Barbara Dreaver: Mana counts … NZ needs the Pacific as much as the Pacific needs NZ

A song called “Jacinda New Star in the Sky” clearly delighted NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru last week: “Underestimating personal relationships in the Pacific is sheer ignorance.” Image: Screen shot from TVNZ video

OPINION: By Barbara Dreaver, 1 News Pacific Correspondent

Now that the phosphate dust has settled and the shameless self-promoting headlines about the Pacific being “leeches” and a waste of time and money have lost their hysterical edge – let’s take a look at some facts.

Jacinda Ardern serenaded with song written especially for her and Neve on arrival to Nauru
The song called Jacinda New Star in the Sky clearly delighted the Prime Minister. Source: 1 NEWS

Firstly to deal with the issue of “da plane, da plane” – it seems only appropriate here to bring in Tattoo from Fantasy Island for those old enough to remember this dubious 80s TV progamme.

Yes, it cost money to send up an extra plane to Nauru to make it possible for our Prime Minister to get there.

That is true.

What is also true is there have been several, not just the one, but several multiflight trips organised by the former National government around the Pacific because some politicians across the political landscape found it uncomfortable to travel on the C130 Hercules the whole way.


It’s not unusual, so I’m not sure why this suddenly became a big issue.

Multitude of reasons
It was important for the Prime Minister of New Zealand to be in Nauru for the Pacific Islands Forum for a multitude of reasons.

The geopolitical landscape in the Pacific has changed radically in the last couple of years.

Jacinda Ardern and Pacific leaders sport matching red threads during Nauru photo shoot
The Prime Minister is making a one-day appearance at the Pacific Island Forum. Source: 1 NEWS

At this Forum, Air Force 2 flew in a US delegation, a high profile Chinese delegation was there, other Asian countries, the European Union … all vying for influence.

From a geopolitical stance alone it’s crucial New Zealand is a player in this.

Just ask Australia, which is having kittens over the thought of Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu giving port power to the Chinese. Then there are serious security issues.

South East Asia and a bigger push since 2016 from South American cartels are pushing drugs through the Pacific to Australia and New Zealand, fisheries are being depleted – these are all issues that affect New Zealand – why wouldn’t we be there?

Instability bad for NZ
Instability in the region is bad for New Zealand.

Bilaterals with Pacific leaders are equally important.

New Zealand wants island country votes at regional and world level – the UN Security Council, which we headed at one point is a case in point, the World Health Organisation and many more. Votes are gold and don’t think that New Zealand doesn’t want to tie up Pacific votes any less than the big players.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters could easily have done the job but he is not Prime Minister.

You can throw money around the region as much as you like but to underestimate personal relationships in the Pacific is sheer ignorance.

Mana is quite rightly attached to New Zealand’s leader being there and if Jacinda Ardern hadn’t shown up for her first Pacific Forum we would have been penalised for it down the line one way or another.

New Zealand cannot afford to tread with the same ignorance Australia does as it blunders through the region – incredulous that things are happening that they don’t like.

PM holds her own
To suggest that Jacinda Ardern is not tough enough is ridiculous. I’m told by people who know first-hand that she more than holds her own in a bi-lat and so she should – it’s the very least we would expect any of our Prime Ministers to do.

While the above is important there is also something else. A palagi friend who I really respect had the following to say and I couldn’t agree more.

“For me the importance of the Pacific is much more cultural – we are part of this place and Pacific Islanders are part of us.

“It’s who we collectively are. We give to each other and sustain each other with language, music, laughter. And in doing so we are all creating a unique culture that is different – the rest of the world can only wonder and admire us.”

As someone who has lived and worked in the region for nearly 30 years I have nothing but contempt for the sheer ignorance I have been reading from those whose idea of the Pacific is lying poolside at Denarau with a pina colada.

New Zealand needs the Pacific as much as the Pacific needs New Zealand. In fact some countries have made it clear they don’t need New Zealand at all.

The National government understood this – so does this government. Let’s move on.

This Barbara Dreaver Television New Zealand blog posting is republished with permission.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Nauru faces media, security pressure ahead of Pacific Islands Forum

Nauru President Baron Waqa addressing the media before opening the Pacific Islands Forum. Video: PI Forum Secretariat

By Gia Garrick, Political Reporter of RNZ National

Regional security and other pressing issues like climate change will top the formal agenda at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru this week.

But leaders will also be confronted with the situation facing refugees in Australian-run camps on the tiny island, living just kilometres from forum events.

The Nauru government has already started a pre-emptive PR campaign, with its president blaming Australian advocates for the plight of refugee children.

New Zealand says it is an issue that will be raised at the forum. However, Australia’s new Prime Minister Scott Morrison will not be there to hear it. He has decided not to attend, and has sent newly appointed Foreign Minister Marise Payne in his place.

Winston Peters plans to meet with Payne while in Nauru, and it will be the first time the pair have sat down together in their respective foreign minister roles.


The Pacific Island Forum comes just months after Peters launched the new government’s so-called “Pacific reset”.

He and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Samoa, Niue, Tonga and the Cook Islands in March, announcing a raft of increases to aid and development funding.

Broader region
But this forum is an opportunity for the pair to meet with leaders from around the broader region.

“Well I’ll have a chance to meet a lot of them on the way over, and some of them I’ve been talking to very recently. So that’ll be more than half of them. And I’ll get the bilateral with Marise Payne,” Peters said.

Ardern had initially indicated she would like to meet with some of the refugees, but said it was something she had since thought long and hard about.

“I’ve given a lot of thought to this,” she said. “I do have a short amount of time there, but I do want a perspective from those who are residents on Nauru.”

She plans to reiterate New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees from across Nauru and Manus Islands.

“But if I meet with individual refugees, how do we decide who they would be? Does that raise an expectation that I then can’t fulfill for them as an individual?

“So those are some of the things weighing on my mind.”

One day visit
Ardern will be there for one day only, flying to Nauru early Wednesday morning for the leaders’ retreat, which is considered the most important day of the forum.

Leaders are expected to sign a new regional security declaration at the conclusion of these talks, which Peters said would cover off a number of emerging challenges facing the Pacific.

“There’s human security, there’s environmental and resource security, transnational crime and cyber-security challenges – all of which are part of this declaration.”

National’s foreign affairs spokesperson Todd McClay said he hoped the cohesive nature of the Pacific Island countries was addressed first and foremost by Peters.

“It’s very important that he talks to Fiji and gets them to withdraw their claim from a year or two ago that Australia and New Zealand should leave or be thrown out of the Pacific Island Forum, with the view that we are not really Pacific countries.

“We are, we’re good neighbours, and for us all to move forward there needs to be a clear dialogue around that.”

When it comes to any plans to meet with refugees or raising issues of human rights, McClay said New Zealand could stand firm on its independent foreign policy.

But he warned against any moves that may destabilise its relationship with Australia.

Australian ‘protection’
“Fundamentally when it comes to refugees, the Australian border does provide some protection to New Zealand. So that refugees on boats don’t make the arduous journey down to New Zealand which is very, very risky.

“So ultimately he must be very diplomatic in this.”

But the pressure is already on Nauru, even before the leaders arrive.

Refugee advocates have been increasingly vocal in their criticisms of the conditions the refugees continue to live in and about the way they are treated.

They also say the government there is cynically trying to pretty up the place, with mouldy tents which have housed refugees for years being pulled down just last week.

Media coverage has also been a contentious topic ahead of the forum, with limits put on the number of journalists attending and guidelines around reporting in place.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media