Speech to University of the South Pacific studentsPrime Minister
Tihei mauri ora
Te Whare e tu nei
Te Papa e takoto
No reira tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa
Ni sa bula Vinaka
It is a real pleasure to be here today, and to have the honour of addressing you all.
If you’ll indulge me I’m going to share a few thoughts on our relationship to each other and to the world.
But then after that fairly heavy topic I’m going to answer your questions. And please do ask anything you would like.
But first a little bit about me and where I come from, and how where I came from in many ways got me here
I grew up in two small towns in New Zealand.
I’m talking something like 3000 people, so not quite island small, but small enough.
It was living in a town called Murupara that taught me about inequality.
In the 1980s and 1990s New Zealand went through a rapid period of privatisation and economic liberalisation. It was called Rogernomics after the Finance Minister of the time. Factories shut, jobs were lost.
Welfare cuts for the poorest meant support for people shrunk. The gap between those with a lot and those with very little got a lot bigger.
Now I was a child and a teenage when all this was going on, but I remember it. And I especially remember the impact it had on children.
I built my social conscience as a school girl. My first value was fairness and my first dislike was injustice.
So, when I became Prime Minister I made myself the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction – because I wanted to right those wrongs I saw growing up as a child.
Those first injustices that I saw, I now want to remedy. And I want to install fairness and kindness as guiding values of good government, because frankly individualism and the politics of fear have failed us.
So those are my founding values. And my question today to you is what are yours?
What injustices do you see before you that you will hold with you and seek to change? Because the New Zealand I lead today is different to the one I grew up in. And the Pacific you lead tomorrow will be different to the one you currently inhabit, so how do you want to shape it?
And what is it about our Pacific character that can help shape new solutions?
Because as a Pacific family we are facing some very real challenges – challenges I know deeply impact many people in this room.
But these are not challenges you experience on your own, they are shared.
New Zealand is a Pacific country; we share history, culture, politics, family and rugby sevens. As part of the Pacific family we are deeply conscious that our identity, our security and our prosperity are inextricably linked to yours. We have, in a very genuine sense, a shared Pacific future, perhaps more now than ever before.
Climate change continues to have a significant impact on the people of the region, as coasts erode, sea levels rise, and fish stocks move. I know this is not hypothetical here, but a reality. As it is in the places I have seen with my own eyes – Tuvalu, Tokelau, Samoa. Each have a story.
Add to that the challenge of economic resilience, distance to market, and creating employment opportunities.
But with perhaps the exception of the climate crisis these challenges are not new. But what is new is the ever increasing global interest in the Pacific region, in your home.
Pacific Island leaders last year noted that – alongside the impact of climate change – increasing strategic competition was exacerbating our region’s particular vulnerabilities.
That serves to highlight why now more than ever our Pacific values must rise to the fore – cooperation.
We here in the Pacific have long known that we are so much stronger and so much more effective, when we speak with one voice and act as a region both here and out into the world.
Last year, as leaders, we highlighted the importance of maintaining regional solidarity and encouraging engagement in the region that aligns with and supports Pacific priorities and values. How else do we maintain our voice our strength and our focus.
And so here and now I am recommitting New Zealand to supporting and investing in Pacific regionalism. After all, what happens in New Zealand, or Fiji, or anywhere else in the Pacific affects us all.
The artificial lines between what we call domestic policy and international policy are just that – artificial. When we’re trying to address issues such as climate change, or infectious diseases, or trans-national crime, borders do not matter – these are borderless challenges and they demand a collective response.
And thankfully collectivism and cooperation, listening and understanding one another’s needs – it’s the Pacific way.
That’s why under the auspices of the Pacific Islands Forum, leaders have called for the development of a 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific to provide a long-term vision of what we want to achieve together for the region.
And that’s also why at the last Pacific Island Forum leaders issued the strongest collective statement on climate change that we’ve ever released.
It recognises that there is no greater priority than the need to address the impacts of climate change.
And it’s why New Zealand announced at the Pacific Islands Forum last August a $150 million package for Pacific-focused climate change assistance, as part of a wider commitment to invest at least $300 million globally in climate-related assistance over the next three years. Out of that $150 million, we have already approved projects worth $98 million in areas such as water security and invasive species.
Today, I am pleased to announce that New Zealand is making under this programme a $2 million dedicated investment in supporting Fiji to manage one of the most confronting issues that climate change has already brought – the displacement of communities.
While we must do all we can to mitigate and prevent the full frontal assault of climate change we must also prepare, and that’s exactly what’s happening here in Fiji.
We are contributing to the establishment of Fiji’s Climate Relocation and Displaced Peoples Trust Fund for Communities and Infrastructure, launched in September – a world first initiative that aims to sustainably and sensitively manage the relocation of Fiji’s communities.
With five community relocations under way or completed in Fiji and a further forty identified, this is an issue for the here and now.
I once said climate change was my generation’s nuclear free moment. That was a reference to how the generation before me had fought for and won nuclear free status for New Zealand, a position that we also fought for in the Pacific, especially supporting Pacific nations in their opposition to French nuclear testing here.
So what is climate change to you? What injustices that you see now will motivate you to act and achieve more than what is currently being achieved.
And most importantly what can you do to help bring the Pacific together as we address these challenges.
It is fitting that I am here talking about the importance of regionalism and leadership at the University of the South Pacific (USP), a training ground for future leaders.
The USP is a wonderful example of regionalism in action. It is jointly owned by the governments of twelve Pacific countries and is so very important to the region, being the largest source of tertiary-educated graduates in the Pacific for over fifty years. Many Pacific leaders and politicians have studied at USP.
But all of these organisations like USP and the PIF and other components of the regional architecture, these partnerships both young and old, they all distil down into a challenge and a solution.
We are living in an increasingly borderless world. The desire of super-powers in the face of globalisation has been to exert their power and show signs of strength and influence. Our region is no longer a place of blue ocean, but strategically important.
All of that adds up to a difficult position for small island nations – but not for ones that have the architecture we have as a region.
That has a clear understanding of our joint challenges of what our shared values are and a willingness to work together because of it.
In a tough world the Pacific way can be and is the answer.
There is a well-known Māori proverb we often quote in New Zealand, for good reason:
He aha te mea nui o tea ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
This means, what is the most important thing in the world? The people, the people, the people.
We need to and will continue to focus on and invest in the people of our region, so our children and our grandchildren are able to continue to live fulfilling lives across this Blue Pacific continent of ours.
Thank you all, for being here today, for caring about our region and its future.
And I encourage you, the leaders of today and tomorrow, to continue to work collectively and think creatively about ways to address the challenges of our region.
It is only if we come together and work as a region that we will progress.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.