Pacific mission: NZ funding floating hotel for CHOGM meeting in Samoa

Samoa Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa signs the partnership document

Samoan Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa says with New Zealand’s support providing security advice and financial support, her country has every confidence in its ability to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in August.

This is the first time CHOGM, which is held every two years, has been held in a small Pacific nation, though it has been held in both New Zealand and Australia.

Today the prime minister met Deputy Prime Minister Vaovasamanaia Winston Peters and Pacific Peoples Minister Shane Reti.

Mata’afa says New Zealand has assisted with funding for a cruise ship to be used as accommodation as was done for the Small Island Development conference in 2014.

More than 50 Commonwealth leaders will attend CHOGM along with their entourage and media delegations.

Peters says he has every confidence that despite Samoa’s smaller location, it’s going to be a success.

“You have a stable democracy; you have people that know how to organise themselves.

“You got some people more than most who know how to respect the hierarchy of order,” he says.

Ministers Shane Reti and Winston Peters with the Samoan head of state Tuimaleali'ifano Va'aleto'a Sualauvi

Their next stop will be visiting the National University of Samoa to check on where New Zealand can help in their education sector.

$30m support for ‘severely impacted’ Polynesian health programme

Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Health Minister Shane Reti have reaffirmed New Zealand’s commitment to working with Polynesian partners to address health priorities and strengthen health systems during a visit to the National University of Samoa (NUS) today.

“Health services and programmes in the Pacific were severely impacted during the Covid-19 pandemic, and New Zealand is continuing to find ways to collaborate in the region to address the most pressing health challenges,” Peters says.

“The Polynesian Health Corridors (PHC) programme has been a key platform for supporting all our Polynesian partners to improve health outcomes and make progress towards their health goals.

“New Zealand is committing $30 million over five years for a second phase of the PHC programme so we can continue to strengthen engagement and linkages between the health systems of New Zealand and other Polynesian countries,” Peters says.

Funded through New Zealand’s International Development Cooperation Programme, PHC is delivered by the New Zealand Ministry of Health’s Public Health Agency and supports Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga and Tuvalu.

“In Tonga and in the Cook Islands, and now here in Samoa, I have had the opportunity to discuss the impacts of the PHC programme on countries’ health systems and communities, and see first-hand the strong relationships and collaboration the programme facilitates,” Reti says.

“We look forward to the next phase of the programme, which will include a focus on health security, non-communicable diseases – especially mental health and cancer control – and access to essential medicines.”

Peters and Reti also discussed educational and development opportunities for Samoa’s health workforce with Samoa’s health and education ministers.

“New Zealand is providing nearly $3.5 million to Samoa to offer the bachelor of health science qualification, and to give scholarships and other support to students enrolled in the programme,” Peters says.

“This is an ambitious step toward increasing the number of capable and confident health professionals in Samoa, which will strengthen services and ultimately result in better health outcomes for Samoa.”

Samoa, New Zealand renew partnership

Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Samoa’s Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa signed a renewed statement of partnership in Apia today, reaffirming the bond between the two countries.

“New Zealand and Samoa are likeminded countries who share a very warm and close relationship. We enjoy close cooperation on bilateral, regional and global issues,” Mr Peters says. “This statement of partnership sets out the priority areas for our cooperation over the next four years.”

Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa places a necklace on Foreign Minister Winston Peters

The statement was released following a meeting between Mata’afa, Peters, and Pacific Peoples Minister Shane Reti.

“We are particularly pleased to have the opportunity to meet the prime minister, and signal the value New Zealand places on this partnership — in person and in Samoa,” Peters says.

“As well as outlining our intent to work together on issues of mutual interest – such as climate change, human and economic development, and responding to an increasingly complex security environment – the statement also reiterates New Zealand’s commitment to support Samoa to deliver a successful Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting later this year,” Peters says.

Brown discusses deep sea mining with visiting ministers

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown has shown New Zealand’s visiting foreign minister Winston Peters and Pacific peoples minister Shane Reti a presentation about deep-sea mining, which his country is considering allowing.

Deep sea mining drills into waters 200m or more to extract minerals from the ocean floor.

The Cook Islands has a large resource of cobalt nodules on the ocean floor around its seabeds. The nodules also contain significant levels of nickel, copper, manganese, iron and rare earth elements.

“We’re progressing to the stage essentially right now of gathering environmental data and information before we get to the next stage, which would be determining what type of technology is needed to harvest these nodules from the deep ocean and if we can bring them up to the surface in a way that ensures the protection of our ocean,” Brown said.

In New Zealand Te Pāti Māori has made its voice clear about deep sea mining, with co-leader Ngarewa-Packer saying, “Iwi don’t want it.”

It’s a controversial topic in the Pacific too as some researchers have come out saying it will contribute to climate change.

Winston Peters didn’t say he supported the Cook Islands efforts but said there was potential wealth at the bottom of the ocean for New Zealand.

“The reality is a huge depth in the water where there aren’t too many creatures that grow, if you look at the weight of the water at that level.

“So, a lot of the concerns that people might be expressing might be thoroughly exaggerated given the reality.”

