Speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, Pacific Futures Conference: Connections, Identity and Security

  • Hon Aupito William Sio
Pacific Peoples

Session 4: Pacific Connectivity – Youth, Media and New Opportunities

Kia ora tatou katoa and Warm Pacific greetings to one and all.

Representatives of Tainui, the local people of the land, or manawhenua – the indigenous peoples of this area – have welcomed you this morning in accordance with local custom.

As the local MP, I have added my welcome, my greetings and acknowledgement of all our special guests, and those who have travelled from the Pacific region to be with us.

All protocols have therefore been performed.

I now wish to share some remarks to set the scene for the panel discussion on Pacific connectivity – youth, media and new opportunities.

I am a Pacific person of Samoan heritage whose home is Aotearoa-New Zealand.

I wear the marks of my culture on my body – the pe’a – which reminds me of sacred relationships – Le Va - between myself and the spiritual world, first and foremost.

And though I am a mere speck in that universe, I am still a part of that universe and I have a responsibility to shine my own light by serving others.

The tatau I wear on my body, remind me that my second sacred relationship is with my fellow human beings.

First my roles and responsibility as a son, a brother, a husband, a father, and a Matai. Not only in my immediate circles, but also extending out to the wider community, my country, and the world – with the roles and the responsibilities that I hold.

This sacred relationship reminds me that we each have a mutual responsibility to support one another and to maintain peaceful and harmonious relationships.

That whatever role we have, we must perform it well. As my mother reminded me, “whatever thou art, act well thy part”

My pe’a reminds me that my third sacred relationship is with my environment – the trees, the rivers, the mountains, the forests, the oceans, the rain, the winds, the sun, the moon and the stars, the birds, the fish and all living things therein.

We each have a responsibility to be guardians and to leave a legacy for the benefit of future generations.

We are all connected in the Pacific, whether it be through genealogy, through the colonial past of strife and war, or through trade or sport. We are, in, and of, and will always be of the Pacific.

Academics have called us Polynesians, Melanesians, Micronesians.  We are simply peoples of the Pacific.

The youth of Aotearoa refer to us as Pacific Nesians. Maori refer to us as Moana Niu a kiwa. Peoples of the vast Pacific ocean.  Maui’s canoe is the South island, its anchor is Steward Island, and the North Island was the fish, Maui caught with his hook.

Therefore New Zealand is a nation that is firmly anchored in the vast Blue Pacific region.

I am also a Minister of the Government of Aotearoa-New Zealand. I am the first to take my Ministerial Oath in my first language, my heritage language – the language of the angels, and I will not be the last.

I am called Aupito – of the extended Aiga Salevalasi. I am also called Toesulusulu – of the extended Aiga Sa Tuala.

I am called Tofae – of the extended Aiga Sa Fenu’unu’uivao.

And I am also called Su’a – of the extended family Aiga Sa Su’a of Samoa. 

I belong to these families, and these families belong to me. These families originate in Samoa, but its members now reside throughout Aotearoa as well as other parts of the world.

I am one of five Ministers of the Government of New Zealand who are of Pacific heritage. Combined with Ministers of Maori or Indigenous heritage, we make up 45% of the Government of New Zealand.

Pacific peoples share similar cultural worldviews with Maori – for example the principle of Kaitiakitanga – the role of being guardians of our environment, and leaving a positive legacy for future generations.

Pacific and Maori have a shared history, shared challenges and shared aspirations for the future.

For Maori and Pacific Ministers – we want Maori and Pacific-led solutions to tackle the many challenges our people face, and it is our cultural values that inform our decision making.

As the Minister for Pacific Peoples, my day-to-day interactions with our wider Pacific family in both Aotearoa and within the Pacific region - have informed the clarity that I hold in how I work and the policy direction I am driving.

That the interests of Pacific Peoples of Aotearoa, and the challenges we face as Pacific peoples are not confined to the borders of Aotearoa.

And neither can we continue to work within our own borders.

We belong to the Pacific. We are members of the Pacific family.

When we leave New Zealand to travel overseas – we are leaving our home of Aotearoa. When we arrive in our ancestral island homes in the Pacific region, we are arriving home.

The Pacific region therefore, matters deeply to New Zealand.

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

Our Government has made this clear through its lift in ambition and investment under the Pacific Reset as led by the Rt Hon Vaovasamanaia Winston Peters. 

The Reset is centred on our commitment to building deeper partnerships with our Pacific neighbours.

Our approach in building these deeper partnerships is to be open, free and frank in our conversations – where our yes means yes, and our noes means no. 

Like a true Pacific family, we need to operate on a level where we can argue, debate, disagree, and still maintain trusting and harmonious working relationships, with a focus on lifting everyone’s wellbeing.

As a region we are too small to be divided. Our strength is working together, our collectivism, cooperating at all levels, speaking with one loud voice. This is especially true in the case of Climate Change – our story is different.

Our youth provide a passionate and authentic voice expressing our lived experiences in the Pacific that the rest of the world are unfamiliar with.

When others talk of climate change, they speak of polar bears and melting ice sheet.

Pacific youth speak of rising sea levels, contaminated water supplies, storms & cyclones, destruction of seafood sources, displaced populations, hotter, wetter, dryer weather conditions, with the spirit of self-determination - we are not drowning, we are fighting.

