New Zealand’s Development Cooperation in an SDG World

  • Fletcher Tabuteau
Foreign Affairs

Address by Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Fletcher Tabuteau at the New Futures for New Zealand’s Development Cooperation in an SDG World Seminar

Rutherford House, Victoria University of Wellington

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Thank you for the invitation to speak today. 

Your topic is a good one.  

Sustainable development is the critical challenge facing all countries and our planet. 

It is not a new challenge - we have been talking about sustainable development since before the Rio Earth Summit in 1991.

But it is being driven home in more urgent way by the impact of climate change.  

Sustainable and inclusive development is central to the Government’s agenda.  

You see that across a suite of domestic policy including; the move toward a well-being budget and in measuring progress against social, economic and environmental indicators.

But the topic today is how New Zealand’s development cooperation should approach this sustainable development challenge. 

The SDGs provide a large canvass so there are plenty of possible directions to consider.

Some have already been made clear by Minister Peters.

He has signalled a ‘reset’ of Pacific relationships, increased attention to Pacific concerns including - climate change, human development, youth, gender and human rights.
Budget 2018 also provided an additional $714 million over four years to support international development efforts.

This means that our aid programme will total just under $2.19 billion over the coming three year funding cycle.

The government’s objective with the ‘Pacific Reset’ is change and not a modified status quo.

We are seeking new approaches, not putting new labels on the same old bottles.

This applies with our aid funding too.

Our aim is to redefine New Zealand’s influence in the region through long-term investments in large scale projects that shift the dial in the Pacific.

This approach will require new funding channels and last week Minister Peters announced that MFAT is establishing a new Strategic International Development Fund.

This fund will initially be capitalised at $180 million and will allow New Zealand to be flexible and responsive to the emerging needs of our Pacific partners.

We also recognise that the scale of our ambition for the Pacific means we will not be able to do everything on our own.

Partnerships will be vital to what we are seeking to achieve.

Genuine partnerships with our neighbours - which are built on mutual respect and the ability to have robust conversations.

And partnerships with other donors and actors in the region - who wield far more resources than New Zealand.

We need to go beyond aid being the sole vehicle for development, as demanded by the 2030 Agenda.
We need to also consider how New Zealand’s wider policy settings impact the Pacific, other financial flows, how we can use our convening power in the region to create positive change.

As I’m sure many of you will be aware the Ministry had brought together development and foreign policy staff working on Pacific issues into one branch within the Ministry.

This recognises the importance of taking a coherent approach to all our interventions in the Pacific across the broad range of trade, economic, security, and development interest we share.
While we are taking a fresh look at our Pacific relationships, through the ‘reset’ lens, I also think there are some broad areas of consensus on our development effort that are shared across the political spectrum.

I would like now to speak a bit about these areas of commonality, because in my view they will help build enduring support for New Zealand’s development work.

First - New Zealand has values and interests to advance and our development effort is an important part of this.

New Zealand has profound interests in global economic, political, and environmental stability

And also in an effective set of global rules and norms. 

Yet I think it’s fair to say that aspects of the international system are being stretched and some are being severely tested.

How firm are international commitments to advancing human rights?

How secure are the institutions that underpin the multilateral trading system?

Can the multilateral system sustain consensus, ambition and action on climate change?

In all these areas, aid is critical to the international compact :

  • it underpins negotiations that provide for action by all countries, rich and poor
  • it provides practical follow through on global environment, humanitarian and human rights commitments in countries least able to fund action on their own.

Aid is vital for what it can achieve among the world’s poorest countries and peoples.  

But it also vital to achieving the kind of world New Zealand needs if we are to prosper.

Second– the Pacific matters deeply

A commitment to the Pacific has long been a part of New Zealand’s foreign affairs. 

Without going too far into some complicated colonial history, we need only reflect back to the first Pacific Forum meeting held in Wellington in 1971 under a National Government. 

Or the vision of former Foreign Minister Don McKinnon when he undertook the first Pacific Mission – a practice sustained by all governments since.   

Or the role played by New Zealand providing logistics and safe space for Bougainville peace negotiations or through our major investment in RAMSI in Solomon Islands.

This commitment continues to broaden and deepen.  

Fundamentally, the Pacific matters to us. 

We are in the Pacific and of the Pacific. 

Pacific prosperity impacts ours.  Pacific security impacts ours.  

Pacific poverty, ill-health, lack of opportunity or conflict impact on us too.

From a purely economic standpoint focusing our increased aid on the Pacific makes sense - every dollar spent today reduces the risk of expensive interventions in the future, whether military, border security or healthcare.|

But it is also about doing what is right. New Zealand’s has a proud history of standing up for fairness, good governance, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, free media, and sustainable and fair economic development.

The Pacific also faces big development challenges.

The Pacific is the region most off track on the SDGs after sub-Saharan Africa and is at real risk of being left behind. 

If New Zealand is really make a contribution to realisation of the SDGs, what we do in the Pacific will matter most.

That is why the Pacific will remain the core focus for New Zealand’s development effort.

Third – New Zealand stands for development that works
It is not enough that New Zealand provides aid. We must do it well and get results. 
We owe this to our partners; we owe it to the tax-payer.
Successive New Zealand governments have emphasised and re-emphasised these fundamentals:

  • We must be effective and get value for money
  • Development must be owned by partner countries
  • It must build capacity and be sustainable
  • We must act as partners and seek mutual accountability
  • We must be serious about the problems we tackle and track the results we target.  


I believe these three areas I have just outlined are in the DNA of New Zealand’s aid.

I see that later today, you well be joined by three of my parliamentary colleagues from the Green Party, National Party, and Labour Party.  I will be very interested in their reflections on these three ideas as areas of potential consensus.  

Before I sign off – I would like to echo to this audience the comment that Minister Peters made last week stressing the importance of fresh ideas and new approaches.
He noted the important role that a sophisticated media and academic community will need to play in informing the foreign policy debate.

It is not a time for intellectual timidity. It is a time for original thinking and challenging the old approaches.

If you do you will find in this government a receptive ear to your ideas.