Ardern’s positive ‘Pacific reset’ tour

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, along with Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters, have been on a tour of Pacific Islands this week. This is an annual tour, but this year Ardern says the aim is ‘a Pacific reset’.

As well as good PR for Ardern with a daily dose of ‘photo opportunities’, this looks like positive engagement with New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours.

RNZ (Monday):  PM’s Pacific tour begins ‘Pacific reset’

The government has kicked off what it calls the “Pacific reset”, with Jacinda Ardern beginning her first trip to the region as Prime Minister.

It comes after Foreign Minister Winston Peters promised to boost aid and embark on a new strategy with New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours.

Mr Peters will accompany Ms Ardern for the week-long trip, which will stop in Samoa, Niue, Tonga and the Cook Islands.

It will also give the Prime Minister a chance to meet the heads of the countries one-on-one before the Pacific Islands Forum later in the year.

This year’s annual Pacific Mission will focus on recovery and resilience, especially for Tonga, which was badly hit by Cyclone Gita last month.

The Council for International Development welcomed the so-called Pacific reset.

Director of the Council for International Development, Josie Pagani, said the move “signals a massive boost of energy for our work in the Pacific”.

“Improved conditions mean greater independence for the Pacific, and that’s the ultimate goal of any aid budget.”

Last year New Zealand committed over $4 million to solar panels in Niue, greatly increasing its renewable energy generation.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw, who will also be on the trip, said New Zealand would continue to invest in green initiatives like that.

“[Winston Peters] is taking the lead on the Pacific strategy, but climate change is a central part of that strategy that is emerging,” Mr Shaw said.

“I don’t want to say we did everything wrong [because] we have a pretty good track record, but we want to build on that, and to broaden it and deepen it.”

A small business delegation will also be on the Pacific Mission trip as well as other Ministers including Carmel Sepuloni, Aupito William Sio, Fletcher Tabuteau, and National MPs Gerry Brownlee and Alfred Ngaro.

It is normal for a cross-party delegation to do the tour.

RNZ (Friday): PM’s breakneck tour a hit with islands

Jacinda Ardern has completed a whirlwind trip of the Pacific Islands, stopping in Samoa, Niue, Tonga and the Cook Islands.

It was her first trip as Prime Minister, where she took the chance to meet with all the heads of the countries.

The tone for the Pacific Mission was set by foreign minister Winston Peter’s speech last week, when he said a “Pacific reset” was needed.

Jacinda Ardern referred to this ‘reset’ several times on the trip and said it was about shifting from a donor-aid relationship to a partnership.

Money was given to Samoa and Tonga for cyclone recovery, more help is on its way for Niue’s renewable energy projects, and there’s been a shift in pension rules for Niueans and Cook Islanders.

But in the words of Mr Peters, these islands are now “attracting an increasing number of external actors and interests”.

That could mean many more trips of the like to ensure New Zealand keeps up its presence in the Pacific Islands.

Peter Dunne Speaks:

Every year the Prime Minister leads a delegation of senior politicians from all parties and business leaders on a Pacific Islands tour. This week’s Prime Ministerial visit to Samoa, Niue, Tonga and the Cook Islands is the 2018 version. Inevitably, there will be those who will dismiss such tours as little more than a junket, a description which is unfair.

Having taken part in a number of them over the years, I can confirm that they are a valuable way of strengthening our relationships with the various Pacific Island states, as well as creating mutual business and trade opportunities.

However, this year’s visits have the potential to break the mould, especially if the Government’s rhetoric of the “Pacific Reset” is to be believed.  Such a reset is certainly overdue.

The goodwill towards New Zealand, and the close bonds of connection are strong, right across the Pacific. For its part, New Zealand needs to be seen to be working closely with its Pacific partners to achieve mutual social and economic progress. New Zealand’s response to the threat climate change poses to low-lying islands and their peoples will be an early test. But, so far, the first signs from this week’s visit are that the Pacific Reset is going to be positive all round.

Newsroom (Friday): Pacific trip provides shape of challenges to come

A trip to the Pacific must be a political propagandist’s dream.

The colourful clothing, beautiful backdrops and warmth of the locals meant Jacinda Ardern’s five-day visit was almost guaranteed to be a success before she landed.

That is not to do her a disservice: Ardern made the most of her stay, greeting as many locals as she could, speaking in the native language where possible and offering both aid and assurances about the region’s importance to New Zealand.

(As a side note, those carping about a waste of taxpayer money should note both John Key and Bill English made regular trips to the Pacific and partook in their fair share of photo opportunities.)

Ardern’s deputy and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says the region is his top priority, and laid out plans for more political engagement, greater funding and a closer relationship during a “Pacific reset” speech.

Speaking to media on the final day of her visit, Ardern expressed contentment with what she and her ministers had achieved.

