Speech at the 2018 National Pacific Business Trust Awards

Acknowledgements and Pacific greetings.

Tonight is a special moment for Pacific entrepreneurship.  You are our modern-day explorers and navigators in the vast world of business.  The final frontier.  You boldly go where few have gone before, to seek out new opportunities for prosperity and security for yourself and your families.  We are delighted to acknowledge and celebrate all your efforts and successes.  We also celebrate almost a decade of awards and more than 30 years of commitment to the development of Pacific business, and entrepreneurship.

These are major milestones and I regret that our Prime Minister the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern cannot be with us tonight.  She gave birth to a healthy baby girl yesterday. Tonight she is embracing the joys of motherhood with her family.

I know your thoughts and best wishes will be with her.  I know only too well how much she would have liked to be here to share this occasion with you tonight.  I informed her, I was speaking to you tonight and asked if she had a message for you.  She texted me this message and it reads; “My sincere thanks for the warmth in which we are always greeted by the community – for our shared values and goals.  Thank you for your wishes.  We have a lot of work to do but I am excited by the potential of working together…”

Our prayers, our thoughts and our best wishes to our Prime Minister.  I am humbled and honoured to take up the challenge of speaking in the Prime Minister’s place tonight.

We are uniquely blessed to have such a talented Prime Minister with such a sure feel for audience, moment and message.  It’s a hard act to follow and I hope I don’t disappoint.

When I look at the range and scope of the businesses we are here to recognise tonight, I can’t help but marvel at how far we have come.  

More than thirty years ago, the Pacific Business Trust had its origins in the then Labour Government’s commitment of $5 million to help soften the impact of economic deregulation on Pacific communities.  This involved the creation of the Ministry and our first attempts to fund the development of Pacific businesses.

Many were mainly simple enterprises then, like taxi services, cleaning companies, gardening and tree pruning services, single product import operations, sewing & fashion tailoring, professional financial, legal or building, and other trades based sole-enterprises.

Many were home based, in the garage or sleep-out, with stalls in the flea-markets, or goods being sold by way of mouth, or through our church and community networks.  I myself was in the fruit shop business, selling to the public as well as restaurant clients, and importing taro grown in my home village.

I encountered early on the challenge of getting family and villagers to grow so there was a constant supply long-term for the market. It was difficult to get them to phase production so you got consistent quality, volume and timely supply.

My family also bought a dairy ice-cream place in Gisborne.  We moved some of my siblings down there to work on it.  It got so busy, we couldn’t keep up.  Tempers flared from time to time.  My uncle who was running the shop, died and no one else wanted to continue.  We leased it out for a while, but eventually we sold it.  That was that.

There were lots of lessons we learnt in those days. And yes, one of them being family and business don’t always mix. So, yes, we learnt some lessons the hard way.  Those where the early days and much has changed.

Similarly that is also how the Pacific Business Trust has evolved.  But we now dwell in a much more sophisticated world today. We live in a state of constant changing economic environment.  In this year’s awards we embrace the full range of the economy from culturally-based health and educational services, to agronomy and soil biology, gourmet products and food services, to art and design, archive and museum management, to telecommunications and security training and services.

This is clear evidence that the Pacific Business Trust has met its goal of transforming Pacific innovation into business success.  It’s also evidence of the growth in participation of Pacific peoples in all functions of New Zealand’s economy.

And this is just a sample of the wealth of Pacific innovation and entrepreneurship that is now making a significant contribution to the national economy.  Many of those businesses are not explicitly identified as Pacific.  Some of our most successful are attempting to balance cultural identity against their business goals.  Cultural identity and business is a constant balancing act.  The simple fact is that the scope and range of Pacific business is far larger than at first appears.

That’s why as soon as I took office, I immediately committed my Ministry to work with Treasury, Pacific Business Trust and across Government to map the true scale and significance of the Pacific economy.  We can’t move forward if we don’t know where we stand, if we inhabit uncharted territory.

We need to chart the shape and scale of the Pacific economy and build a picture that captures the full range of our enterprise and true value of our cultural, community and church assets.  This will enable this Government to make some real and significant improvements to the living standards and wellbeing of Pacific New Zealanders.

