30 Aug 2013

Polynesian leaders meet in Auckland ahead of Forum summit

5:27 pm on 30 August 2013

The Polynesian Leaders Group is today holding its annual meeting in Auckland just before they all head off to the summit of Pacific leaders in Majuro.

The countries represented are Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, Niue, American Samoa, French Polynesia and Tokelau.

Don Wiseman asked our reporter Alex Perrottet what they are talking about.

ALEX PERROTTET: The main objective for the leaders here in Auckland is to get together on their way to Majuro before the Pacific Islands Forum. They're all very thankful to New Zealand for not hosting the meeting because Mr Puna, the prime minister of the Cook Islands, is the current chair of this recent regional block, and he is the host. And today he handed over to Gaston Flosse, the president of French Polynesia to take over for the next 12 months. They always are keen to stress that this is primarily a cultural meeting where they share common culture and this year they've extended the welcome to NZ Maori groups, to Rapa Nui from Easter Island, who couldn't make it, but also to Hawaiian groups. So they emphasis culture and they downplay the politics, but of course politics has a lot to do with it, and they will be discussing today several political issues, obviously in the lead-up to next week's meeting in the Marshall Islands.

DON WISEMAN: There has been some suggestion that they might involve, eventually, Pacific Island groups from within New Zealand.

AP: Yes, there was a little bit of talk about that. I put the question to them that perhaps Polynesian groups within New Zealand could have been invited to this meeting seen as they were toasted in the biggest Polynesian city in the world. The response from a few of them really was that that was a good idea, but there was no real single group that represented Polynesians in New Zealand. And of course the Polynesians here are all very loyal to their own particular countries from which they come. So the particular leaders from the Pacific who are here in Auckland, they're interested in meeting with their own compatriots that do live here in New Zealand, but there was no certainly no formal welcome to people of Polynesian groups, apart from different politicians like Alfred Ngaro, the National MP who was of Cook Islands descent and others of his like.

DW: Now, the Polynesian leaders Group has been around for several years, I think it started in 2011. But in between forums we don't hear anything of it. Is it doing anything else besides having these once a year meetings?

AP: At the moment it appears no. There's a very softy-softly approach with this particular group. This is certainly nothing like the Melanesian Spearhead Group. It only started, as you said, in 2011, really on the instigation of prime minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa. Since last year, Henry Puna, the prime minister of the Cook Islands has been the chair, and in his outgoing remarks this morning he did say that the Polynesian leaders group has been quiet, but then he qualified that by saying 'but it hasn't been asleep'. So he did defend the lack of action, really, that there has been so far. I think the leaders here are certainly having a 'wait and see' approach in terms of what this group might turn out to be.