Outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni.
Photo/ PMN News
The outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni’s encouragement to the incoming government.
This week PMN journalists Atutahi Potaka-Dewes and Candice Ama are in the Cook Islands covering all the news from the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting.
We will be providing all the latest updates here.
In the final media stand-up before departing Rarotonga, the caretaker-Deputy Prime Minister says she hopes a National-led government keeps the Pacific front of mind.
“I want the incoming government to continue to strengthen the relationships with the Pacific, to take it seriously to make sure that we’re at the table with our Pacific neighbours.
“And to take the collaborative approach that we have been taking.”
A credible source from inside the plenary session spoke to our team saying New Zealand had kept quiet during the main discussions.
Carmel Sepuloni says New Zealand was more vocal at the leaders retreat in Aitutaki.
Sepuloni says that it’s about ensuring the Pacific voice is heard.
“For me it’s really important that I speak when it's necessary. Yesterday, the recommendations that had been drafted and we actually agreed there was nothing that I thought was contentious.
“There are a lot of voices that needed to be heard in the room. I think it’s really important that sometimes New Zealand and Australia step back and let our smaller Pacific Islands have their say.”
Sepuloni says that it was a different case at today’s leaders retreat and she was very involved in the talks.
The delegation is due to land back in Wellington at midnight tonight.
Nauru President David Adeang flew out of Rarotonga this morning (11.30am November 10 local time), almost 24 hours after walking out of the plenary meeting - a reliable source told RNZ Pacific.
Meanwhile from the shores of O’otu beach in Aitutaki, PIF leaders journeyed to One Foot Island.
Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. says the situation was a misunderstanding and they will work it out.
“They’re not here, they have their reasons and it’s good to get it directly from them … they said ‘you represent us’, so we’re here as Micronesia.”
Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka says Nauru should have stayed and it “sort of” feels like PIF is now back at square one with keeping Micronesia in the fold.
“He has not been nominated. Once it comes up we will vote. I do not know Baron Waqa.”
Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka boarding the Vaka Teariki Moana to One Foot Island.
When asked if Rabuka would be pushing for a zone of peace for the Pacific he responded, “yes, I’ve got a good supporter, Prime Minister Albanese”, confident he’s got Australia’s backing.
Deputy Prime Minister to PNG John Rosso says the issues surrounding Baron Waqa “isn’t an issue”.
“I don’t know to be honest. I think it’s more to do with the Polynesian bloc maybe? We from the Melanesian bloc haven’t really heard anything about that.”
He is however looking forward to his discussions with France, “they lean towards our environmental conservation plans, nature swamps and helping us with [the] conservation of our forests.”
Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi says it won't be difficult to achieve consensus in Aitutaki.
Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi was asked about supporting a regional regulatory deep sea mining framework he replied the processes and the resources need more understanding.
“I think it comes down to how you see the importance of it. One thing can be [economically] driven and one more so a product that can support the transition of fossil fuels to renewable energy.”
Head figures in Aitutaki beginning their leaders retreat. Photo/supplied
Outside of the formal Forum discussions there are also a number of delegations from around the world holding meetings.
On New Zealand's behalf, Gerry Brownlee has bilateral meetings with Cuba, Korea, France, UK, US, Australia and Portugal.
He says the UK and the US have a clear interest in the Pacific, and Australia have a security interest that he is wanting to know more about.
Portugal is lobbying for a seat on the UN security council and Brownlee is doing a “walk-through” the Punanga Nui Market.
A kapa haka performance took place at the Punanga Nui Market Pavillion as part of Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity.
Hon. Gerry Brownlee watches on as tamariki perform haka items.
The group rolled out a few classic Māori waiata including, Tū tira mai, Pōkarekare ana and the anthem adopted by political party Te Pāti Māori, You're Magic.
As part of public diplomacy relations for the incoming government, Gerry Brownlee was front row seat for the show.
A small group of people stood quietly in front of the National Auditorium calling for an end to "the killing of displaced Palestinians."
Holding a sign that urged Pacific Leaders to push for world peace.
Protestors calling for world peace outside the National Auditorium. Photo/RNZ Pacific
“We’ll have a conversation around climate change and climate financing… Regional stability will undoubtedly come up. Relationships and unity will be discussed. But beyond that it’s very difficult to share what’s on the agenda because I don’t think it’s been made public yet.”
Prime Minister of Samoa Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa with Caretaker-Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni. Photo/ Supplied
The meeting will take place onboard a vaka, which incumbent Secretary General Henry Puna says is a perfect setting.
