‘It benefits us’ – Almost $1 billion Pacific aid and foreign affairs boost welcomed by aid organisations

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

The government's announcement to boost Pacific aid and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade by nearly a billion dollars has been welcomed by aid organisations, diplomats and an international relations expert.

Josie Pagani, director of the Council for International Development, told 1 NEWS the shift in talking about aid for the Pacific from a donor/recipient relationship to being equals was unprecedented for the country.

"It's about saying that we're family, and actually like regional development, it benefits us when the Pacific is doing well," she said.

The pre-Budget funding announcement comes after the government shared its plans to shake up investment in the Pacific back in March, calling it a 'Pacific reset'.

Ms Pagani said the $714 million announced as additional aid funding over the next four years is a massive improvement, but the aid sector would have liked to see more money on offer.

"We were really at the bottom of the OECD table for aid and now we're heading up to 0.28 per cent of global national income and that's a great step in the right direction," she said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said he is hoping the relationship between New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours will be one that is "built upon understanding, friendship, mutual benefit and a collective ambition to achieve sustainable results". 

"It's rather important for us, without naming countries, to ensure that the New Zealand voice is heard, alongside others," Mr Peters said.

International relations expert Jason Young, acting director for the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre, said the country does need to invest in the Pacific if it wants to continue being viewed as a partner.

China is investing heavily in the Pacific region at the moment as it looks to build influence and improve its image around the world.

Mr Young said Pacific leaders and businesses have invited China into the region as they need infrastructure and development, and want partnerships and economic deals with different countries.

"There's a lot of strategic uncertainty, questions about new players, new actors, new types of investments in the Pacific that could potentially destabilise New Zealand's position there," he said.

"China's economy itself is globalising, they're seeking to upgrade their economy to create new markets… and the Pacific is just one small part of that."

He said the government's announcement reaffirmed how New Zealand is part of the Pacific and acknowledged that it was a duty and responsibility to invest there, with mutual benefits on offer.

Mr Young warned it's important that New Zealand finds way to work with China in the region, as seen in the Cook Islands, but also has talks with China if its actions don't meet New Zealand's expectations of what should happen in the Pacific.

He said the Government needs to listen to Pacific leaders' views on their relationship with China, as despite issues with debt and the quality of some of the products they are making, the view towards Chinese efforts is overall positive.

On top of the foreign aid announcement, Mr Peters said giving an additional $190 million to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) over the next four years will allow the department to rebuild its resources and ultimately strengthen the country’s voice on the world stage, at a time when security and trade war risks are increasing.

“It’s a miracle they’ve survived in the way they have with the confidence they have,” Winston Peters said.

Mr Peters said MFAT has become weakened by a staff restructure and nine years of underfunding while New Zealand’s international challenges have increased.

National Leader Simon Bridges criticised the funding decision, saying the money would be put to better use on home soil.

"New Zealander's have learned the true cost of Winston Peters making Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister today," he said in a statement.

"Just weeks after the Prime Minister broke her promise of universal cheap GP visits claiming the Government didn’t have enough money, she's written Winston a massive cheque to invest offshore and to open new embassies and hire more diplomats," he said.

Mr Bridges said the government had its priorities wrong, questioning how it told people the country was dealing with a decade of rebuilding health and education but then deciding to invest offshore.

He said there was already significant funding allocated for aid.