Cyclone Gita hits Tonga

Tonga was hit by Cyclone Gita overnight. It is too soon to get an appreciation of the amount of damage but winds, heavy rain and a storm surge are likely to have been very damaging, but it is too soon to tell how devastating it has been.

RNZ:  Cyclone Gita: Houses destroyed, church ‘completely gone’

Fiji’s MetService said the category four storm was very close to being upgraded to the highest category, five.

It had already washed out building and equipment of Tonga’s met office, and Fiji weather forecasters took over issuing warnings for the region from shortly before midnight.

The storm was expected to be upgraded to a category five in the early hours of the morning.

The US Joint Typhoon Warning Centre earlier said it was hitting maximum sustained winds estimated at 233km/h.

Well-built framed homes can be damaged in category four winds, and most trees will be either snapped or uprooted and electricity and water outages could last anywhere from several days to weeks after the storm.

The local radio station is also disabled.

Check out RNZ’s live coverage here

There are reports of very high winds in the capital Nuku’alofa.

The Fiji met service reported the cyclone was 30km south south east of Tongatapu at 11pm and moving west northwest about 30km an hour away from Tonga.

Authorities have switched off the electricity for about 75,000 residents who live on the island.

The Tongan Red Cross communications advisor Poli Kefu earlier said several houses had already been destroyed in Tonga.

This story will unfold over the next day or two in Tonga, as Gita heads westwards towards (but possibly to the south of ) Fiji and then in the direction of New Caledonia. At some stage it is expected to turn south and may have some impact on New Zealand eventually.

All Blacks versus Tonga

The last pool game for the All Blacks and Tonga kicks of soon, at 8 am NZ time.

One bonus point is all New Zealand needs to guarantee topping the pool, but they are expected to win and get a four try bonus.

How they play will be scrutinised to assess whether they are looking like cup winners or not. All they have to do is get through this game with a win, some credit for improvement and not too many injuries and they will be on track to front up in the play offs.

Their quarter final opponent will be the loser of the France-Ireland on Monday morning (NZ time) – that means the All Blacks have a extra two days to recover.

Tonga have won one game, against Namibia, and with a bonus point win could come second in the pool in the unlikely event that Argentina lose against Namibia and get no bonus points.

They need to win or have a draw with a four try bonus to take over thirds place from Georgia. That’s unlikely.

Tonga will be playing for pride and will be hoping to give the All Blacks a solid workout. Any tries will be applauded.

If you tune in a few minutes before 8 you will see a rarity – a dual haka preliminary. Or should that be a duel haka?

Herald slant on Pacific reaction to ‘spying’

NZ Herald released ‘EXCLUSIVE” details about New Zealand spying on Pacific countries yesterday. Today they have a slanted article on reaction from Pacific countries.

Are they deliberately trying to justify what they have published? Or are they oblivious to their emphasis on one side of limited  response?

The headline is NZ breached our trust – Tongan PM.

First paragraph:

Leaders of Pacific nations are beginning to speak out about claims New Zealand has been keeping too close an eye on their people and one prime minister has called the move a breach of trust.

As will be shown later the Herald is seeking comment from them, which is different to “speaking out”.

Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who was elected last December, said he would raise the issue in his first meeting with Prime Minister John Key.

“It means New Zealand breached the trust that has been established between the two countries,” he told Radio NZ’s Checkpoint programme.

However, Mr Pohiva said if New Zealand authorities felt the information they had gathered needed to be shared with other world leaders, then that was up to them.

“Remember Tonga is small and we have nothing to hide. It may be a serious matter for superpowers.”

Headlines involve cherry picking, but “breach of trust” is part of what otherwise seems a moderate and unconcerned response once you read past the “however”.

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi slammed the media for sensationalising the issue and supported any monitoring of his country.

“Samoa doesn’t have anything to hide. Our daily lives are an open book. We follow good governance principles of transparency and accountability,” he said.

“As the leader of this country, I maintain frank and open lines of communication with all our diplomatic connections.”

Tuilaepa acknowledged the matters of a small island nation in the Pacific probably had no significant value to the world’s top leaders.

“We are not a security risk to any small island nearby and I’m sure the phone conversations by an old matai [chief] and his son in New Zealand for a taulaga [money] envelope will not be of interest to the FBI of the great USA.”

The Herald didn’t choose ‘Samoan Prime Minister slams media sensationalising‘ for their headline.

Commentators have also pushed the idea that China’s growing influence within the Pacific – particularly in Samoa and Fiji – has a lot to do with monitoring information in the region.

Commentators “pushed the idea” while the Herald just put balanced information out there? Yeah right.  They pushed their sensationalised exclusive while seeming to grudgingly tack on some alternate reality on the end of their self justification.

Auckland University Professor of Pacific Studies Damon Salesa said there was a shift happening within the region that world leaders were starting to catch on to.

The increase in spying was in keeping with “the intensification of interest in the Pacific with the rise of China,” he said. “We should consider it disappointing we are acting this way among our closest allies but most people working in this sphere are not naive about it.”

What would be disappointing about Pacific neighbours being helped and potentially protected by New Zealand intelligence gathering?

Requests for comment from leaders from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, French Polynesia, Niue, Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands went unanswered last night.

So after the lead phrase “Leaders of Pacific nations are beginning to speak out ” we find out that the Herald is requesting responses but most Pacific leaders approached have chosen not to “speak out”.

– additional reporting: David Fisher

Fisher has written articles opposing intelligence gathering and ‘spying’ for yonks and was credited with the revelation articles.

David Fisher David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

EXCLUSIVE: GCSB collects phone calls, emails and internet data from NZ’s closest and most vulnerable neighbours, secret papers reveal

New Zealand is “selling out” its close relations with the Pacific nations to be close with the United States, author Nicky Hager has said.

Hager, in conjunction with the New Zealand Herald and the Intercept news site, revealed today how New Zealand’s spies are targeting the entire email, phone and social media communications of the country’s closest, friendliest and most vulnerable neighbours.

So it appears that David Fisher is doing follow-ups that support his exclusive revelations, that he worked with Nicky Hager on.

Hager is well known as an ‘investigative journalist’ who opposes intelligence gathering, and who has a habit of cherry picking data (illegally gathered in this case and for his ‘Dirty Politics’ election bomb last year) to support his activist slant.

This is a shame. There’s some aspects of this that deserve public attention, but appearing to be driven by an agenda does make it appear slanted.