Speech given at Government House, Auckland, 2006
I am delighted on behalf of the Board of Trustees, and Vince McBride and the staff of the PCF, to join the Governor General in welcoming you tonight.
We thank His Excellency for his warm words about the PCF. He has well captured the spirit of what the organisation is about... I also thank him on behalf of us all for making his house available this evening – it is a wonderful venue for this occasion.
There is a pattern in our times that when a region of the world becomes of particular interest to a country, that country does something about it - more than leave the relationship to the official activities of the government agencies. It engages with that region on a wider front and with a new intensity.
A case in New Zealand was our sharply aroused interest in the 1980s and 90s over Asia. Our leaders were saying we must become a part of Asia. This led to the formation of the then Asia 2000 Foundation, with strong business as well as government support, to engage New Zealanders in Asia in fields beyond those of the official bodies.
In this decade and this century, New Zealand has concluded it must engage with the South Pacific, with the Pacific Forum countries, in a similar way. There is national momentum to heighten our awareness, improve our knowledge and deepen our contacts.
A recent independent national poll shows New Zealanders now rank the Pacific Forum area as the region of the world of most importance to New Zealand's future.
The reasons for this are clear:
- we have a growing recognition that New Zealand is itself a Pacific nation, demographically as well as geographically;
- we have a realisation that this region is subject to internal stresses, growing pains and external pressures too, and is no longer a neighbourhood that can be taken for granted;
- we are aware that a greater understanding of Pacific Island issues in this country would benefit ourselves and the people of the other Forum countries;
- and we know that the people of those countries and New Zealand would benefit greatly if the linkages between us were strengthened, across the board.
The high-profile internal stresses in the Pacific will be known to you: they relate to the difficult road to democracy in Tonga and Fiji, and maintaining the rule of law and economic rebuilding in the Solomon Islands.
The external pressures on Pacific Island countries may not loom so large in our media: but they are very real. They relate to many countries from outside the region seeking access to resources and increased economic and political influence.
The upshot is a Pacific that is not so tranquil. New Zealand is now navigating in choppy seas, and keeping our own end up is an increasingly tough challenge.
These realisations led, five years ago, to the formation of the Pacific Cooperation Foundation. A private group of informed and committed people, built around my predecessor Michael Powles, generated business support from our Founding Partners, including Brother International, Fonterra and Air New Zealand, and set up the PCF as a trust.
Around this time the Government also identified a need for an organisation such as this, and while respecting the PCF's independence agreed to provide further core funding.
So here we are today, newish but not brand new, a dedicated board of trustees, five staff, a budget both public and private sector funded, and with some good runs on the board.
We have defined areas of activity – education, the media, culture and communities, and business and growth. We take a wide ranging approach to these. In promoting economic growth, for example, we have facilitated the introduction of a new seasonal employment scheme for New Zealand businesses to draw on Pacific Islands temporary workers where there are identified labour shortages here. The workers' earnings are important to Pacific community economies.
Under the heading of culture we are beginning to engage with the huge topic of sport and its social, national and business implications.
We have clear goals – a better informed New Zealand, stronger networks, strengthened Pacific Islands institutions, business development and others.
We enjoy our work and approach it with a sense of mission, even if we are all too aware of what else we could achieve.
We are better known in Wellington than in this fair City of Sails, and trust that tonight will help remedy that. We have recently opened a one person office here in Auckland.
It is a pleasure to have you with us. Getting to know each other in an environment like this is a step towards an ongoing and rewarding relationship.
Neil Plimmer, Chairman
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