"I think what's beautiful about this, is to showcase the beauty of Aitutaki Lagoon and what the ocean really means to us - because one of the important issues to be discussed is the ocean, and what better place to talk about it than in the ocean itself.
"It's going to be a beautiful day. Everybody's in good spirits, and being in Aitutaki, as one leader remarked 'This place is different from Rarotonga, so relaxing', and that's exactly the frame of mind we want them to be in when discussing the important issues today."
Radio New Zealand and local media on the atoll report “no sign” of Nauru representation following the delegation’s walk-out of an earlier plenary meeting.
Pacific leaders landing in Aitutaki without Nauru representation. Photo/RNZ Pacific
As leaders disembarked in Aitutaki, eyes were peeled to see if Nauru was among the pack.
Every leader was called and gifted a pate (drum) or pareu but one name was noticeably missing - Nauru President David Adeang.
With questions rising about whether this was a staged exit, it does show there's a chink in the armour regarding the "solidarity" and "unity" narrative that has been a consistent theme at this year's Forum.
A source also told our team that the Nauru delegation may be looking for early flights out of Rarotonga tomorrow (November 10 NZT).
It is understood that Nauru President David Adeang left after leaders looked to discuss the appointment of incoming Secretary General Baron Waqa.
Waqa, who was the former President of Nauru, has faced waves of criticism due to his controversial actions while in office.
Various reports from media in Rarotonga say the Nauru delegation left the main plenary meeting after another leader requested to push talks about Waqa’s nomination to the leaders retreat in Aitutaki.
Nauru President David Adeang at the start of the plenary session. Photo/Supplied
It was apparently Samoa Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa who raised concerns over the process of Waqa’s candidacy and wanted the topic to be talked about at the more private discussions.
Waqa’s selection for the top diplomatic role had been endorsed by the Micronesia Presidents Summit and agreed to in a special meeting in February this year.
Both the Forum Chair Mark Brown and Secretary General Henry Puna reportedly requested Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka to intervene if necessary and bring Nauru back to the discussion table.
Rabuka confirmed with media in Aitutaki, "Nobody's been approached. We have not been approached."
Labour’s Deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni says she’s uncertain a walk-out actually happened.
“I’m not even entirely sure that there was a walk-out because leaders are coming in and out during the forum so I’m not entirely sure that that is the case.”
“It’s just from what I’ve seen online.”
Tonga Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni Hu’akavameiliku echoes Sepuloni’s comments.
“No, I didn’t know … people go in and out all the time.”
Mata’afa was approached for further comment but politely refused - while hinting she may talk to our team tomorrow.
Either the “storm out” went unnoticed among the rest of the Forum partners or the Pacific leaders are keeping tight lipped and to a script.
Drumming a specific beat for when elders’ meetings are called, Forum Chair Mark Brown addressed the congregation and reiterated the message of “Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Voices.”
“Yes, the geo-strategic interest in the region may be at an all time high but it should not detract from our action plan … a Pacific region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity.
"That ensures all our peoples lead free, healthy, and productive lives.”
Forum partners were dressed in green pareu and mu’umu’u symbolising the atolls of Kūki ‘Airani and marking the commencement of the plenary session of the Forum.
Secretary General Henry Puna believes the 2050 strategy frames how the Blue Pacific Continent is moving forward.
“There are a multitude of opportunities and complexities before us as a region. But the key to capitalising on these opportunities and overcoming shared complexities is our solidarity as a region.
“The 2050 implementation plan articulates our collective actions for the next seven years and I am pleased that the Forum Chair has taken it upon himself to identify key actions under the Pacific partnerships for prosperity to drive at the political level.”
In an unusual arrangement where opposing members of political parties sat together in bilateral discussions with a country leader, Labour's deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni said they were all on the “same waka” gifting Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown a paddle - signifying the partnership.
A hoe waka gifted to Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown signifying unity between the nations. Photo/Supplied
Describing the meeting as being “warm and hospitable” both Sepuloni and National’s Gerry Brownlee, who have been colloquially named “Caramel Brownie” which is a nickname assigned by Sepuloni herself, are confident in the strength of the constitutional relationship with the Cook Islands.
Sepuloni says the Forum looks to be a productive one.
“In terms of the discussions around climate change … stability and security in the Pacific. The PM has already had an opportunity to meet with most of the Pacific leaders. He expressed to us that there certainly is a good feeling amongst the leaders.”
She also says they were privy to looking at seabed nodules with an extensive explanation from PM Mark Brown regarding the extraction of the resource.