Next up Reti will be taking a tour of Rarotonga Hospital and meeting Cook Islands Associate Health Minister Te Hani Rose Alexandra Brown.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Pacific Peoples Minister Shane Reti and NZ High Commissioner Tui Dewes unveiling a sign marking the construction of new markets

Groundbreaking ceremony at Cook Islands market

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Pacific Peoples Minister Shane Reti attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the Punanga Markets in Rarotonga where construction is due to start. The new markets come after New Zealand gifted $8 million for the project.

In his opening speech, Peters said he was pleased and had a message for the Cook Islands public to pass on to Aotearoa.

“It’s wonderful to drive around the island and see how clean and tidy it is.

Congratulations - no litter, no rubbish - please talk to our people of New Zealand and ask them to take on this message as well.”

Peters was welcomed with a traditional ceremony by a warrior that was similar to a pōwhiri, showing the link between Māori and Kuki Arini Māori.

Cook Islands cabinet minister Albert Nicholas who opened the occasion was quick to remind Peters about the reception he got at Waitangi earlier in the week.

“This friendship has developed over many years and has grown stronger throughout your remarkable tenures holding various ministerial portfolios since you entered NZ Parliament in the late 1970s.

“That’s a very long time to be putting up with your Waitangi Day treatment.”

Peters and Reti are now in their bilateral meeting with Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown.

NZ pledges $16.5 million to help Cook Islands deal with climate change

Foreign Minister Winston Peters announced today that New Zealand and the Cook Islands will strengthen their cooperation on tackling the impacts of climate change.

“New Zealand is supporting the Cook Islands with $16.5 million in funding to respond more effectively to the increasing impacts of climate change,” Mr Peters says.

“This funding will go to projects, agreed with the Cook Islands, on issues such as renewable energy, cycle shelter upgrades, battery replacements and water security.”

The Cook Islands are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Current effects range from coastal erosion to sea level rise, and from ocean acidification to tropical cyclones and drought.

In a meeting with Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown today, Peters also reaffirmed the special relationship New Zealand, and the Cook Islands share.

“We are committed to continuing to respond together to the complex and varied challenges facing the region, as well as finding areas and opportunities for bilateral cooperation.”

Ministers open pharmacy warehouse in Tonga

onga has had to rely on a building the size of a one-bedroom apartment in Auckland City to hold most of its medical supplies for some years.

The rest of its supplies have been spread out among churches, homes and fridges across the country.

That’s all changed as New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Health Minister Shane Reti officially opened a new purpose-built building where Tonga can now stock and distribute the majority of the country’s medical supplies.

Reti said he was proud to help the Tongan community open it today.

“This is a wonderful representation of how we want to collaborate with the Pacific Islands and Tonga.”

Health coordinator Semisi Fukofuka ‚who looks after New Zealand’s funding for Tonga’s health programme, says it’s a true blessing to have New Zealand’s support.

“Not only will they have more room to store (medicines) but it’s going to have temperature and environmental control inside.

“So it’s the right medicine for them and the health products plus a bigger space for walk in freezers and fridges.”

The ministers are now flying out to the Cook Islands to meet with Prime Minister Mark Brown.

Government representatives were last there during the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting in November where drama unfolded as Nauru officials walked out out during their first meeting.

Will this be addressed in the ministers’ bilateral meetings? We’ll soon find out.

Arriving at St George’s building in Tongatapu to meet Tonga’s Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said people in Aotearoa needed to realise how important these relationships were, and quickly.

“We’re part of the blue continent and more New Zealanders need to understand how critical the future of the Pacific Island countries and the Tongan people are to our very future. A vast majority of New Zealanders understand that, we know where they live.”

The absence of Tonga’s Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku, who is in New Zealand for medical treatment, adds a layer of complexity to the diplomatic mission.

Tonga Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku is currently in Aotearoa for medical reasons, which is timely as he has been stripped of his ministerial role in charge of the armed forces by the KIng..

The King of Tonga is the last remaining monarch in the Pacific and can give his opinions on Parliament decisions.

On rare occasions he make srecommendations to the government which is usually supported by all through respect.

Vaipulu did not say that was part of his discussions because any questions must be directed back to the king.

“Anything towards government operations will be given to us and we are still waiting for time to have an audience with His Majesty and we can find a way forward.”

Typically on Pacific missions the New Zealand government makes announcements of money to give to the Pacific. However, while he said that there was investment in Tonga, Peters was quick to shut down any question on how much the coalition government would give.

“There’s an old saying that goes ‘A kūmara never boasts about how sweet it is’. Look we’re not here to show off.”

The ministers will now head over to the opening of the Pharmacy Warehouse and will likely see Dr Reti taking a more prominent role, further illustrating New Zealand’s hands-on approach to fostering Pacific relations.

What is the Pacific mission?

The coalition government’s first Pacific mission sees Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters, and Health/Pacific Peoples Minister Shane Reti travel to three countries in five days.

Their visit will work to reinforce New Zealand’s ties with the Pacific through meetings with Tonga’s acting prime minister, Samiu Vaipulu, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown and Samoa Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa.

Fresh from the government’s controversial appearance at Waitangi and meeting with iwi leaders at the Iwi Chairs Forum, the coalition will be hoping to settle into its work, including on this visit to the South Pacific.

This mission marks a significant opportunity for New Zealand to make confident monetary offers and support to the Pacific Islands, given the last visit by Carmel Sepuloni and Gerry Brownlee was hampered by the coalition government not yet being formed.

Follow us here for more details of the discussions as they happen.