29 Nov 2019

NZ-Pacific relations strengthened through parliamentary forum

11:51 am on 29 November 2019

Political leaders from 11 Pacific countries have been hosted in New Zealand this week, as part of the Pacific Parliamentary Forum.

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More than 30 Pacific Islands MPs took part in the Pacific Parliamentary Forum this year. Photo: PPF/Pool Photo

In Auckland, the bi-partisan delegation of MPs met with their New Zealand counterparts, visited electorates and learnt about local and national level governance in the country.

They also visited the Pasifika Court and a health and social services provider, called 'The Fono', whose health promotion model greatly impressed Tongan MP Losaline Ma'asi.

"Because you know they are doing healthcare, there is also counselling and there is also dentistry. That is something that I appreciate and at the same time to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of the work. That is something that we miss out in the Pacific Islands," she said.

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Members of the Pacific delegation with staff of the health and social services provider, The Fono. Photo: PPF/Pool Photo

In Wellington, Ngati Poneke welcomed the Pacific guests with a powhiri on the steps of parliament.

In his greetings, Tamahau Rowe spoke eloquently about kawa and the knowledge sharing continuum which is what the triennial Pacific Parliamentary Forum is all about, according to its host, the Speaker of New Zealand's Parliament, Trevor Mallard.

"The idea is for emerging Pacific leaders to get to know each other and, as New Zealanders, for our MPs to get to know Pacific MPs better.

"We think we can learn a lot from each other and some of the relationships that are formed at forums like this can be enduring and can be very useful going forward," he said.

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Ngati Poneke perform a powhiri to welcome the Pacific delegation to parliament. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Koroi Hawkins

In the House, the more than 30 strong delegation of Pacific MPs had the opportunity to hear from and engage with government ministers and MPs.

Fiji Opposition MP Lenora Qereqeretabua was very interested in New Zealand Finance Minister Grant Robertson's explanation of Labour's well-being Budget.

"If we use those sorts of measurements in other parts of the Pacific...in particular I am thinking of Fiji, what a fantastic way to write a Budget...

"When you take into consideration how happy your population is, how happy the environment is, and how you must include the environment, the people and their well-being in a Budget."

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Pacific MPs in New Zealand's Parliament. Photo: PPF/Pool Photo

The Pacific delegates also participated in technical workshops and a select committee hearing which the Cook Islands associate Justice Minister Tingika Elikana, who is also chair of the Cooks special select committee on bills, was particularly interested in.

"Just to see the processes, [there is] much more to learn from our New Zealand counterparts, how they conduct their select committee and learn from that for our benefit back in the islands."

But the learning was by no means one way traffic, according to Trevor Mallard.

"New Zealand gets a lot out of it. I think that we're not very good at our level of understanding of Pacific economies, Pacific geography and Pacific culture including the politics," he said.

"Through these, both through the formal and the informal sessions that occur here, our level of understanding increases."

As part of achieving that increased understanding, the delegates also took part in debates, including how Pacific nations can present a united voice to the world on issues of critical importance to the region.

The next Pacific Parliamentary Forum will be in 2022.

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Pacific leader with New Zealand MPs and the Speaker of Parliament, Trevor Mallard (front and centre). Photo: PPF/Pool Photo