Opinion - Here is an open letter to Heather du Plessis-Allan on behalf of New Zealanders who have worked, and those are who are still working in development in the Solomon Islands.
Heather du Plessis-Allan's recent comments on national radio that the Pacific are leeches on New Zealand is dangerously ignorant, insulting to Pacific Islanders working hard for their countries, and undermines New Zealand itself. This open letter is supported by a group of New Zealanders who have worked and those are who are still working in development in the Solomon Islands and condemns Ms du Plessis-Allan's remarks on Newstalk ZB as well as Newstalk ZB's implicit support.
History has shown that the dehumanisation of a group of people by referring to them as a class of non-human animals liberates aggression and has far-reaching consequences in enabling one group of people to hurt the other group. Well-known examples of this have been shown in the calling of Tutsi people as cockroaches, Bosniaks and Croatians as aliens, and Jews as rats and parasites. Journalism and broadcasting plays a crucial role in all countries as voices and opinions are distributed nation-wide, and so the spread of hatred should have no place in this process. National broadcasters should know better.
Here in the Solomon Islands, we work alongside many hardworking people. We work across a range of sectors, including governance, justice, climate change, health, education, youth, tourism, infrastructure, and journalism. We work with people from the country leader level down to the staff out on the field. While of course no country is without bad people here and there, they are always outnumbered by the many good people who are dedicated to the development of the country. It would not be surprising to find that Solomon Islanders are vastly dedicated to their own development, equally if not more so, than those in New Zealand. We have no doubt that the Solomon Islands are not unique in the Pacific in this aspect. To paint entire countries and regions as hellholes and leeches is an insult to the good people working hard to make a change.
Finally, as there are many exemplary New Zealanders who have dedicated many years working across the Pacific Islands to help build capacity and strengthen institutions, it follows that the remarks belittle our efforts. To say that Pacific Islanders are leeching off us is a gross misunderstanding of the situation and undermines the credibility of the work of New Zealanders in the field. Foreign aid exists not simply as a charity, but it is well understood that helping our neighbours helps us in return. In turn, we have more trade partners, better prevention of epidemics, better regional and national security, improved international relations, and of course a better reputation for New Zealand. To say that the Pacific Islands don't matter shows a lack of understanding. The fraction of money that the New Zealand government spends here is well worth the returns we receive.
We understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. We simply hope that the opinions are well-formed, evidence-based, and do not spread hatred due to gross generalisations and misinformation. However, while her comments have certainly not gone unnoticed here in the Solomon Islands, the general reaction from Solomon Islanders indicates an understanding that the unfortunate actions of a few individuals do not represent an entire nation, let alone an entire region. Solomon Islanders continue to hold New Zealand and New Zealanders in high regard and we New Zealanders working here are confident that this remains the case.
On behalf of: