HE New Zealad High Commissioner, Christine Bogle: New Zealand's Relations with Tonga
Before I launch into my rather broad topic I'd like to take this opportunity to express publicly my deep sympathy for all our Tongan friends and colleagues at this time of national disaster. New Zealand's thoughts have been with Tonga over these sad days in the past three weeks.
I was going to begin my talk by mentioning our recent rather intense period of high-level visits between our two countries, since that provides a pretty good snapshot of the type of relationship we have, but instead I'm going to start with something that has been very clear during this tragic time, and that is the role of New Zealand's Defence Force in our relationship with Tonga. Lately they've been very visible friends of Tonga, but their cooperation and training role for Tongan counterparts has been in place for years.
As soon as New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Centre detected the emergency beacon from the ferry, they took on the initial responsibility for coordinating the Search and Rescue effort, and this included sending an RNZAF Orion to join the search from the morning of 6 August. They carried out four flights over the following days. A team of New Zealand navy divers came up to Tonga on the Friday night, to assist the Tongan navy in looking for the missing vessel, along with the team of Australian divers. As we all know, they were able to locate the vessel but, sadly, it was too deep for them to be able to recover the bodies. A New Zealand navy vessel, the Manawanui, travelled to Tonga to help with photographing the sunken vessel, using its Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV. That involved an additional navy crew and underwater search team spending six days travelling to Tonga, two full days working here, and then returning to New Zealand.
This was an emergency situation and of course everyone hopes that our Defence Force won't need to provide such assistance very often but they have an ongoing programme of quite regular interaction with Tonga, some of which has been in place since the 1940s. And in fact my own grandfather was here in Tonga during the Second World War. The Mutual Assistance Programme in the defence field mainly involves training, provided by New Zealand for TDS personnel. And in July this year three people from NZDF joined an international partnership, led by the US Navy, on a two week humanitarian assistance mission to Ha'apai during which they rebuilt schools and community centres, carried out a range of medical and veterinary operations, and provided other very welcome assistance to the local community.
The RNZAF Orions are regular visitors to Tongan airspace, usually helping monitor the EEZ and looking out for illegal fishing activity. Tonga is to be congratulated for "leading by example" in bringing to account a vessel caught illegally fishing in Tonga's waters in January 2008. Following the detection of the fishing vessel by a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion on a surveillance patrol, Tonga, with assistance from the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries, sought to have the vessel prosecuted and penalised. After some negotiation, the company agreed to pay Tonga a not insubstantial fine. This has sent a clear message to others that Tonga and New Zealand take illegally fishing very seriously.
Sadly, the New Zealand airforce Orions quite often get called to help on search and rescue operations too - for example earlier this year when they were able to locate the missing boat carrying the Governor of Ha'apai and his party. Much of this assistance stems from the fact that we are such a close neighbour of Tonga, which makes it natural that we are often the first on hand from outside to give assistance in times of need.
The Princess Ashika tragedy also saw other people from New Zealand get involved fairly quickly. We are providing assistance to the Royal Commission of Inquiry through inspectors from our Transport Accident Investigation Commission, we are working together with Australia to provide a temporary replacement vessel for Tonga until such time as your new ferry is ready, and we are also looking at helping the judiciary while Judge Andrew is busy chairing the Commission of Inquiry. The fact that our Prime Ministers were both present at the Forum Leaders meeting in Cairns on 6 August meant that our PM was able to make an immediate offer to Tonga of our willingness to help in responding to this tragedy. The same was true of the Australian PM.
But New Zealand's role as a partner to Tonga doesn't just mean we appear to help out at times of disaster. We've got a longstanding and steadily growing development assistance programme. The value of this assistance was $12 million dollars last year, and our Prime Minister announced during his visit here in July that it was increasing to $16 million this year and would be $18 million in 2010. This means that in addition to our existing programmes, which I'll describe in more detail in a minute, we have been able to look at some new ways in which New Zealand can help build sustainable economic development here, a stated priority of our government for our aid programme. The new mandate for NZAID is "supporting sustainable development in developing countries, in order to reduce poverty and to contribute to a more secure, equitable and prosperous world." The areas in which New Zealand is focusing our assistance for sustainable economic development include the tourism sector - obviously one of Tonga's areas of promise, and one where we feel we can make a contribution. Our PM and our Minister of Foreign Affairs are also keen for us to make an input into the energy sector, and we're committed to fund the resealing of the ‘Eua airport runway. Minister McCully was particularly concerned that New Zealand should help both Tonga and Samoa ensure that the Air New Zealand service through here to LA should continue - this is happening through an underwriting of potential losses on that service. .
One area that our Minister of Foreign Affairs is very keen on encouraging is private sector development in Tonga, and I'm pleased to tell you that a new scheme has been put in place, called the Business Opportunities Support Scheme, or BOSS. Under this scheme, we will provide funding through the NEDC here for Tongan and New Zealand firms to apply for support to cover the cost of feasibility studies for new investments or joint ventures in Tonga that will promote exports from Tonga or import substitution.
We are currently putting in place the final details of the scheme and hope to have it operational in October with the first funding round before the end of this calendar year
We are also looking to provide funding for a business training centre here in Tonga which would link into business mentoring that would include some business mentors from NZ
All these new programmes don't replace our existing aid programme. Some people are confused about how we decide how our aid funds are going to be used. I've met some people who seem to picture us having a big fund of 12 or now 16 million dollars each year to allocate to whatever projects are put to us, on a first come first served basis. Of course this is not the way it works. The priority areas for the aid programme are worked out in discussions between New Zealand and Tongan governments, as well as with non governmental bodies such as the Civil Society Forum, and a multi-year strategy is agreed. The last time this happened was in September 2008. Adjustments can of course be made to the basic strategy depending on the evolving priorities of either government, but the point is that they do have to be priority areas, and ultimately it is the Tongan government which tells us what its priorities are. So if you are working in a government department and you have a project you would like to propose for New Zealand assistance, you need to submit it to Aid Management in the Ministry of Finance for them to weigh up against other priorities. In addition to the government to government programme we do have a small amount of funding available to help with community projects, which enables us to get down to grass roots level.
The main priority areas in the aid programme in Tonga are the education sector, where we provide $2 million .in funding to basic education through the TESP as well as a range of scholarships which you in ‘Atenisi are familiar with. I thought I should say a bit more about the scholarships process, given that we have a few students here tonight:
We have two main types of scholarships:
1. In-country scholarships to Tongan institutions like ‘Atenisi which cover fees only. We advertise in November for the start of the calendar year in January/February. We pay 50% of fees upfront and the students pay the other 50% and if their results are good enough we refund the other 50% at the end of the year. This year we are funding over 200 local scholarships
2. Overseas scholarships. These are more expensive so are fewer in number (around 20 new scholarships per year, so 50 to 60 Tongan students overseas are funded by NZAID at any one time). We fund students to go to New Zealand and the University of the South Pacific. We cover tuition fees and living allowances. Applications usually close in June for study in the following year.
We always advertise in the local newspapers so students should keep your eyes on the papers in November and May each year.
Technical and Vocational Education and Training is an additional, and new area of focus in our education assistance.
One area of New Zealand's aid programme that was highlighted for special mention by both our Prime Minister and by PM Sevele during John Key's visit here in July was the Tonga Police Development Programme. Together with Tonga and Australia, we're supporting a long term programme to assist the police build up their competency and ability to help ensure a secure and just society for the Tongan people. I think already we've seen the benefits of this programme in the excellent way the police led Operation Ashika.
A well functioning police force is an essential element of a modern democratic society based on the rule of law. New Zealand - both the previous government of Helen Clark and the current government led by John Key - have a strong commitment to supporting and encouraging Tonga's political reform process. John Key during his speech at my reception on 7 July put it as follows:
"New Zealand strongly welcomes the commitment from his Majesty King George V and from Prime Minister Sevele and from the government and people of Tonga to introduce a democratic system through updating your constitution and your electoral system in time for elections in 2010. That's why we've been supporting the Constitutional Electoral Commission, the Civic Education Programme and we stand ready to provide additional assistance if need be to prepare for the 2010 elections. New Zealand has every confidence that the leadership of the Monarch and of the government together with the peaceful and cooperative input of all Tongans will take the country through this transition and into a new and exciting era"
I personally consider myself immensely privileged to be in Tonga at this historic point in the country's political development, and I look forward to seeing the new system brought in next year. Obviously that point will not be the end of the road for Tonga's reforms, nor for New Zealand's assistance for the process, since we envisage that there will be lots of ways we can contribute usefully as the new system gets bedded in. I should perhaps stress that New Zealand is supporting Tonga's process but it is not up to us to comment on the type of democratic system you put in place. That's for Tonga to decide.
There are lots of other aspects to New Zealand's relations with Tonga that I haven't had time to touch on here, including sport - but I think perhaps I should mention the temporary worker scheme, or RSE as it is called. This has involved over 1000 Tongans going to New Zealand over the past couple of years and has brought benefits to both countries. I know that the employers in New Zealand are now saying the RSE workers are an essential element of their success. And for Tonga it has meant a real increase in the standard of living of many families - particularly important in these tough economic times. For example, I was just reading today comments from an orchardist in New Zealand, that apple pickers can earn up to NZ$1500 per week.
These and other areas of cooperation have not just sprung up overnight. New Zealand's relationship with Tonga stems from our close geographical vicinity, but also from our long historical links. Both countries are part of the Polynesian triangle, but with Tonga having been settled long before New Zealand. This gives us a shared seafaring history going back into the mists of time, as well as many legends and stories in common, such as the tale of Maui fishing up our islands out of the sea.
In the nineteenth century, contact between the two countries was renewed, starting from the 1840s when, as your Prime Minister has told us in a recent speech in New Zealand, there was correspondence between King Taufa'ahau Tupou 1 and the then Governor of New Zealand, Governor Gray, seeking advice on law and government. In more recent times, PM Keith Holyoake visited Tonga for the Coronation of King Tupou IV in 1967 and our current Governor General, Anand Satyanand, and then PM Helen Clark, came here for Tupou V's Coronation last year.
New Zealand established diplomatic relations with Tonga in 1970, initially covering the accreditation from Apia but, from 1974, operating from a High Commission here in Nuku'alofa. As well as we diplomats, there are of course quite a lot of New Zealanders living here and contributing to the Tongan economy in one way or another.
And there is, as we all know, a strong and growing Tongan community in New Zealand - over 50,000 people according to our last census. Those people contribute fully to modern New Zealand, not least to our sporting prowess!
And the contacts continue to this day. I said at the beginning that I was considering starting this speech with an account of the main official contacts that have taken place between New Zealand and Tonga since April this year, as it really is an impressive list. Over the five month period, April to August, there was a Tongan trade mission to New Zealand in April; official visits (coinciding with regional meetings) to Tonga by our Minister of Energy and our Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, and an official visit by your Prime Minister to New Zealand in May, at the same time that Tonga's first High Commissioner to New Zealand began work in Wellington.
We then had a visit here by our own Prime Minister in July. He brought with him a delegation of over 70 people, including a large business contingent, Ministers, members of Parliament, media representatives, sportspeople, and a youth group (Prestige). This was a very short but very busy visit. Less than a week after the Prime Minister's departure, our Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, arrived. He was able to stay a few days and, I believe, was completely captivated by Tonga, and declared his determination to return in the not too distant future. He was followed by two trade missions in August, concentrating on the business relationship. Over the same period, the first ever New Zealand Prime Minister's Fellow from Tonga, Dr Toa, made her study tour of New Zealand. That is going to be an annual Fellowship. And your Speaker and a group of MPs were officially hosted in late July by our Speaker and Parliament.
That level of contact is sure to continue, with the New Zealand Parliament very keen to be of help during the democratic reform process here.
I'd also like to note that New Zealand doesn't just cooperate with Tonga on a bilateral, or one-on-one, basis. We're both part of the same region and there's a growing amount of interaction in regional bodies, especially the Pacific Islands Forum. Our leaders, Ministers and officials meet together in those gatherings and this is one way that our truly very close links get reinforced. It also enables brainstorming across the region on how to deal with regional challenges. Our PM when he was here made a point of stressing how much he as a new Prime Minister valued the wisdom and experience of PM Sevele, during the discussions at regional meetings. This is the way the Forum countries work together, with each Leader bringing his or her own contribution to the collective effort to further the interests of our part of the world.
My good friend Pousima Afeaki - Hon Afeaki -President of the Tonga New Zealand Business Association, told me today that a speech in Tonga should contain at least one joke, one bible quotation, one proverb and one piece of poetry, and so I haven't done very well on that score. I do have something I would like to quote from though. This is a book we received today from New Zealand, and shall be handing over to the Tongan government tomorrow. In it a number of New Zealand Ministers, MPs, officials and others have written condolence messages to their Tongan counterparts, and these are very moving statements reflecting how much New Zealanders care about Tonga. I'm going to read you the message from the New Zealand Speaker of the House, Hon Dr Lockwood Smith, and the message from David Cunliffe, MP for New Lynn:
Lockwood Smith's message:
To the Parliament and People of Tonga:
My heartfelt sympathies to all those who have lost family or friends in the dreadful boat tragedy you have suffered.
May your faith and the love of those around you help heal the hurt of your loss over time
With my kindest regards,
Lockwood Smith, MP, Speaker, Parliament of New Zealand
David Cunliffe's message:
From the hearts of the people of New Lynn and Waitakere City, our deepest condolence and fond regards. The bonds between our communities and families run deep.
David Cunliffe, MP for New Lynn
Those closing words of David's say it all - the bonds between our communities and families run deep.
And there is a proverb in Maori that is very relevant to this theme of partnership. It goes as follows:
Na to rourou, na taku rourou,
Ka ora ai te iwi
Which means, that with your foodbasket, and my food basket together, the people will thrive. Or - working together, we shall achieve the results we want.
And one of my favourite Maori proverbs of all is a simple one that states: Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu.
That means, even though it's small, it's a treasure.
This can apply to both New Zealand and Tonga, both small countries by global standards, but both able to make a valuable contribution to the world.
I shall now read a poem, which is very much drawing on New Zealand landscape, but has a Tonga relevance through its reference to Captain Cook's visit
[Luncheon Cove by Cilla McQueen]
I will now stop talking and leave some time for questions. I also have our NZAID Manager here if anyone wants to ask for more detail on any aid-related matters.