We need to quantify the value we contribute to the national workforce in terms of labour participation at all levels, including the night economy.  I like to think that one of our competitive advantages is that much of our economic contribution is community driven.  We need to put a value on the enormous amount of work done by our communities on a voluntary basis.  But I also want to know what else is uniquely ours?

I’d like to see the value of our arts and cultural traditions quantified in some way.  As the Pacific Music Awards has recently confirmed, yet again, our music and performing arts are star performers.  They are a powerful economic engine with global reach. There is enormous potential to create jobs here in New Zealand and to open up lucrative revenue streams from international royalties and performance rights.

The same applies to our art and design which is only just beginning to recognise the potential it has in the world of international fashion and couture.

We are heirs to a rich and unique Pacific culture.  How do we further express our uniqueness in contemporary fashion and design so we ‘wow’ the world.  What is uniquely ours is ours alone and on it we can build a prosperous future for “we” the peoples of the Pacific.

This is a ground-breaking project that will assess and benchmark the quantitative and qualitative contribution that Pacific peoples are making to New Zealand’s national economy.  It’s an exciting project that I believe will also change the narrative that many people have of our role, place and contribution to our home of Aotearoa, New Zealand, including our own view of ourselves.

Early indications from the Pacific Economy project shows a more positive picture of our participation in the economy and the potential we have to escalate this as our young people become more active in the emerging digital, high-tech and creative industries, and in entrepreneurial initiatives such as that provided by Pacific Business Trust.

The enormous potential of our cultural traditions and familial links with the Pacific has a significant part to play in New Zealand’s changing perception of itself and its place in the world.  Recently, the Government announced a Pacific re-set.  This signals an historic change in the relations between New Zealand and the wider Pacific.  It recognises that our culture is changing and that we share a common heritage as an emerging Pacific nation. 

That a shared history informs our vision of both the past and the present.  A present that is increasingly defined as a Pacific presence.  This re-set will see a dramatic increase in our economic and social commitment to the Pacific.  It signals a bright future for Pacific businesses and Pacific expertise.

Mapping the Pacific economy will provide a firm foundation upon which we will build the next and more powerful phase of our growth and development.  A phase, the scale and scope, of which will contrast dramatically with what we celebrate here tonight.  As dramatically as our humble beginnings 30 years ago contrast, with the rich tapa of achievement these awards represent for us now.

We are the right side of history and it is up to us to make sure that we seize the opportunities that are now emerging around us.

The Pacific Business Trust has an important role to play in continuing to lead the development of the Pacific Economy.  Continuing to transform ideas and innovation into successful commercial realities.  I see the Trust as evolving further as it assumes an even larger role as a broader economic agency.

An agency responsible for the development of economic strategies that will increase our contribution to all areas of the economy.  Strategies that strengthen Pacific participation and partnership with local governments, Maori and EDAs in regional economic development.

I’d like to see a long-term commitment by Government to transforming the Trust into a powerful engine of economic change.  This will require committed funding on a far more substantial scale and the development of new structures that provide the Trust with the capacity to plan strategically and for the long-term.

To achieve this we’ll have to develop a new operating model for the Trust.  The Crown Entity model may have potential but I’d like to keep our options open.  We need to work together, to reflect on our future and gain inspiration as to how we might shape it.  That is what my Ministry and the Trust will be doing in the year ahead.

The work of my Ministry and the Trust share a common destination.  Put simply, it is about building a better future for our Pacific peoples.  To do that we need to determine what it is that comprises our unique competitive advantage.  We need to work out how we can employ the unique cultural and social components of our community to build a more broadly based and more powerful Pacific economy.  That is how I believe we can build a better future, a future where the full potential of our people and our heritage is realised.

A future where all can share in prosperity.  A future where a new and better spirit informs our national life.

A spirit that draws on the best of our traditional culture and social values and speaks to and for a fairer and kinder society.

A new Aotearoa, New Zealand that embraces its Pacific identity and believes all its children should have the opportunity to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives.

Thank you. Soifua ma ia manuia.