Peters announces Pacific aid budget

Wednesday May 09, 2018 Written by Published in Regional

NEW ZEALAND – It will soon be revealed whether the New Zealand government is putting its money where its mouth is when it talks about a “Pacific reset”, with Foreign Minister Winston Peters unveiling his ministry’s funding plan last night.

 

In an unusual move, Peters was to announce the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s entire budget separate from next week’s government budget.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she did not want to “steal his thunder” ahead of time, but suggested there would be a heavy focus on foreign aid and the government’s priorities in the Pacific region.

Earlier this year, Peters gave a keynote speech to an Australian think tank where he spoke about the changing dynamics in the region.

“It has become increasingly obvious that the perception of New Zealand by Pacific leaders is changing.

“At one level we are moving from a post-colonial influence to a mature political and development partner. At another level we have to work harder to maintain our positive influence,” he said in March.

New Zealand is the Pacific’s second-largest donor, accounting for around a tenth of total development spending in the region.

About 60 per cent of New Zealand’s total aid spend goes to its Pacific neighbours.

The heavy Pacific focus comes on the back of growing regional concern about the influence of countries like China using a “soft power” approach to garner entry into Pacific countries.

Ardern said the Pacific was an important strategic region.

“The Pacific are our neighbours, we have obviously a close connection that goes well beyond just a regional link. There are a number of challenges in our region, they are both strategic, they do relate to issues around climate change and of course development needs.

“When we are a strong region together, New Zealand benefits from that.”

Opposition leader Simon Bridges however questioned the Government’s priorities.

“If you look at it, I’m not going to stand here and say more aid into the Pacific, increasing our diplomatic reach, is bad.

“It’s just that when you’re doing that and not meeting your core promises at election like cheaper GP visits from July 1 for hard-working New Zealand families, when you’re slugging it to Auckland motorists to pay for infrastructure – the priorities don’t seem right,” he said.

Bridges said when National was in government, it too refocused funding into the Pacific “because it’s the right thing to do”.

“But you’ve got to question the priorities when you’ve got a Government that’s whinging every day at the moment about shortfalls in health and education - is that really true, when they’re able to put significant funding into MFAT, into foreign aid. Doesn’t charity begin at home?”       

- RNZ

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