"The Pacific Region matters deeply to New Zealand” - Closing Speech at the 2019 Pacific Exposition, Sky City Auckland Convention Centre

  • Hon Aupito William Sio
Pacific Peoples

Your Excellencies, It now falls on me to provide some closing remarks and to wish you safe travels.

I want to begin by acknowledging we have all gathered here at the invitation of the Indonesian Government, and none of us wanted to miss out on such an auspicious occasion. Thank you to our hosts for your generosity and hospitality.

I also acknowledge those who have spoken over the past three days and shared their insights and thoughts about our shared future.

I thank those who have participated as artists, our business people, our community representatives and our government’s leaders and officials.

The Pacific region matters deeply to New Zealand. The ties that bind Aotearoa to Moana nui a Kiwa, the people of the vast Pacific Ocean, our Blue Continent, are those of a shared history, culture and genealogy, tracing back many generations to the first Polynesian arrivals here.

We are in, and of the Pacific. Our well-being, prosperity and security are intertwined. Our engagement in the region is non-discretionary.

The fact that Aotearoa has a Pacific Peoples Ministry reflects New Zealand’s strong connection to the Pacific and the significant Pacific communities in New Zealand. Within a decade, one in ten New Zealanders will identify as being of Pacific Island heritage.

The New Zealand Government has made this clear through its lift in ambition and investment under the Pacific Reset.  The Reset is centred on our commitment to building deeper partnerships with our Pacific neighbours and addressing the complex challenges they face.

It’s important in the Pacific context that an event such as this Expo – with an economic focus – has a strong cultural component. This is because economic development, protection of the environment, and the resilience of Pacific cultures are deeply connected.

So I commend the organisers for including culture on the agenda.

What we encourage are modes of engagement developed in partnership with Pacific Island countries, and in alignment with regional governance structures – the most important part of this being the Pacific Islands’ Forum.

It is by working together through organisations like this that we can create new opportunities and equip future generations to succeed in a more Pacific-orientated world.

Working together we have the potential to build a shared economic resilience; strengthen governance within the region; raise the standard of living for all people; and ensure good labour laws that guarantee decent working conditions and a fair return on work for every person that makes our economic development possible.

Within Aotearoa New Zealand, we are committed to ensuring that Pacific is an inherent part of society. One of my Ministry’s goals is “Thriving Pacific Languages, Cultures and Identities” inside New Zealand – as an integral component of New Zealand life and prioritising work that will lift incomes, skills and opportunities for Pacific people.

My Ministry has published a report, the Pacific Aotearoa Lalanga Fou Report. 

This report articulates what our Pacific communities have told us, are important to them in becoming a thriving, confident, prosperous and resilient Pacific community in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Because of this, the investments that this Government will be making over the next four years will give more Pacific people the opportunity to connect to their language, culture and identity, take on meaningful work, access affordable healthcare and enjoy quality education.

The business opportunities you have been here to create over the last few days are not only important for economic growth. They will also play a profound role in all our lives - whether as employees or consumers, or by coming up with innovative solutions to the challenges we face.

Working together to create more business opportunities across the Pacific will not only provide economic benefits – they also have the potential to offer a source of identity and meaning in the lives of many. Fostering these opportunities is crucial to our own and our collective wellbeing, as well as our economic success.

Auckland is home to over two-thirds of the New Zealand Pacific population.  Auckland is a Pacific city.

And here, in Auckland, the Pacific is not at margins but central to who we are – as a city and as a nation. Our Pacific friends and neighbours are increasingly shaping and influencing what happens here culturally, economically and politically.

Auckland is a city of interaction, of conversation, of whaikorero, of talanoa.

And every day each of us are interacting and build enduring relationships with people from all over, many of whom will have strong ties to the local and national markets you have been here to discuss.

It is through our interactions – and the relationships we develop – that we learn about each other’s cultures, societies, and languages – and, in turn, the opportunities we have to cooperate together.

It is these relationships that underpin our economic ties – locally and globally.

New Zealand welcomes Indonesia’s interest in lifting its Pacific-focused engagement.

Aotearoa will continue to advocate the importance of working in partnership with the Pacific, so we can advance regional priorities while respecting the established processes of the Pacific.

In the beginning of the Expo at the Tourism Forum, I compared this event as being similar to that of a wedding. And I want to continue with that same scenario.

This has been such an auspicious occasion. We have been the recipients of the bride and her family’s hospitality, generosity, goodness and bounty in the last few days.

We have feasted on a wonderful spread of tantalizing ideas, a smorgasbord of information, of expanded networks, new partnerships and potential opportunities.

We have been entertained by renowned and talented artists including the uncle of the bride, HE Tantowi Yahya, the Ambassador of the Indonesian Government to New Zealand.

Our senses have been captivated by the wonderful diversity of cultures, languages, music, and performances showcasing an immense wealth of creative talents that should be recognized as an asset to be celebrated, valued and promoted.

I referred also that at a wedding from a Pacific perspective we use the coconut tree as a symbol of a new relationship that we plant, watch it grow and we wish it to bear many good fruits. The coconut tree is known as the tree of life in the Pacific.  But coconut trees are also used to mark out property boundaries, and I want to briefly refer to three sacred, cultural boundaries.

The first is the relationship between people. Pacific want long and enduring relationships. Nobody wants a relationship that is a one night stand, or that may fail. We have oftened experience with sadness how in this region relationships have broken up, and we have oftened seen it in our own families – family violence, sexual violence, domestic abuse. That sort of thing has abounded in this region before and we do not want those mistakes, the mistakes of the past being repeated. We want the relationships to be enduring and long-standing.

The second sacred and cultural boundary I want to refer to is the relationship between people and our environment. We acknowledge the sacred nature of our ocean as our home, the seas, the lands, the plants, the animals, the winds, the rain, the sun.  All have a sacred purpose. We all co-exist interdependently and we rely on one another. And the question we need to collaborate on, is how do we increase our prosperity for all peoples of the Pacific without destroying our home – our environment, our oceans – our food and water supplies.

And finally, the last sacred and cultural boundary that coconuts are often used to mark. This is the sacred cultural boundary between the people and the cosmos. I refer to the spiritual realm, the unseen, the intangible. Just as a leaf is plucked from the branches of a tree by a wind, we may not see the wind, but we can see the leaf moving, and we can feel the cool embrace of a breeze.  Faith and religion are important aspects of Pacific wellbeing, but religion has also been used by men to undermine human rights and freedoms.  How do we achieve respect and acceptance of our differences in religious beliefs?

These cultural boundaries are sacred. I reflect these to you to enable all of us to continue the conversation about our cultural differences and our cultural boundaries. It requires all of us to be open, to be frank, to communicate and to better understand and appreciate our diversity and each other’s differences.

And now, may I take the liberty on behalf of all of us, to once again thank our hosts, especially His Excellency the Indonesian Ambassador for a wonderful event.

May I simply say to you all, may the coconut tree that we have planted today bear many, many more fruits.

For those of you who are returning to your countries Selamet Jalan, Safe Travels. To all of today’s participants, I am pleased to declare this Forum and the Pacific Exposition 2019 closed.

Kia Kaha to you all.