zealand just as much as it is in other countries and territories in the Pacific.

Parliaments play a number of essential functions in a democratic system, from passing and scrutinising legislation, enabling governments to make effective decisions and holding governments to account, and representing the views and interests of all people in our nations.

While there are rules and procedures in place in every nation to ensure the integrity of parliamentary systems, to a significant extent, parliaments are only as effective as the parliamentarians within them.

Parliamentarians that can make difficult decisions based on quality evidence, that can ask the right questions to hold governments to account, that can engage credibly with communities, businesses, public servants, and the media – are parliamentarians who will improve a nation’s systems of governance.

This is why we wish to build a regional community of parliamentarians, so that we can share ideas, learn from each other, and create a positive and supportive kind of ‘peer pressure’ to be the best that we can be for the people we serve.

As always in our Pacific whānau, we are stronger together – so we see great value in creating relationships, partnerships, and understanding amongst parliamentarians across the region. These are ultimately the reasons why we hold a Pacific Parliamentary Forum and why we consider it to be such a valuable experience.

The organising team for this event – officials from the Office of the Clerk at the New Zealand Parliament and from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade have put together a pretty full programme for you this week, covering a range of topics that we think will be relevant and useful.

However, in the end, this is your event. We want you to make the most out of it. So please tell the organising team if there are things you think could be more effective or ways we could alter the programme.

Nevertheless there are a couple of key themes that we think could make for interesting and topical discussion.

One of those is reflecting on what ‘diversity’ means in the context of strengthening parliaments as cornerstones of a democratic society. Diversity has a multitude of meanings in this context, diversity of people, diversity of thought, diversity of parliamentarians themselves, and diversity of views and perspective from people that parliamentarians represent.

We want to create the space and the environment to explore deeply how diversity in all its forms and meanings affects the different functions of parliaments.

How does diversity enable governments to make effective policy decisions? How does it enable parliamentarians to hold the executive to account? How does a diversity of views held with scrutiny through select committees, for example? How does it enrich parliamentary debates such that all perspectives on issues of national importance can be represented?

I’m delighted that the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, Afioga Hon Fiame Naomi Mataafa, will be joining us in Wellington later this week to lead the workshop and the debate that will explore these important issues in greater depth.

The other key theme that we would like to focus on this week is how we can work together as parliamentarians to hear the collective Pacific voice be amplified on the global stage.

Working through international and multilateral forums is absolutely essential for us, as a Pacific region, to maximise our people’s well-being, to increase our opportunities for prosperity, to enforce our national and regional security, and to shape global issues in a way that we think will be beneficial for future generations.

This week is a chance for us to reflect on how we as parliamentarians can play a role in this. How do we support the executive, or equally hold them to account, in ensuring that our nations are being as effective as we possibly can on the international stage?

How do we ensure that shared issues of importance across the Pacific region are agreed and prioritised before they are taken onto the global stage? Which tactics and approaches have worked well, either for the Pacific or for other regions, and how can we learn from those to continually strengthen our effectiveness in achieving outcomes on the global stage that really matter to us as a region?

I’m also delighted that Rhea Moss-Christian, an expert in projecting the Pacific voice on the international stage, will be joining us in Wellington to facilitate our discussions and debate on this critical issue.

Of course, we are also keen to share a New Zealand perspective on these issues and others that may come up this week.

Perhaps more importantly though, we want to learn from you about how New Zealand can be supporting your efforts to fulfil your nations’ ambitions.

In this sense, the five “Pacific Reset” principles underlying the New Zealand Government’s engagement with the Pacific region are worth reflecting on briefly.

First, we wish to demonstrate a depth of understanding. Opportunities to meet together, like this Forum, help us to understand each other’s needs and how we can work together to make a difference.

Second, to exhibit friendship. We are old friends; but as you know, while the bonds between old friends will always remain strong, we sometimes need to re-invest in those relationships to keep them fresh and long-lasting. Friends usually agree on most things. However, great friends can have frank, honest, and open conversations with one another at any time. It is not always about agreeing on everything; it is about being close enough that we will remain united despite times where we may have disagreements.

Third, to strive for solutions of mutual benefit. Our shared Pacific destiny means that strong Pacific Island nations make for a stronger New Zealand. We are not just charitable donors, we are your partners in development. We want to be able to make domestic policy decisions here in New Zealand that have a mutual benefit for our Pacific whānau when that is relevant – for example whether on pension portability, criminal deportations, climate change, labour mobility, and health and education policy.

Fourth, to achieve collective ambition. Talking together is important, allowing that space to understand what we are trying to achieve together, and recognising that by working together on shared issues of importance we are more likely to achieve results.

And finally, to seek sustainability. Focusing on the region’s long-term goals. Not just for now, but for our grandchildren, and their grandchildren and all those who follow after. As parliamentarians, along with our privileges comes the responsibility to be guardians of our nations’ futures.

New Zealand recognises the complex challenges that face young people, women, children, and other marginalised groups across the Pacific region. We know that addressing these challenges is critical to sustainable development and ensuring a stable, prosperous, and resilient Pacific.

In addressing these challenges, it is imperative that we listen to the voice and priorities of Pacific countries and that our actions are informed by regionally endorsed statements such as the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration 2012 and the Pacific Youth Development Framework.

These documents have been instrumental in guiding what New Zealand does in our aid programme, and what we aspire to do in the future.

We recognise that strengthening marginalised voices is vital as the region addresses critical challenges such as climate change.

Here in New Zealand we recently passed the Zero Carbon Amendment Bill ensuring that New Zealand is playing its part in reducing emissions. And at least half of New Zealand’s 300 million dollar global climate finance commitment has been ring-fenced to support our Pacific neighbours’ resilience and response to climate change.

New Zealand’s initial priorities in this space are focused around increasing the economic empowerment of women and youth, ensuring access to services and safety for all, and enhancing leadership and decision-making at all levels. Addressing violence against women and children also forms a critical part of our engagement.

This has included increasing our investment in targeted development initiatives and enhancing our relationships with key partners, such as the Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, and the Pacific Disability Forum.

The New Zealand Government has committed to increased activity in these areas. We will continue to work alongside our Pacific partners to build a region where all people are empowered, valued, and able to realise their full potential.

As the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters said in a recent speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, while we are proud of many of the achievements that have been made in embedding the five “Pacific Reset” principles in New Zealand’s relationships with the Pacific region, “there is much more to be done, and we must also look ahead”.

I certainly see a bright future ahead for the Pacific region. I see opportunity, solidarity, and well-being. But it will take the efforts of each and every parliamentarian in the region – as well as numerous other players – to ensure that we govern our nations in a way that our people, now and into the future, deserve to see.

I hope that you will go back to your home countries at the end of this week feeling invigorated, inspired, and most importantly, knowing that you have a community of peers alongside you to share your future journey with.