“I’d rate this mission highly, off the back of the fact that so many of the leaders have remarked on the repositioning that this government has focused on in the Pacific that was set out by the Minister of Foreign Affairs which says, ‘Look, actually we do a lot of work across the globe but actually our relationships here in the Pacific are key, they’re increasingly important, we need to move to a partnership’, and that has been incredibly well received wherever we’ve gone.”

Peters was even more effusive: “The Prime Minister’s being extremely modest about this trip because she’s leading it, but I’ve been on a lot of Pacific trips, this has been the most successful by a long long way.”

Talk of a partnership of equals has been well received, with good reason: as Ardern pointed out, many of the Pacific nations are longstanding democracies with sophisticated leaders, some approaching developed nation status.

Writing for the Samoa Planet, Lani Wendt Young said Ardern’s remarks about the Pacific “joining” New Zealand in this generation’s nuclear-free moment were “a tad bit condescending, considering how long Pacific Island nations and advocacy groups have been championing this issue on the world stage and in the region”.

It’s always going to be difficult to get the right balance, but Ardern should learn from this – as one of a number of leaders in the region she is not going to create a revolution on her own.

The warmth of the Pacific welcome will stay with Ardern for some time, but genuine progress may prove a higher hurdle.

It always will be, but Ardern has got off to a promising start in the Pacific.

 

 

Should student loan defaulter have been arrested?

The person arrested for not paying his student loan is Ngatokotoru Puna, nephew of Cook Islands Prime Minister.

NZ Herald reported: Man arrested at airport over student loan debt is Cook Island Prime Minister’s nephew

He had been given a $40,000 loan while studying a Bachelor of Arts at Auckland University 20 years ago but said interest had seen it balloon to around $130,000.

He described his ordeal as “unbelievable” after an appearance at Manukau District Court today.

He described the day he got arrested as the worst of his life, “if you don’t count deaths”.

It would be highly embarrassing for him.

His wife, Diane, told the Herald from the Cook Islands that the IRD sent reminder letters to the wrong address.

She was audibly upset when speaking with the Herald, and said the arrest had come as a huge shock to the family.

Puna has lived in the Cook Islands for 13 years, she said. “We never had any contact from IRD about the whole thing,” she said. “They were sending reminders to the wrong address.”

It’s possible they were sending letters to the wrong address. But how does she know that?

Puna, who said he came from a family of “high achievers” said he was pulled aside by Customs staff and initially thought it was about his emergency passport, which he had obtained after losing his original passport.

The father of five daughters said his salary was about $35,000 and his mistake was that he had not contacted IRD when a payrise took him over the repayment threshold five years ago.

He said his plan was never to rack up a huge debt and then ignore it after graduating but accepted he was in the wrong for not keeping in touch with the IRD.

Anyone, especially ‘high achievers’, should know exactly what their responsibilities are if they have a $35,000 loan. They should also be aware of interest and changing balances.

It is tough on Puna to be in the spotlight as the first person arrested for defaulting on his loan, but it had to be someone.

But there are questions about how IRD has dealt with this, and how the law allows them to deal with it. Debts are usually civil matters, not criminal.

Graeme Edgler pointed out some things of concern:

Imprisonment for non-payment of debts is breach of international human rights laws. It is one of very few absolute rights.

Non-imprisonment for debt is one of the ICCPR rights left out of BOR.

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If a loan from the Government is unpaid, they should sue just like every other unpaid creditor.

And:

Who knew? People working in New Zealand’s bases on Antarctica are overseas for student loan purposes and will* be charged interest.

We arrested a Cook Islander for trying to leave New Zealand while in default on student loan obligations? The Cooks are part of New Zealand!

If anyone you know lives in the Cook Islands (or Niue, Tokelau, or Antarctica), and is being charged NZ student loan interest, please tell them that they can apply to be treated as being in New Zealand for loan purposes, so that they won’t be charged interest.

Puna stuffed up by ignoring his loan and his repayment obligations.

But has the Government stuffed up with the law that enabled his arrest?

And has the IRD stuffed up charging him interest, and for getting him arrested when leaving Auckland for the Cook Islands?

This is Wikipedia’s description of the status of the Cook Islands and Cook Islanders.

The Cook Islands is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system in an associated state relationship with New Zealand. Executive power is exercised by the government, with the Chief Minister as head of government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Parliament of the Cook Islands. There is a pluriform multi-party system. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The Head of State is the Queen of New Zealand, who is represented in the Cook Islands by the Queen’s Representative.

The islands are self-governing in “free association” with New Zealand. New Zealand retains primary responsibility for external affairs, with consultation with the Cook Islands government. Cook Islands nationals are citizens of New Zealand and can receive New Zealand government services

I guess it depends on the letter of the law.