Discussions taking place during the bilateral meeting of the Cook Islands and New Zealand. Photo/Supplied
What wasn’t discussed was the revitalisation of the Rarotonga Treaty, the Israel-Hamas war. Nor was the issue raised around Baron Waqa’s potentially controversial appointment as Secretary General.
Sepuloni says she has had no indication the subject will be revisited.
“What we anticipate is that everyone will collectively get around this Secretary General to ensure that he is able to work constructively and to fulfill the obligations and responsibilities of the role and so are we Aotearoa New Zealand and the rest of the Pacific will look to put that support in place.”
A strong and unified Pacific is the main message from the bilateral meeting with Cook Islands. Photo/supplied
The rising geopolitical issues have divided the Pacific and large superpowers are making more moves in the region. Brown says this is to be expected, with Sepuloni saying the Pacific can remain unified.
“Just because we disagree on some things doesn’t mean we’re not unified. The fact that Micronesia, especially Kiribati, is back in the fold … we want to make sure that that remains the case. We are going to be strong if we are unified and that means everyone has to be at the table.”
Day two of NZ's agenda will see a plenary session chaired by Mark Brown, Sepuloni heading to Aitutaki for the Leader's Retreat and Brownlee having bilateral meetings of his own with Cuba and France.
How strong is New Zealand's influence in the region? National’s Gerry Brownlee and Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni head to the biggest Pacific Islands Leaders meeting to find out.
Caretaker-Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni leads the New Zealand contingent to the world's biggest Pacific Islands meeting.
Two rival political leaders will be collaborating this week to best represent Aotearoa in Rarotonga.
Caretaker-Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni is attending the 52nd Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting (PIFLM52) as the primary representative accompanied by National's Gerry Brownlee from the incoming government.
Sepuloni says she’s pleased to lead the delegation and have the opportunity to re-affirm existing regional relationships.
“Regardless of who is in government, Aotearoa New Zealand’s relationship with our Pacific whānau is long-standing and vital.”
With a group of approximately 15 officials in tow, the New Zealand delegation departed from the RNZAF's base in Wellington on Wednesday (NZ time).
The contingent isn’t quite late to the party but New Zealand is the last nation in the South Pacific to arrive alongside Australia which is sending 70 people.
Monday evening local time saw the Cook Islands host the official welcoming ceremony with national anthems sung by local star Tara Kauvai-Mustonen.
Cook Islands Prime Minister and Forum chair Mark Brown extended a warm "Kia Orana" to his esteemed guests and conveyed his hopes the prestigious event builds on the strong Pacific bond.
“Amidst a rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape, it’s more important than ever that our Pacific leaders chart our own course toward a legacy of prosperity, sustainability, and unity.
“The PIFLM52 is not just an event, it is a milestone and our collective journey as stewards of our Blue Pacific Continent.”
Under the theme Our voices, Our choices, Our Pacific way: Promote, Partner, Prosper the National Auditorium is expected to host about 600 global delegates to discuss ways of achieving important issues on the agenda.
Major topics including climate change, infrastructural development, ocean conservation, and the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, as well as economic resilience to ensure the region's sustainability.
“The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ week is an important platform for us to come together - kanohi ki te kanohi - to connect and talanoa as the Blue Pacific Continent,” Carmel Sepuloni said.
“It’s also an opportunity to discuss the issues that matter most to our region — such as climate change, health, and security — and to explore ways to enhance our collective resilience and prosperity."
Other expected talking points that may also come up are the Pacific nations that voted against a UN resolution for ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, regional security, cyber-safety, and rising geopolitical competition between China, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Another contentious matter is the appointment of ex-Nauru President Baron Waqa as the Forum’s next Secretary General.
Ex-Nauru President baron Waqa could be the next in line for Secretary General of the PIF.
Waqa told media in the Cook Islands he is “excited” about his candidacy.
“We need to get everyone together. Reunited and refocused again.”
However Waqa has been subject to a raft of controversies, including accusations of receiving bribes which he has denied, along with questions raised about how hundreds of asylum seekers were treated on Nauru during his presidency.
The Forum's convention is that the high-level diplomatic position rotates through the three major sub-regions of Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia.
The last election was supposed to have Micronesian candidate Marshall Islands Ambassador to the US, Gerald Zackios but instead incumbent Secretary General Henry Puna was voted in, threatening the regional body’s existence.
Waqa’s selection is among a set of measures attempting to repair the bruised relationship and he’s set to assume the role in 2024.
In partnership with Te Ao Māori News and their Pacific Correspondent Aaron Ryan.