At the recent UN General Assembly our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern noted for the world, that seven out of the fifteen most climate affected nations, sit within the Pacific Region and that Pacific countries produce the least Green House Gas emissions but are on the forefront of the climate change battle that we are currently facing.

Our vast Blue Pacific region must find ways to better work together to ensure that we speak with one strong and powerful voice on behalf of all the peoples of the Blue Pacific continent, so that those powerful wealthy nations, who see only dots on the world map when they look at us, will take us seriously and heed our call on climate change.

In Aotearoa, the Ministry for Pacific Peoples that I lead, reflects New Zealand’s strong connection to the Pacific and the significant Pacific communities in New Zealand.

Auckland is home to over two-thirds of the New Zealand Pacific population.  Auckland is a Pacific city, but our Pacific population has now expanded throughout all the regions of New Zealand.

We are the fastest growing population and a youthful population. By 2026, Pacific Peoples will make up 30 per cent of the Labour Market.

In this year’s Local Government elections, New Zealanders have elected Pacific peoples on City Councils across the country.

This is a rising population that I refer affectionately to as Generation 6 Bs – people who are Brown, Beautiful, Brainy, Bilingual, Bicultural and Bold.

This rising Pacific population of Aotearoa are interested in what is happening throughout the Pacific region. They want to know what our politicians are doing to protect and safeguard their beloved Pacific home and its resources.

I am committed to ensuring that Pacific peoples lead the discussion and drive the narrative in Aotearoa on who we are, our strengths, our resilience and our aspirations for ourselves, our families, our communities and Aotearoa.

Last year, my Ministry published a report, the Pacific Aotearoa Lalanga Fou Report, which captured what Pacific peoples saw as important to them in becoming a thriving, confident, prosperous and resilient Pacific community in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Lalanga Fou includes four key goals that Pacific peoples identified to focus on as being essential to achieve success.

I deliberately targeted feedback from our Pacific young people. They are innovative and strongly solutions based.  They have a natural tendency at fusing the past and the present. Not only in arts, music, or fashion, but also in business, technology, community, academia and the public service.

I am keen to increase the numbers of Pacific young people participating in the STEM subject areas as they will become the modern-day explorers, navigators, creators and innovators in the expanding digital and green economy.

Young Pacific peoples are leading innovations not just in their communities, but beyond their borders, in Aotearoa, the Pacific region and in the world.

In addition, Treasury released in collaboration with my Ministry, the New Zealand Pacific Economy report, the first of its kind, which outlines:

- Pacific peoples of Aotearoa contribute $8 billion to New Zealand’s economy

- Pacific peoples volunteer 27,000 hours per week

This report highlights that Pacific Wellbeing is more than the usual GDP stats. For us, it means the freedom to provide for one’s family, maintaining cultural knowledge and links, serving one’s community/church, and the joy of seeing children succeed in their educational or employment pursuits.

The investments that this Government will be making over the next four years will give more Pacific people the opportunity to lead in innovation, connect to their language, culture and identity, take on meaningful work, access affordable healthcare, enjoy quality education, and become thriving, resilient and achieve prosperity for themselves and their families.

Let me share some concluding remarks, especially my reflections on my attendance at the Pacific Island Forum leaders meeting in Tuvalu, and supporting the Prime Minister’s delegation to the recent United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Like the new vision we’ve captured for Pacific peoples of Aotearoa, young Pacific people collectively share a similar vision for our Blue Pacific region - they want a thriving, safe, peaceful, resilient, prosperous, proud and empowered Blue Pacific continent.

At the UNGA I felt that despite those powerful nations seeing dots in the Pacific on the world map, that our Pacific youth have an authentic voice of lived experiences that should still be shared and spoken out loud for them to hear, especially in the area of climate change.

I am proud of the leadership of the Pacific Island Forum and our regional structures, and how well coordinated they were in promoting Pacific issues and climate change. We need to find better ways of working together to ensure we have a strong and powerful collective voice that is respected and listened to at all levels by the global community.

While tourism, fisheries, agriculture are still important resources for Pacific economic development, there is another vital asset that our region should focus more on to develop.  We have an abundance of a rising youthful Pacific population that requires tertiary qualifications in order to become a mobile workforce generating remittances.

Our Just Transition, the Green and Digital Economies will require an increasing workforce of scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematician not just for the needs of New Zealand, but also the needs of the Pacific region. We should establish a STEM Workforce Pipeline where graduates can access internships in the regional and UN levels.

The Pasifika TV which I launched a few months ago with MFAT not only is sending content from New Zealand to the Pacific, but at some stage we need to support Pacific content being shared in New Zealand. Additionally, we need to ensure that Pacific journalism thrives as an open and free media will enhance democracy and an informed public will enhance their full participation in the decision making of the Pacific region.

Finally, we must not forget Gender Issues. It’s not just about increasing women leadership and participation at all governance levels. It is also finding ways to address family violence, sexual violence and all the difficult issues that come with it.

We all know what those issues are. Evidence tells us that we must shine light on these issues, and provide a safe environment for us to discuss and find solutions. We can’t move forward and realise our fullest potential until we address these issues.

I reiterate again the aspirations of young Pacific peoples in Aotearoa, are the same for Pacific peoples of the region. They are leading in innovation, confident in all their endeavours, and seeking to thrive, resilient and prosperous Pacific peoples of our region.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning”, Albert Einstein.